INDIANAPOLIS | Depending on which political party you prefer, it may be the best of times or the worst of times when the Indiana General Assembly begins its four-month session Monday afternoon.
Republicans are certain to be all smiles as they look around the House and Senate chambers and see a supermajority of fellow partisans.
The GOP controls 69 of 100 seats in the House and 37 of 50 seats in the Senate, enough in both chambers to take take legislative action even if the Democrats don't show up.
Though this year the Democrats will almost certainly be in their seats after being punished by Hoosier voters in November for their 2011 and 2012 walkouts attempting to halt right-to-work legislation.
It remains to be seen whether Democrats will be given a fair hearing on their plans to improve Indiana or a chance to amend Republican-sponsored legislation.
State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, isn't optimistic.
"You've got a radical right Republican Party that's running the show," Lawson said. "I have hopes that we can get some things done that we can all agree on, but the reality of it is that all of the Democrats in the General Assembly could stay home, and they'd still get the same percent done."
The Republican leaders, Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, have said they want Democrats to participate in the law-crafting process, even though Republicans could act without Democratic input.
"We have colleagues on both sides of the aisle that are valuable resources, and we will reach out to the willing and include them in discussions and in the process," Bosma said. "We'll do what's right for the state and let the politics shake out themselves."
If Bosma follows through on that promise, region lawmakers are well-positioned to help shape the legislative output of House and Senate committees, where much of the work of the General Assembly gets done.
Committees review legislative proposals, take public and expert testimony and make changes suggested by committee members. All legislation must win committee approval before it can advance to a final vote by the full House or Senate.
Northwest Indiana representatives are the top Democrat on the House committees for education, government and regulatory reform, interstate and international cooperation, joint rules, labor and public health.
In the Senate, region Democrats are the ranking member of the committees on appropriations, criminal law, education, elections, insurance, judiciary, pensions and labor, public policy and transportation.
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee, said he's already begun speaking with the ranking Democrat on his committee to decide what legislation should get a hearing.
"We're obviously not going to see eye-to-eye on many things but at least we'll be talking," Charbonneau said. "That's the role of a committee chairman, but I think more than that, it's a way that anybody should conduct their business -- open and communicating."
In addition to Charbonneau's chairmanship, region Republican lawmakers also chair the Senate's committees on elections, joint rules and tax and fiscal policy, along with the House's transportation and labor committees.