By JOHN KLINE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — GOSHEN — The Indiana House and Senate are set to convene for the first day of their new session this week, setting the stage for what looks to be a very busy and potentially controversial 2014.
To find out just what’s on the table for the coming year legislation-wise, The News recently chatted with a few local politicians to find out their predictions for some of the bigger issues facing the General Assembly this session, as well as a breakdown of some of the personal bills they’ll be sponsoring.
State Sen. Carlin Yoder, District 12
For State Sen. Carlin Yoder, the upcoming legislative session will likely bring with it two or three major bills with the potential for some significant change in Indiana, the first of which seeks to eliminate the personal property tax from state businesses — a move which would take away about $1 billion in annual revenue for local governments and schools if an adequate funding replacement is not found.
“Gov. Pence has laid out his road map for the year, and at the top of that is the elimination of the personal property tax for businesses,” Yoder said. “Personally, I’m a little wary of that issue. I hate the tax — I think it’s a horrible tax that hurts business — but at the same time, I think we have to be careful we don’t hamstring local governments by eliminating that funding source without an alternative. So I’m not sure what will happen with that. I’m always in favor of eliminating taxes, but I think we need to be careful with this one.”
Also on Yoder’s radar for the upcoming session is a bill being pushed by Pence to establish a voucher program to fund early childhood education programs for low-income families. Through the new program, vouchers would be available to households earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level and could be used either during the school year or the summer preceding kindergarten.
And perhaps the biggest issue currently on the radar for Yoder this session is the call for a referendum to allow voters to vote on placing a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution.
“Obviously the marriage amendment act will be the loudest thing on the agenda,” Yoder said. “We’ll see where that goes. Personally, I’m in favor of allowing Hoosiers to decide for themselves at the ballot box. I have no problem allowing Hoosier citizens to vote on it, so I’m in favor of it.”
Yoder was quick to note his apprehension over the possible negative impact such a potentially controversial bill could have on the overall productivity of the Assembly this session.
“I think it’d be a shame if the marriage amendment act dominates to the point where we can’t get something else done,” Yoder said. “I’m hoping we can work on some fiscal issues, and make sure educationally we’re going in the right direction, but I think if we’re not careful we could get sidetracked by this one.”
As for the bills he will personally be sponsoring this session, Yoder noted that while none of them will likely be particularly ground-breaking, he does see them as a benefit to the state and worthy of consideration.
“With one bill I’ll be working with Wendy Hudson of the Elkhart County Clerks Office to develop an easier way to go about establishing vote centers in the state,” Yoder said. “Then I’m also working with Brian Dickerson of the Elkhart City Council on a bill dealing with issues of open records. Then I also have some natural resource bills I’m introducing. I’m the chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resource committee, so I have a few bills in there working with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources on cleanup issues, etc.”
State Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, District 22
Also set to have quite the busy session this year is State Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, who currently has several bills on the table for 2014.
Like Yoder, Kubacki said she also sees the bill seeking to remove personal property taxes from businesses as one of the biggest issue facing the assembly this session.
“My position on that is, unless we can find a way to make up the difference, all of these small towns and cities are already reeling from the effects of the property tax caps, and I just think we have to be very careful,” Kubacki said. “It sounds like a good thing, but we have to be very careful about passing this, and I don’t think we should do it unless we have a way to make up the difference.”
Kubacki also pointed to the marriage amendment bill as a potentially huge issue for the state that is sure to garner significant discussion and debate throughout the legislative session.
“Personally, I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but it’s not about me,” Kubacki said. “We have to look at the question of do we really need to change the constitution for something that is already a state law? It’s very clearly stated in the law that marriage is between one man and one woman, so I’m struggling with changing the constitution for something that is already state law.”
In addition, Kubacki said she’s worries making the marriage amendment a constitutional issue could lead to future challenges to the state’s already existing gay marriage ban.
“I can guarantee you, if it becomes a constitutional issue, it’s going to be challenged, and that’s going to jeopardize the state law we already have,” Kubacki said. “So we have to weigh both sides, and you have to think about the unintended consequences, because once you change the constitution — once you open that door — you can’t always control what comes in. It seems like such a simple thing, but it’s not simple at all.”
