Chesterton Tribune

Duneland lawmakers talk education, labor in last days of tough legislature

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

With less than two weeks left in the 2012 Indiana General Assembly, a few area lawmakers were in Chesterton on Saturday to share their knowledge of bills circulating inside the statehouse impacting constituents.

State Senator Karen Tallian, D- Portage, hosted a forum at Chesterton Town Hall to an audience of 15 on Saturday afternoon along with State Representatives Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, and making his first Duneland appearance, Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

Pelath said he was “more than jubilant” to learn in last year’s redistricting that he would be representing portions of Pine, Jackson and Westchester townships in Porter County.

“It almost feels like being a new legislator,” said Pelath, who has served in the assembly since 1998.

All three jumped right into talking about the divisive “right-to-work” bill which dominated the first half of the General Assembly.

Moseley said he thought 2012 would be a good year to help work on programs that would bring jobs to the state and improve services since tax revenues were up this year, but was “dumbfounded” when he heard right-to-work was going to be brought back this year as the legislature’s number-one priority.

The push had “nothing to do with philosophy,” Moseley said, and was just a political move by Governor Mitch Daniels and his Republican majority to catch the eye of the nation proving they had the power to create the first right-to-work state in the country’s rust belt.

Pelath added that the bill was the most bitter and divisive seen in a generation and said there is no correlation to proponents’ claims that right-to-work brings more employment to states with right-to-work laws. He said higher wages exist in states without right-to-work because businesses have to compete with companies who have union wages.

Tallian, who serves as ranking minority leader on the Senate’s Pensions and Labor Committee, said her colleagues wouldn’t give the bill a hearing longer than six minutes and did so to show they had the power to.

“We (Senate Democrats) tried our best but we couldn’t amend it and we couldn’t stop it,” said Tallian, “This year has been a train wreck.”

Tallian said once the right-to-work bill passed, she was happy to move on to more topics but the bills became “weirder,” like Senate Bill 89 that would allow teachers to teach students various religious viewpoints on creationism (SB 89 was subsequently voted down in the house), and another bill that would give the states to ability to opt out of federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.

“You look at this stuff and you can’t believe they’re serious,” Tallian said.

Moseley’s Mission to Study Child Services

Instead of right-to-work, Moseley said the state should have made its mission to address a matter in the state’s Department of Child Services.

At the forum, Moseley provided handouts of news articles from South Bend and Indianapolis news groups raising questions of possible problems in the DCS after 23 Hoosier children died from abuse or neglect even when concerns about their treatment were reported to the DCS.

Moseley said state control over child service dollars has reportedly led to less access to child services and when one of his colleagues, State Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, proposed an amendment to study the department phone system the committee wouldn’t even allow a hearing on the matter.

“We need to ask ourselves could we have prevented this and right now it’s being swept under the rug,” said Moseley. “This is a moral obligation.”

He urged audience members to contact the governor’s office and legislators to convince them this study needs to take place.

Smoking Ban

One piece of legislation lauded was HB 1149, which would ban smoking from all public places with the exception of a few bars, taverns and gaming facilities in Indiana. Jane Delligatti, chair of the 2012 Duneland Relay for Life, thanked the three legislators for the commitment to healthy environments and invited them to attend the Relay on July 14 at Chesterton Middle School.

Moseley said many bar owners in his district said they are happy to comply with the smoking ban even before the 18-month exemption ends.

“It’s something important. It really is for everyone,” he said.

The group also took questions from Liberty Township resident Ed Gutt on the governor’s effort to reform local government where more voting power would be given to cities and towns and an attempt to reduce the number of county commissioners from three to one. Tallian, Pelath and Moseley said they favored counties having local control. Moseley mentioned he made an effort to amend the bill that would prevent nepotism in county government by exempting volunteer firefighters from the ban, but his attempt had been unsuccessful.

The “nepotism” bill would also prohibit government employees from running for public office.

A Change is Coming?

Now that the 2012 session is sunsetting at the statehouse (the Assembly is tentatively scheduled to adjourn on March 9), some have begun to set their sights on 2013, which could be a “game changer” depending on the outcomes of the November 2012 elections where all state representative seats and some of the state senate spots are up for election.

Pelath and Moseley shared with the group their prediction of a larger voter turnout now that “people have had enough” of political tactics.

“I think you are going to see a shift in the fall. It’s not going to be a major shift, but you’re going to see some change,” said Moseley.

Pelath said that residents want to see candidates who can promote compromise between the two political parties and those who did so in the past were considered to be “great statesmen.” But today, compromise is seen by the parties to be a sign of weakness.

He added that living in the “information age” has allowed people to pick and choose what news they want to read or view and they often are not getting a balanced view of the issues. This, he believes, has increased political polarization.

Moseley encouraged the public to talk to their friends and neighbors about the state issues. Instead of people showing up at the polls to “vote with their pocketbooks,” Moseley said more people will show up because they believe they can make a difference.

“It’s been a pretty tough road since January 2011,” he said.

From the audience, Liberty Township resident Herb Read said political labels have morphed in recent years and the Republicans who give themselves the label “conservative” don’t follow his definition of someone wanting changes to be slow or gradual.

“They are not conservative. They are radicals and we should call them radicals,” said Read.

Lawmakers Give Education $130 Million

Earlier in the day, the three legislators joined a few more of their peers, State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, at another forum hosted by the Retired Teachers Association in the auditorium at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Valparaiso where education was the main topic.

Teachers applauded news that the “thirteenth check” bill, House Bill 1123, where members of the Indiana state teachers’ retirement fund would be given a further stipend from the state, has passed the House and the Senate. The state will appropriate $19 million for pension funds.

“This is a real feel-good bill. You don’t get a lot of that,” said Charbonneau who is a co-sponsor of HB 1123.

The panel further discussed a move by Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, that will put up $80 million for full-day kindergarten from the “found” $320 million in corporate income tax. The program will be fully-funded as long as the same amount of students sign up this year.

Schools would also be appropriated $30 million in tuition support through Charbonneau’s SB 280 which would put school funding on a fiscal year basis rather than a calendar basis and would make two student counts during the year for the state’s funding formula. The $30 million would be reimbursed to charter schools that would lose money in the transition.

The three measures increase the state’s commitment to education by about $130 million.

 

Posted 2/27/2012