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General Assembly in final month of work

Sunday, April 5, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- The General Assembly has now entered into the final month of legislative work.

In the next few weeks, both chambers will wrap up work on bills and lawmakers will begin the conference committee process to find common ground on some of this session's most important issues.

April 9 is the deadline for House committee action on Senate bills. In turn, April 15 will be the last day for final consideration of Senate bills on the House floor.

From mid-April until the end of the session, issues like the biennial state budget and fixing the state's unemployment compensation fund will be under the control of conference committees, groups made up of two members of the House and two from the Senate.

The conference committees will be charged with resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of a particular bill. When our differences are minor, an agreement is reached quickly and the conferees sign a committee report. Both chambers will then pass the report before it goes to the governor for final approval.

On many of our major issues, the differences are great and conferees must meet publicly and privately to reach a resolution.

I will highlight the discussions in greater detail in the weeks ahead, but I wanted to discuss the importance of this process now because conferees have already been assigned to find common ground on fixing our state's unemployment problem.

House Bill 1379 is the vehicle for reforming a bankrupt system that relies upon federal loans to continue to provide benefits to Hoosiers who have lost their jobs and need to provide for their families while they are looking for work. These are unusual times and I believe we have to be cautious in our actions. We must find a way to pay our way while making sure we help people who have really fallen on unexpected hard times.

This past week, I have received numerous calls, e-mails and visits from citizens in our district that are concerned about unemployment. I believe our solution has to be responsible and respectful to people as we recover from the economic downfall.

On other important issues, we expect to receive details on the Senate's proposal for the budget in the next few days. I am hopeful that we can find many areas of agreement. Our main focus will be on our ability to maintain funding for critical programs like education and health care.

Job creation must also remain a priority. Indiana's jobless rate rose to 9.4 percent in February. This percentage brings the number of people who are out of work in Indiana to more than 320,000. These numbers continue to show the need for state government to take a more active role in creating jobs, rather than relying on the federal stimulus package to do our work.

House Bill 1656, a bipartisan program that would give money back to our local communities for capital projects, such as roads, bridges and sidewalks, will help keep the local workforce and economy moving. These are good-paying jobs working on projects that have added long-term benefits for counties, cities and towns.

To day, the Senate has conducted a committee hearing on House Bill 1656, but nothing more. I will do everything in my power to keep this language alive.

In recent days, other issues have been added to our agenda. Lawmakers must consider ways to improve the delivery of services by agencies like the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Family and Social Services Administration. At week's end, we began getting information on a proposal to provide financial support for the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board, the entity that runs facilities like Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium.

We have a lot of work ahead with little time to act. I hope you will stay in touch. Your responses, e-mail and calls are important.

If you need to reach me during the 2009 session, you may call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 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 www.in.gov/H44. While visiting my website, you also may sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the Legislature.