Chesterton Tribune



State lawmakers opening annual legislative session

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana lawmakers are returning to the Statehouse Tuesday for the start of their annual legislative session, where a likely tax increase to pay for infrastructure improvements is expected to be a major issue in the coming months.

The Senate was set to gavel in at 1:30 p.m. The House will do the same at the same time Wednesday.

GOP leaders who command supermajorities in both chambers say they have two major priorities this year. One will be writing the stateís next two-year budget. The other is crafting a plan - and a likely tax increase - that will fund road improvements and infrastructure projects into the future.

That means residents could find themselves paying more for cigarettes, gasoline or vehicle registration to build out and repair the stateís roads, highways and bridges. It also creates an awkward situation for roughly two dozen Republicans who signed a pledge by conservative activist Grover Norquist, promising never to raise taxes.

Incoming Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb says he will unveil his agenda for the session on Thursday before he is sworn in as governor on Jan. 9, replacing current Gov. Mike Pence, the vice president-elect.

Indiana is sitting on about $2 billion in reserves. Revenues are projected to grow 2 percent over the next two years, which could bring in an estimated $1 billion in new money.

Still, GOP leaders say they are cautious after the state collected about $300 million less than expected during the current budget cycle. They donít want to tap the surplus, warning that a recession could be around the corner.

Another issue that is expected to generate considerable debate is the future of the stateís preschool program for children from low-income families. Advocates want lawmakers to expand beyond the stateís current five-county pilot program and the United Way of Central Indiana is asking for $50 million in funding.

Indiana was one of the last remaining states to have a state-sponsored preschool program, until Pence secured funding for the current $10 million pilot program.

Holcomb said on the campaign trail that he would like to expand the program, but has yet to offer specifics. Meanwhile, GOP leaders have suggested that lawmakers may not have an appetite for expanding the program.

Another question that hangs over the session is what role conservative social issues may play. Many social conservatives say they have been emboldened by the election of President-elect Donald Trump and see now as the time to push for big changes.

Already state Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Goshen, has said he will sponsor a bill that would ban abortion in the state, despite a longstanding U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing it. Supporters are pushing the bill they hope could lead to a court case that overturns the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Gun rights advocates say they are similarly optimistic about their chances following Trumpís election.

Republican state Rep. Jim Lucas, of Seymour, plans to file the bill that would get rid of a state law requiring a license to carry handguns.

A bill filed by Republican Sen. Travis Holdman of Markle would block judges from using foreign law to impose a restriction that would violate a personís constitutional rights. Holdman said he is sponsoring the bill after constituents voiced concern that Islamic religious law, known as Sharia law, could be cited in civil cases.



Posted 1/3/2017





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