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Indiana lawmakers return for brief busy session

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TOM LoBIANCO, Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indiana lawmakers began their 2014 legislative session Tuesday with a jam-packed schedule and just 10 weeks to complete their work.

The House and Senate were scheduled to hold their first meetings of the session Tuesday afternoon, following a one-day delay because of the heavy snow and subzero temperatures that hit the state.

Two issues appear likely to dominate the session the elimination of a property tax on business equipment and machinery and an effort to place the state's gay marriage ban in the constitution.

Gov. Mike Pence and some of the state's business lobbyists will be squaring off with local officials in an effort to eliminate the business personal property tax. Supporters say it is needed to improve the state's business climate. Opponents say it could rip open a $1 billion budget hole for cash-starved localities.

The gay marriage battle likely will draw most of the spotlight. Supporters are seeking to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage, civil unions and benefits for same-sex couples. Opponents of the amendment have run a highly visible and coordinated campaign so far, but it's unclear whether they will succeed in winning enough lawmakers to their side. A bipartisan group of lawmakers overwhelmingly voted for the amendment when it last came up in 2011.

Gov. Mike Pence also will be pushing education measures, including a proposal to expand vouchers to teachers and preschool-aged children. He is seeking additional aid for charter school operators and the creation of a tax credit for parents who adopt.

Lawmakers are set to take up many of their own initiatives through the session. A proposal to crack down on trespassers dubbed by opponents as the "Ag Gag" bill is set for a hearing Tuesday afternoon. A handful of Senate Republicans are seeking new limits on domestic surveillance, following an Indianapolis Star report that state police were using a new cellphone tracking tool.