2014 Legislative Session Wrap-Up

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March 14, 2014 –Indiana Public Broadcasting–


The 2014 legislative session will largely be remembered for the outcome of one measure – HJR-3. But as Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith reports, the General Assembly this year also produced business tax cuts, the beginnings of state-funded preschool, and money for the state’s major highways:



The proposed constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage overwhelmingly passed the legislature in 2011. It was an easy measure to support for Republicans and many Democrats. But leading up to the 2014 session, Republican leaders including Senate President Pro Tem David Long downplayed the issue’s significance :



This is not the most important issue facing Indiana, okay? It is not. This is a difficult vote we’re going to have to get through and deal with.”


But House Minority Leader Scott Pelath called on Republican leadership to get rid of the amendment, saying the divisive debate would harm the state and the legislative process:



We’re just being sapped of our ability to do good things for Indiana because of the specter that’s hovering over everyone.”


Still, Speaker Brian Bosma pledged to bring the issue to the floor. And though HJR-3 arrived before the full House with two sentences, it left with one. Hartford City Republican Representative Kevin Mahan said the measure’s second sentence, which banned civil unions, had too many other potential consequences:



If we cannot understand in this body exactly what that second sentence means, how can we expect millions of Hoosiers to understand what it means when they go to the polls in November?”


Governor Mike Pence pressed Senate lawmakers to reinsert the second sentence, ensuring the measure would reach the ballot in 2014. But the Senate passed the amendment with only its first sentence, restarting the ratification process. Freedom Indiana campaign manager Megan Robertson, whose coalition helped rally support against HJR-3, declared victory:



I think the appetite around here to continue this conversation again is just not there. I think most folks are hoping that this actually goes away and they don’t have to deal with it again.”


Long says he plans on dealing with the amendment in the next couple of years:



I suspect that it will come back and it will be on the ballot in 2016. And I think that’s good because I do think, in the end, the people of Indiana need to weigh in on this.”


The legislature must approve the measure in its 2015 or 2016 session for HJR-3 to go on the ballot in 2016.


With HJR-3 out of the way, the spotlight shifted to Governor Mike Pence’s agenda. And one of the cornerstones of that agenda was a preschool pilot program. The House approved a pilot program that would provide vouchers to one thousand low-income Hoosier children in five counties to attend high quality preschools. But the program hit a road block in the Senate, where Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley led an effort to eliminate the pilot, due in large part to fiscal concerns:



At 10 million a year, that’s a pretty expensive approach to this when you don’t even have the thing synthesized in your own mind yet.”


Pence wouldn’t give up, pushing hard for a pilot program:



We are on a daily basis engaging with members of the General Assembly in both parties to make the case that the time has come for expanding access to quality pre-k programs to some of our most disadvantaged kids.”


And in the end, the legislature agreed on a program that funds high quality pre-k for four-year-olds in five counties using money reverted to the budget from state agencies at the end of the fiscal year and private dollars, such as grants, donations, and gifts. Bosma says he’s hopeful the program can begin as early as this fall:



This gives a chance to prove that strong early education opportunities for these lowest of income families can make a difference for them. It’s been proven elsewhere – we need to prove it here in Indiana to make the case for the future.”


Lawmakers also worked out a deal reforming the state’s business personal property tax, a levy on business equipment that generates a billion dollars a year statewide for local governments. The House and Senate initially had two very different ideas of how to implement Pence’s goal of phasing out the tax. The original House plan would have allowed local governments to eliminate the tax on new equipment purchases. The original Senate plan eliminated the tax statewide on small businesses. The final product adopts the House plan and makes the Senate’s small business cut a local decision as well. Bosma notes none of the tax cut options take effect until next year:



It will give the legislature time to look at whether replacement revenues need to be adjusted, what they should be and I think it’s just a prudent approach.”


Hoosiers will soon see construction work on the state’s major interstates as the legislature releases at least 200 million dollars in transportation funds to INDOT. Last year’s budget included four hundred million dollars in a transportation fund for long-term, future projects. But Pence wants the money now – and the General Assembly delivered, sending him half the money. The other 200 million will be released to INDOT after approval by the state budget committee. Valparaiso Republican Representative Ed Soliday says the money can have an immediate and major impact:



We have an excellent opportunity to leverage this money with federal matching money. This is an excellent opportunity to create jobs, improve our infrastructure and really move our state forward.”


In the session’s final hours, lawmakers also approved legislation allowing licensed gun owners to keep their guns locked out of sight in their cars on school property while defeating a bill requiring some welfare recipients to be drug tested. For Indiana Public Broadcasting, I’m Brandon Smith.


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