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Thomas named committee chairman

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Rep. Andy Thomas, (R-Brazil), has been named Chairman of Elections and Apportionment, a committee that focuses on improving and moving legislation that pertains to Indiana's electoral process, as well as funding allocations across the state. The committee is one of several House Standing Committees.

"Local residents understand the meaning of 'integrity', 'honor', and 'reliability'," said Rep. Thomas. "This committee, so important to moving legislation that affects our elections, will be led by those characteristics. We will work in a bipartisan fashion in order to build-up and improve the foundation of our representative democracy."

At the Indiana General Assembly, Rep. Thomas is involved in several committees, including Judiciary, Local Government, in which he is the Ranking Republican Member, and Technology, Research, and Development.

Andy is active with Rotary International and the United Methodist Church in Brazil. As a former Chief Deputy Prosecutor, Rep. Thomas helped remove violent criminals from the streets and put drug dealers in jail.

On Tuesday, the Indiana General Assembly had its annual Legislative Organization Day at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. The event included the swearing in of new Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and all 100 members, the naming of new committees, the naming of leadership positions, and a pledge to bridge the gap between the public and the political process.

Among the most dramatic changes announced Tuesday was the formation of a Government and Regulatory Reform Committee to, among other things, continue the work and institutionalize many of the reform ideas put forth by the Government Efficiency Commission. Also proposed by Speaker Bosma was an Office of Legislative Information to allow the public greater access to the legislature.

Finally, Speaker Bosma called for higher standards and a high level of excellence when conducting business on the House floor. He called for a sense of order and professionalism, a higher level of debate, and he stressed quality of legislation over quantity.

The upcoming 2005 legislative session runs from the beginning of January to the end of April. For questions or comments regarding this session, Rep. Thomas can be reached at h44@IN.gov or toll-free at 1-800-382-9841.

Republicans formally took control of the Indiana House for the first time since 1996 on Tuesday.

Republicans gained three seats in the Nov. 2 election to win a 52-48 majority in the House. The change of majority in the House, along with Republican Mitch Daniels' victory over Gov. Joe Kernan and the continued GOP majority in the state Senate, give Republicans control of the major Statehouse positions.

Bosma said the state's economic and budgetary troubles would be the top priority.

"We face a budget that is a billion dollars short to start with," he said. "It is a tough task."

Bosma said he believed the Legislature had a "unique opportunity" with united control of state government and that he wanted the House to lead the way on reforms.

"Our governor told us to buckle up," he said. "I'm gonna tell you to hang on."

Bosma replaced Democrat Patrick Bauer of South Bend as speaker -- the person holding greatest control over the House agenda. Democrats selected Bauer as the chamber's minority leader.

The start of the House session was delayed for about 45 minutes as Democrats met privately to discuss rules changes proposed by the Republicans. The rules were later adopted without controversy.

Rep. Matt Whetstone, R-Brownsburg, said Tuesday he expected the Legislature to work closely with Daniels on many issues.

"We've got a governor now who's going to lead the Legislature," said Whetstone, who will be the new Rules Committee chairman. "All of us feel an obligation to that person."

Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton, R-Columbus, also was confirmed Tuesday in his position, which he has held since 1980.

Garton said Monday he believed the budget would be the single biggest issue facing the Legislature.

The state is facing an $830 million deficit and owes more than $710 million in back payments to schools, universities and local governments.

But Republican leaders in both chambers said other topics, including daylight-saving time, will be debated in the upcoming session.

"Daylight saving time will be back," Garton said, adding that leaders could raise sales tax by 5 percentage points and still not get as much mail as they do about daylight-saving time.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Young, D-Milltown, said Republicans should stay away from a handful of contentious issues and focus on the large number of bills that can help Indiana residents.

"If they can manage to stay away from those issues, I think we can have a very, very productive session," Young said.

But Republicans pledged weeks ago to pursue a constitutional ban on gay marriage. House Democrats denied GOP attempts to even debate the issue last session, and several Republicans made it a campaign issue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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