Itís shaping up to be a mixed year for the 2014 Indiana General Assembly but
State Senator Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, is looking to make progress on
the West Lake Corridor plan for the South Shore Line, public funding for
pre-school, and getting the state its federal funding from Obamacare.
Tallian said that she is ready to file a vehicle bill that will allow
interlocal agreements for the proposed West Corridor Plan. The Plan includes
a possible extension of the South Shore Line, which is owned by the Northern
Indiana Commuter Transportation District, from Hammond to Dyer in Lake
In an interview with the Chesterton Tribune, Tallian said the bill
will allow a sub-board to NICTD, representing local government entities
involved in the agreement, the jurisdiction to raise and hold on to money
for the project.
This legislation is not to be confused with previous bills filed from
various legislators seeking to change the makeup of the NICTD board, Tallian
said. The sub-board will work to set up contracts for the West Lake Line. A
bill was introduced by State Rep. Mara Candlelaria Reardon, D-Munster, to
add Lake County mayors to the NICTD board in an effort to make progress on
the West Corridor. That proposal languished, although the concept was looked
at by a summer study committee tasked with taking an in-depth look at the
possibility of expanding the rail line into south Lake County.
Tallian said that given how quickly progress is being made on the West Lake
Line, she is not sure whether the bill will be needed. A strategic plan is
in the works that will look at the feasibility of the expansion and how it
could work with the area bus systems.
Health insurance exchange
Next, Tallian said she will be filing at least two bills related to health
insurance. One will be for Indiana to accept the state-based healthcare
exchange and get started using federal funds from the Affordable Healthcare
One of the provisions of AHA lets states have the option of setting up their
own exchanges. That gives businesses and individuals the ability to consider
a wider range of policies from private insurance firms, increasing
competition in the marketplace, Tallian said.
Last year, Tallian sponsored legislation proposing to implement a health
exchange that would expand Medicaid to families of four with household
incomes of up to $33,000 a year.
That effort met with resistance from her Republican colleagues and so, for
this year, Tallian is also offering an alternative bill that would use the
federal monies from the Medicaid exchange to pay for private health
insurance policies for lower-income Hoosiers.
The approach would be similar to a legislative proposal in the state of
Arkansas, Tallian said, and other states are also considering the approach.
The expansion will benefit those at 25 percent to 100 percent of the federal
poverty level. Those below the 100 percent mark will still be eligible for
Medicaid polices, she said.
In brass tacks, taking a market-based approach to providing coverage to
low-income families would increase competition in the market and offer new
coverage plan alternatives to Medicaid.
Tallianís other health insurance bill aims to make matters simpler for sick
or injured persons with high medical costs and no insurance by allowing
consolidation of medical bills or debts.
Tallian said there will be a lot of attention on early childhood education
this session, as Gov. Mike Pence has proposed a state-funded preschool
voucher program for children whose families have incomes at or below 185
percent of the federal poverty level. The proposal has received bipartisan
Tallian, for a number of years, has carried a bill to mandate all children
in Indiana receive kindergarten education before they enter first grade, but
so far that has not been successful. She said she may carry the bill again,
but it is likely to be introduced by one of her colleagues in the Indiana
Senate, Earline Rogers, D-Gary.
In the meantime, Tallian said she will be authoring a bill that will allow
school corporations to transfer funds from one fund to another when needed.
As of now, schools do not have the freedom to move monies from their capital
projects fund to their transportation fund or vice versa.
Tallian said she expects a proliferation of bills addressing the powers of
the state board of education given the rift between the elected Indiana
Superintendent of Public Education and the new Center for Education and
Career Innovation created by the governor.
Minimum Wage spike
Also, Tallian said she will make the effort to raise the minimum wage in
Indiana from $7.25, which is the federally enforced rate now, to $10 an hour
just as some federal lawmakers have suggested in adjusting the national
rate. She will also try to hike the rate for tipped employees from $2.15 an
hour to $3 an hour.
The chance that the bill will even be heard by a committee is farfetched,
Tallian said, but she is making the effort in hopes of starting the
ďI donít expect it to get a hearing but I feel someone needs to make that
statement,Ē Tallian said.
One more item on Tallianís agenda is to decriminalize possessing small
amounts of marijuana in Indiana, removing criminal penalties and replacing
them with a small fine similar to a traffic ticket. Her bill would also
permit the licensed production of hemp as an industrial crop that could be
used to make products such as jewelry or ropes.
Tallian will serve on the Pensions and Labor, Tax and Fiscal Policy, Civil
Law, Corrections and Criminal Law, and Elections committees.
She is also on the stateís Budget Committee which approved the 2014-15
Fiscal Year budget in the last General Assembly. Tallian said she doesnít
expect the lawmakers to reopen the budget this year.
The 2014 Indiana General Assembly starts Jan. 6.