Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Duneland legislators tell 2019 priorities

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By LILY REX

Duneland’s four state legislators recently spoke to the Chesterton Tribune about their goals for the 2019 legislative session.

The Indiana General Assembly meets for 60 session days this year--a budget year--instead of 30. The deadline for both senators and representatives to file bills was yesterday.

Tallian

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, said she had to “truncate” her goals last year for the 10-week session, but now she’s trying to expand her reach.

“Frankly a lot of democrat bills don’t get heard during the short session,” Tallian said. “My goals get to be expanded in a long session.”

As for Tallian’s goals, she’s going to “push hard” for the creation of a Cannabis Compliance Commission. “The state has already passed some legislation allowing sales of CBD oil, but nobody’s in charge of regulating it,” Tallian said.

Tallian said the Commission described in her bill, SB 211, would regulate the production and sale of legal marijuana products like CBD oil and industrial hemp and is modeled after the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.

The most significant issue this session, she said: the budget. “We need a budget--one that’s transparent and that doesn’t have secret money laying all around or off the books money.”

Tallian said one of the most salient budget issues this year could be the Department of Child Services, which has asked for a 42 percent increase in its budget following a tumultuous 2018, when the director resigned and left the warning that the Department was in crisis as a parting gift. Governor Eric Holcomb gave DCS an emergency sum of $25 million from the State’s surplus last year to improve wages and hire more case managers.

“They have come in and asked for a whole lot more money than they were given in the past. I personally think that with that money are going to come reforms,” Tallian said. “I, for one, am not willing to throw more money in it when some of the operations are just not working.”

Tallian has certain bills she refiles every year, such as a bill to increase Indiana’s minimum wage. “I file these bills because somebody needs to keep talking about them,” she said.

This year, two of the bills she’s most excited about are related to healthcare. Tallian said she authored a bill for voluntary family medical leave that would set-up a supplemental policy that people can opt into for benefits similar to a short-term disability program. Employers who have employees enrolled in the program would not be required to contribute, but incentives would be made available for those that do.

Tallian’s other healthcare bill is focused on community paramedicine. Tallian said that paramedics typically only bill for emergency transport, but they could be even more valuable resources for “frequent fliers,” patients who often call emergency services for regular care. “if we can have a medic make some home visits to those people who would call anyway, maybe we can do some preventative care,” Tallian said. Her bill would allow paramedics to bill for those other services besides transport.

“It’s expanding the scope of practice,” said Tallian. “If we allow the medics to bill for that, and to bill Medicaid, we might save ourselves a whole lot of money.”

Tallian said she hopes the General Assembly can overcome partisanship to focus on the budget this year and that certain issues, like past debates on bills that brought religion to the forefront or proposed extra regulations on abortion, don’t cloud the fiscal issues in 2019. “I hope we achieve a session where we make some real reforms without getting into those social issues that come in and derail the session,” she said.

Tallian added that she hasn’t forgotten the erosion plaguing the Portage Lakefront. “I am working and continuing to try to find solutions for our local problems.”

Soliday

Rep. Edmond Soliday, R-Valparaiso, was not available for a phone interview, but responded to questions about his priorities and bills he has authored via email.

Among the goals Soliday highlighted were passing a balanced budget, funding the distressed water utility loan program, and clarifying Porter County election law.

Last year, Soliday said he worked on creating a water task force and wrote bills related to autonomous vehicles. He said his main focus last year was a successful rewrite of the Indiana Finance Authority Code, but this year he’s more focused on direct funding issues.

Perhaps one of Soliday’s most Region-relevant bills is HB 1217, which would amend Porter County election laws following a 2018 general election fraught with polling places opening late, poll worker complaints, alleged chain of custody issues, and absentee ballots that weren’t delivered on time, where results weren’t in until Nov. 9.

Rather than having a separate board of registration and election board, under Soliday’s bill, Porter County would have a five-member board of elections and registration, and its members would be subject to anti-nepotism policies. The bill would also require that absentee ballots are counted together at a central location.

