Chesterton Tribune

 

 

South Shore study, medical insurance, minimum wage hike are Tallian priorities for short legislative session

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

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.

West Corridor

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 County.

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 Act.

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.

Education

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 support.

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 discussion.

ďI donít expect it to get a hearing but I feel someone needs to make that statement,Ē Tallian said.

Decriminalizing marijuana

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.

 

Posted 12/30/2013