INDIANAPOLIS | Northwest Indiana lawmakers were cautiously upbeat Monday as the Republican-dominated General Assembly convened for a four-month session ostensibly focused on approving a state budget and creating jobs for Hoosiers.
However, one look at the list of already filed legislation shows social issues are almost certain to sidetrack legislators as Republicans seek to use their supermajorities in the House and Senate to enact new laws on topics such as abortion, school prayer and gay marriage.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he desperately wants Democrats and Republicans to work together this year. He urged his House colleagues in an impassioned speech to support a two-year moratorium on social issues legislation.
"Our state and nation are deeply divided on such issues, and too often this body has only served to inflame those divisions," Pelath said. "People deserve a break from the political exploitation of their fears and emotions as we work to rebuild our economy."
House Republican leaders wouldn't agree to Pelath's suggested moratorium but embraced his call for bipartisanship.
State Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, the Republican floor leader, said despite the GOP having enough members to act even if the Democrats don't show up, he hopes Democrats will back the Republican goals of passing a balanced budget, bolstering the Indiana job market and improving education.
"I think it's incumbent on each and every one of us to take an attitude of cooperation and inclusion and communication as we bring this very unusual General Assembly together," Friend said. "It's vitally important that we work together."
Across the rotunda, state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, said Republican supermajorities mean the GOP doesn't need to be as aggressive as prior years because the party knows it can pass whatever it wants.
Therefore, Republicans should do a better job promoting policies in the best interest of all Hoosiers, he said.
Randolph also sees signs that lawmakers from other parts of the state are now supporting issues that once were only focused on by Northwest Indiana lawmakers, such as the need for a trauma hospital and improved casino competitiveness. He said this improves the odds that the issues will be acted on.
"Those things are good, so I'm looking forward to a positive session," Randolph said.