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INDIANAPOLIS | Porter County is a step closer to having new options for investing a $163.7 million windfall from the 2007 sale of its hospital.

The Indiana House voted 98-0 Tuesday for House Bill 1281, authorizing the county commissioners and County Council to create a foundation for investing the money more aggressively than permitted under current law, subject to additional oversight.

Specifically, the foundation must hire a financial adviser, follow prudent investor practices, limit equity investments to 55 percent of the portfolio, undergo an annual audit and regularly consult with three local bankers not actively investing foundation funds.

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, sponsor of the legislation, said the goal is to get annual returns of at least 5 percent, instead of the 1.06 percent yield the county currently is achieving.

The measure, which now advances to the Senate, requires any investment income greater than 5 percent be added to the principal. The county could spend earnings of less than 5 percent.

State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, who unsuccessfully backed similar legislation in prior years, said he likes that any spending of the fund's principal requires unanimous approval of the county commissioners and council because elected officials should be held responsible when so much money is at stake.

The proposal was co-sponsored by state Reps. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, and Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, and was among several measures with region connections winning approval in the House Tuesday, including:

NIRPC vote — House Bill 1164 (approved 68-29), sponsored by Soliday and state Rep. Bill Fine, R-Munster, requires weighted votes at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission be based on population as determined by the most recent federal census, instead of the 2000 Census.

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, who devised the weighted-vote system, persuaded many Democrats to vote no because Fine, a first-year representative, did not speak with him about the legislation before bringing it up for a vote.

Alcohol prizes — House Bill 1435 (92-6), the first legislation sponsored by Olthoff to pass the House, permits sealed bottles of alcohol, such as wine, be awarded as prizes at charity events or purchased at charity auctions, without the charity needing to obtain an alcoholic beverage permit.

The measure was co-sponsored by state Reps. Charlie Brown, D-Gary; Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte; and Hal Slager, R-Schererville.

Drivers license — House Bill 1394 (93-5), sponsored by Soliday, requires adults ages 18-21, who are getting their first driver's license, only be issued a probationary license for their first six months of driving, limiting the hours they can drive and barring use of handheld telephones while driving.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.