As usual, some of Soliday’s bills from this session are focused on transportation. HB 1236 defines what constitutes an electric bicycle and would establish some safety guidelines for them, such as allowing local entities to regulate the use of electric bicycles on trails and bike paths, mandating that children under 15 can’t ride certain types of electric bicycles, and requiring the use of a helmet when riding. Soliday also authored a BMV omnibus bill, an INDOT omnibus bill, a bill that would amend laws on subscription auto sales, one clarifying taxes on data centers, and one that would eliminate a circuit court judge’s right to appoint a member of a county park board.

Soliday said he hopes the General Assembly achieves three things: a balanced budget, progress on workforce development, and improved teacher compensation.

Boy

Rep. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City, has hit the ground running in her first term as District 9 State Representative after years on Michigan City’s City Council. Boy reported she has hit her quota of 10 filings in her first session with nine bills and a house joint resolution. She can’t be accused of playing it safe, with several contentious issues among her filings.

Boy’s house joint resolution proposes the addition of an Equal Rights Amendment to Indiana’s Constitution. “At one time, we ratified the federal ERA, so it makes sense to have it in our constitution,” Boy said.

Following Gov. Holcomb’s recent avowed support for hate crime legislation, Boy has also filed HB 1203, which would increase the penalties attached to crimes “motivated by a bias against another individual’s actual or perceived age, ancestry, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, familial status, gender identity, military service, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.” The bill proposes that bias-motivated crimes should carry an extra term of imprisonment not to exceed five years for felony offenses and three years for misdemeanors. It would also require local law enforcement to report bias-motivated crimes to the FBI.

Boy said there’s a sore need for a hate crime law in Indiana. “We’re one of only five states that doesn’t have one.”

Boy also filed a bill to repeal a chapter of the Right to Work law, and one to commission a wage study from Ball State University to determine what effect the law has had on unionized industries, as well as HB 1387, which would permit the use of medical marijuana and prohibit law enforcement from harassing those who use it for a serious illness.

Another bill Boy highlighted is HB 1204, which she filed after reading research that there is biological evidence suggesting that secondary students learn more effectively if they start school later in the day. The bill would require that schools don’t start instruction for students in grades six to 12 before 8 a.m.

Boy said she raised the issue with Michigan City Schools during her time in local government, but was told that starting the day later would negatively impact scheduling after school sports. “I don’t think that’s a valid reason to have kids not learn,” she said.

Boy echoed Tallian’s sentiment about the General Assembly getting down to business without playing politics. “It’s a budget year, so it’s going to be a little more contentious, but we have things that we need to fund, and we need to find ways to fund them,” she said. “I hope we can make a difference in the lives of people. I hope we can work together on things.”

Moseley

Rep. Charles Moseley, D-Portage, had a lot to say about how he hopes the bills he’s authored this session could help the average person and the working class.

The first bill Moseley discussed was HB 1412. ““The first goal is to try to create an opportunity to increase work zone safety on our highways,” Moseley said.

Moseley said the frequency of both civilian and worker fatalities in construction zones is approaching “a critical level” and his bill would allow the placement of speed cameras in work zones. “The goal is to make a safer work environment for state employees, and contractors working in work zones, and make our roads safer for private citizens driving in work zones,” he said.

Moseley filed HB 1077, which would create a tax deduction of up to $3,000 for disabled veterans who rent. According to Moseley, there is already a deduction available for vets who own property. “It evens the playing field for disabled vets who rent.”

“I see this as the first step, however large or however small, that we can take to address the problem that we have in Indiana with homeless veterans,” Moseley said. “It hopefully starts to open up the opportunity to make housing more affordable.”

