INDIANAPOLIS -- The General Assembly is near the end of the first half of its 2009 session and the Indiana House has officially passed a one-year budget that will set the stage for education, job creation, health care and many other state services.
Unquestionably, the budget is our first priority during this session. While the Legislature normally passes a biennial budget, 2009 will be different as we deal with the uncertainties of our economy.
Just like we deal with our personal budgets, the state must re-adjust to the ever-changing aspects of this financial market. Monies from a national stimulus package will play a role in making sure that our choices are not as difficult. However, I believe passing a one-year budget is the most responsible action.
This approach will give us another year to see if the economy recovers, which could mean increased state revenues. If things do not improve, the budget covering the second year of the biennium will have to reflect harder times.
The budget has been divided into three parts. The first part is an education plan (House Bill 1723) that provides a 2 percent increase in state funding for public schools and contains a "hold harmless" provision to ensure no school corporation receives less than current funding levels.
The second part (House Bill 1728) provides more than $650 million for child protection services in Indiana. This will be the first child services budget to finance programs like child support, abuse prevention, foster care and adoption through state and federal dollars, rather than local property taxes.
The final piece of the budget plan (House Bill 1001) covers funding for all remaining state agencies and programs, including higher education.
While it is a difficult task to meet all of the demands, the budget process is a work in progress. Starting in March, state senators will have the chance to look at the budget bills and set their priorities.
In addition to the budget, it is good to reflect on a couple of public policy issues that have also cleared the House. House Bill 1468 establishes commercial dog breeder regulations and requirements for keeping and caring for animals, along with penalties for violations of the law.
House Bill 1213 would ban smoking in many public places. This measure has gone through many revisions as lawmakers weigh the health benefits against the potential impact on businesses. In its current form, the bill provides exemptions for casinos and many bars, but does allow local communities to pass tougher restrictions. The bill will be addressed by the Senate during the next month.
House Bill 1121 creates an identity theft unit in the office of Indiana's attorney general. This unit will investigate consumer complaints, assist victims of identity theft and work with law enforcement to bring violators to justice.
While both sides have worked together in the House to pass a strong jobs package for Indiana, we were unable to agree on a plan to replenish unemployment compensation funds under House Bill 1721. Since the state is not generating enough funding to pay for the benefits that are needed, we have been forced to borrow money from the federal government to cover these costs. This should be a bipartisan effort, and I hope we will find common ground in the days to come.
As we wind up the week, I am confident in the strengths of our membership. We have much to offer in our experience to serve this great state well.
If you need to reach me during the 2009 session, you can call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number at 1-800-382-9842, write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, Ind., 46204, or submit your comments to my website at H44@in.gov.
While visiting my website, you may also sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the Legislature.