As for the bills currently being sponsored by Kubacki, one of the first involves a methamphetamine bill seeking to make pseudoephedrine a scheduled drug.
“We’ve tried tracking it, decreasing the amount you can get, etc., and nothing is working,” Kubacki said of the drug. “Since I was elected in 2010, more and more kids are finding their way to foster care because their parents are addicted to meth and can’t take care of them. The Department of Child Services is getting a huge influx of these kids, and to me, anybody that has ever gone into one of those homes where meth is being made, why there isn’t a huge outcry for this is beyond me. So I’m bringing it back.”
Also in the works for Kubacki are several domestic violence bills, the first of which seeks to create a fast track to divorce for anyone who is in a relationship with someone who has been convicted of domestic violence.
“Then the next bill I’m sponsoring has to do with allowing a minor to request a protective order without the consent of an adult,” Kubacki said. “Then with the last bill I’m sponsoring, the governor has asked me to carry an adoption bill, which basically requests a summer study committee next year to study how we can streamline ... the adoption process within the state to make it easier. So looking at all of those, I feel like I’m kind of the mom of Indiana in a way, but I just really feel that these are important family issues that we need to address.”
State Rep. Wes Culver, District 49
While the business personal property tax elimination and marriage amendment bills both made it onto State Rep. Wes Culver’s big to-do list, Culver also pointed to several bills currently up for consideration by the Assembly that didn’t make it onto either Yoder or Kubacki’s lists.
“The Common Core curriculum will be an issue, whether Indiana stays with the national Common Core or creates it’s own,” Culver said. “I lean toward Indiana creating its own, because I think if states create their own, it tends to lead to more innovation. But there are good arguments on both sides of that issue.”
Also mentioned by Culver is what he expects to be a continued discussion regarding the possibility of a Medicare expansion within the state, as well as a continued push for increased transportation spending for local governments.
“Transportation is going to be on the forefront, whether or not to use Major Moves funds and give local governments more money,” Culver said. “Right now the purchase of gas is being reduced because of better mileage cars, and that then reduces the amount of money going to local governments through the gas tax. So we’re still trying to work on getting transportation funding to local governments.”
Regarding the business personal property tax elimination bill, Culver said there are still a few issues he would like to see cleared up with that before he is able to make a decision one way or the other.
“Personally, I would like to see two things,” Culver said. “The first would be more evidence that elimination would actually help business. Then secondly, if they talk about a tax swap, where they’d eliminate one tax and create another, I’d be very opposed to that, because it’d be just a waste of time and add a lot of unnecessary confusion.”
As for the marriage amendment bill, Culver said he has long been a vocal supporter of the bill, though unlike Yoder and Kubacki, he does not expect the bill to be as disruptive as some have proposed.
“I think we’re going to vote on that one pretty quick, and that won’t take a lot of time and focus in the Legislature,” Culver said. “I don’t think there’ll be a lot of energy spent on that, because most all legislators already know how they’re going to vote. Whether or not it will pass, I don’t know, but I don’t think it will be our main focus.”
In discussing some of the personal bills he’ll be sponsoring this session, Culver pointed first to a Local Option Income Tax bill that he had previously sponsored during the assembly’s 2013 session.
“There is my LOIT bill that I worked on with (Goshen Mayor) Allan Kauffman quite a bit last year,” Culver said. “Basically what that deals with is when local communities collect LOIT and send them to the state, we’re not getting them all back because it’s based on filed tax returns. So I have a bill that says the amount paid by the county should be the amount getting back to the county.”
Other bills currently being sponsored by Culver that he said appear to be gaining momentum include a bill seeking to repeal the Indiana Smoker’s Bill of Rights and a bill seeking to protect individuals who win a real estate assessment appeal from large increases in their property taxes.
“I sponsored that bill because I’ve heard from many people that when they win an assessment appeal, the next year they often see their property tax go up by a significant percentage,” Culver said. “With this bill, if someone wins a real estate assessment appeal, the property tax for that property cannot be raised more than inflation for at least three years.”