It is an absolute honor to serve the people of Senate District 3 in Northwest Indiana. My previous grassroots work in the community allowed me to change the lives of so many in our community, but having the ability to impact public policy as a legislator has provided me with an even greater opportunity to make substantial strides toward improving the quality of life for those in my community.
Unlike many of my freshmen legislative colleagues, I had urgent issues to deal with locally considering the financial status of the Gary Community School Corp. and trying to ensure it remained open for the educational security of more than 5,000 students. As a state senator, I believe in advocating and fighting for my constituents and the most vulnerable population.
During my first legislative session, I authored and co-authored a series of bills and resolutions that addressed a variety of issues, such as early childhood education, K-12 education funding, health care reform, protecting hard working Hoosiers from predatory lenders, supporting our veterans, improving our infrastructure and local workforce development needs.
At the beginning of session, I quickly learned the importance of reaching across the aisle to get these things accomplished while always staying true to my values and principles. Being a member of the super minority in the Senate, consisting of merely nine members, each of us had a great deal of heavy lifting. In total, I served on seven committees, serving as the ranking minority member of two of those committees: education and natural resources.
With each session comes legislation that either sparks intense debate, encourages bipartisan support or stirs up public controversy. While we had our fair share of that legislation, I was encouraged to see several bills that focused specifically on moving Northwest Indiana forward. That legislation included House Bill 1144, the South Shore double-tracking project. This project has the potential to strengthen Northwest Indiana’s economic opportunities.
The state appropriated $6 million to expand the rail line, creating a more efficient mode of transportation for those living in the Region.
HB 1004 also was approved, expanding the pre-kindergarten pilot program from five to 20 counties and allocating an additional $9 million from the budget to fund the expansion. This is a great step forward for Indiana as early education is vital to the ultimate success of our children.
Senate Bill 567, which I co-authored, also was approved. This bill will provide a plan of action for the Gary Community School Corp. in its efforts to improve financial status and ensure the corporation will not be dissolved.
Two of my Senate resolutions urging the Legislature to study specific topics were approved this session as well. After school takeovers had been widely discussed in both chambers, I offered SR 56 to study the role the state should play in instances of school financial crises. Secondly, I offered SR 36 to study Medicaid coverage for patients with rare diseases in response to an outreach by a family in my district whose 26-year-old son, Derrian Baker, suffered from a rare condition known as Prader-Willi syndrome and was denied coverage by many institutions in Indiana because of the severity of his disease.
Looking back at the past four months and at all I was able to accomplish for my community, I can say my first legislative session was a great experience.
I’m looking forward to continuing to engage with the communities I serve and be an active voice for them in the Indiana General Assembly.