INDIANAPOLIS — The cauldron of controversies simmering under the Indiana General Assembly was masked briefly Thursday by a mist of bipartisanship as Hoosier lawmakers convened the first regular meeting of their four-month annual session.
Eager to distinguish themselves from their dysfunctional colleagues in Washington, D.C., Democrats and Republicans in both the Indiana House and Senate pledged to work together for the good of the state and to not let petty differences inhibit positive action.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said the 33 members of his caucus, including four new Northwest Indiana representatives, will advocate strongly during the session when they spot issues that aren't getting sufficient attention from the 67 House Republicans.
"We will fight hard, but we will fight fair — and always for the citizens of the state of Indiana who sent us here," GiaQuinta said.
"(And) when the fight is over, regardless of winner or loser, we must continue to respect each other, because by doing so we show respect for this institution and we show respect for the democratic process."
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, was quick to praise GiaQuinta's commitment to acting in the state's best interest.
He pledged the Republican supermajority would, as it has in prior years, always seek Democratic input on proposed new laws.
"If you look, the vast majority of legislation that will pass here will have bipartisan support," Bosma said.
"There will be a handful, maybe two handfuls tops, of bills that will receive a majority vote only, but the vast majority of legislation will proceed in a bipartisan manner."
Yet, amid the kumbayas typical of the first session day, there were plenty of signs that the fires of partisan conflict are heating up.
GiaQuinta hinted that Democrats will insist on funding for elementary and high school education, health care, pre-kindergarten and the Department of Child Services at levels that potentially are unaffordable without dipping into the state's nearly $2 billion budget reserve.
He also said Republicans must no longer throw up barriers making it harder for Hoosiers to vote, draw legislative districts that dilute Democratic voices and ignore the state's low-rated quality of life by focusing solely on Indiana's business tax climate.
Bosma acknowledged that even within the Republican caucus there is uncertainty over how to handle popular, but controversial, issues, such as enactment of a bias crime statute, increasing teacher pay and approving a school funding formula and balanced budget.
Across the rotunda, Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, announced GOP senators will focus this year on managing state spending, adequately funding child protection and education, improving school safety and advancing workforce development.
"Given the revenue forecast and the budget needs of the Department of Child Services, there's no question that we have many challenges before us," Bray said.
But Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, immediately declared the Senate GOP agenda lacks "vision," and suggested "supermajorities breed complacency."
"There are so many things that need to be accomplished in this state and we have so far to go, but change doesn't come from small ideas," Lanane said. "Change comes by being bold and by standing up for what is right for all Hoosiers."
The first day of session also saw a protest by a small group of Hoosiers demanding lawmakers enact an immediate and total ban on all abortions in the state.
They held large posters with images of aborted fetuses and signs reading "Brian Bosma Repent" in view of the dozens of lawmakers and citizens attending the annual Statehouse Prayer Service.