HB 1076 would create a “sales tax holiday” for certain items between July 15 and Aug. 15 of every year. “The whole purpose for the bill is to find a way to lower the cost for working families who have kids going back to school,” Moseley said. The bill would waive sales tax on up to $250 of clothes for each student and up to $100 on school supplies for each student between those dates. Moseley said he hopes the holiday would be a boon for working families and single mothers.

HB 1508 addresses textbook rental costs, in a way that Moseley said is “pretty darn unique.” It would create a tax credit that reimburses parents and guardians of school-age kids for textbook rental fees and other instructional costs in the form of a reduction in their state taxes.

“I think this is a tremendous opportunity to make going back to school more affordable for parents and guardians,” Moseley said. “It’s starting to really become a big financial hardship and a burden for some people.”

In fact, Moseley said if he had to pick one bill, he’d single out HB 1508. Moseley said other legislators have suggested doing away with book rental fees, but that isn’t feasible. “We can’t expect the schools to absorb the cost,” he said. “This bill just eases the burden generally. It makes it a little easier for the state, and it makes it a heck of a lot easier for the parents.”

Moseley also said, “We can do a much better job than we’ve been doing” on gender-based pay equity, and highlighted again the importance of his work zone safety bill.

By collaborating with a representative from Avon, Ind., Moseley is trying to bring some of Porter County’s success in school safety to the statehouse. In Porter County, schools have access to a phone app that summons all available first responders in the event of a major emergency, like an active shooter. “The bill would make funding available for every school in the state, at their option, not a mandate, to have access to that software in order to drastically reduce response times,” Moseley said.

The Overlap

Moseley and Boy are on the same page about redistricting. Boy filed HB 1386, a proposal to form a non-partisan redistricting commission to combat gerrymandering, and Moseley cited a need for just that type of commission in his conversation with the Tribune. According to Moseley, this year is critical for redistricting because district boundaries will be up for debate after the 2020 census. “We need to take gerrymandering out of politics,” Moseley said. “It’s the right thing to do for the voters and the taxpayers of this state.”

Boy said she filed the bill to take the politics out of drawing the boundaries and in hopes that future General Assembly and Congressional districts will be drawn how they should be: “compact and contiguous.”

Moseley also had a concern in common with Soliday--he said one thing he hopes the General Assembly accomplishes this year is addressing Indiana’s abysmal infant mortality rate. “We’re the sixth worst state in the country for that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Soliday listed funding pediatric trauma center care for infants in Northwest Indiana as one of his top priorities this session. Soliday authored HB 1238, which would require that the office of Family and Social Services pilot a program where qualifying Medicaid recipients from Indiana are reimbursed for Medicaid-approved care at any children’s hospital in Chicago at the same rate they would be reimbursed for care at an Indiana hospital.

Soliday, Boy, and Moseley all made a point to say that teacher’s deserve a raise this session. Boy authored HB 1205, which would offer a larger cut of basic tuition support to schools that give their classroom teachers salary increases of two to five percent. Soliday listed improving teacher compensation as one of his major goals. Moseley said teacher compensation should be number one on the legislature’s agenda, and it’s the “first and foremost” issue he hopes the group can address this session.

Who represents who?

Four legislative districts come into Duneland: House District 9, House District 10, House District 4, and Senate District 4.

In the Indiana Senate, Tallian represents all of Duneland.

For the Indiana House, Boy represents Dunelanders in District 9, the boundaries of which are more complicated near Chesterton Middle School, but generally speaking includes those who live north of 1100N, west of Calumet Road, and North of Broadway in Chesterton. District 9 also includes Town of Pines, parts of unincorporated Pine and Westchester Townships, and Beverly Shores.

Dunelanders in Burns Harbor, Ogden Dunes, Dune Acres, most of Porter, and Chesterton neighborhoods southwest of the historic downtown are served by Moseley in District 10.

Dunelanders in eastern Jackson Township, a small portion of incorporated Chesterton south of 1100N, and almost all of Liberty Township are in District 4, represented by Soliday.

Visit iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators/ for more precision.

 

 

Posted 1/11/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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