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Lawmakers return for 2011 session

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By DEANNA MARTIN

Associated Press Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers are returning to the Statehouse Wednesday to begin the 2011 legislative session with Republicans controlling the House, Senate and governor’s office.

The agenda could include a wide range of issues — including proposals to ban drivers from using mobile phones and implement a statewide smoking ban — but will be dominated by four main goals GOP lawmakers have set for themselves: creating a new state budget, dealing with proposed sweeping education changes, drawing new political maps through redistricting and finding a solution for the state’s broken unemployment insurance fund.

“Those are the big four,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Long met with House Republican leaders before Wednesday’s House and Senate sessions, which are largely procedural as bills start moving through the legislative system. Long said lawmakers hope to start working quickly on fixing the unemployment insurance fund.

The state has borrowed $1.9 billion from the federal government to keep making unemployment insurance payments in a system that pays out more to jobless workers than it collects from employers. The administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels has proposed cutting the payment amounts received by certain workers, such as those in construction, who face seasonal unemployment. Businesses with frequent layoffs could also see their unemployment taxes go up.

Creating a two-year balanced budget will also be a challenge for lawmakers. Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has estimated that the General Assembly would have to cut about $1 billion from current spending to cover the budget gap and leave a healthy amount in reserve. Lawmakers and Daniels have said that’s possible without cutting education, but it will mean making tough decisions about cuts elsewhere.

“There aren’t easy solutions,” Long said. “The one thing we are in total agreement on is we’re not going to raise taxes to balance the budget. We’ll find answers within our existing revenue sources.”

While Daniels hopes to avoid cuts to public schools, he is pushing for school changes that would change the education landscape in Indiana. He wants to restrict teacher collective bargaining, use student test scores to evaluate teachers and create a voucher program that would use taxpayer money to help families send children to private school. Many Democrats oppose those ideas, but will have little say in the matter since they have no power in the legislature.

Republicans will also have full control of the redistricting process this year. Legislators will use data from the 2010 Census to redraw maps of the state’s nine congressional and 150 state legislative districts for the next decade.

 

 

Posted 1/5/2011

 

 

 

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