INDIANAPOLIS -- As we enter the final days of the 2009 session of the Indiana General Assembly, lawmakers will spend the next week finalizing details in conference committees and passing bills that will become law.
I am hopeful we can get our work done on time to avoid a special session. There are about 100 bills in need of a resolution.
The problems that we face are huge, but I do feel that the solutions are attainable if we have the courage and vision to work together and do what is right for the people of Indiana.
As of March, nearly 340,000 people find themselves out of work, the unemployment rate of Indiana has hit 10 percent, and the state is down in anticipated revenues by more than $800 million. Although the atmosphere looks grim, lawmakers are serious about passing good policies.
I believe good policies include the bipartisan job creation program contained in House Bill 1656. It was designed to provide funds that support local capital improvement projects -- roads, bridges and other infrastructure -- that have historically created good-paying jobs. This proposal died in the Senate, but House members are working behind the scenes to revive the language before the end of session.
The biggest deliberations will be over unemployment and the state budget. The new budget must be able to fund critical operations like schools, public safety and health care as the national recession continues to cause drastic drops in state revenues.
In regard to academics, we need to support K-12 and higher ed, particularly at a time when these institutions provide Hoosiers with the skills needed to find work and their ability to help keep our economy afloat.
The budget proposal offered by the Indiana House uses a portion of the state's reserves to provide a modest increase in state support of schools. The Indiana Senate's budget plan cuts state support of education and replaces it with federal stimulus dollars that are available only on a temporary, short-term basis. This could create a problem two years down the road, when the federal stimulus funds are not going to be available to prop up school support.
I believe the best approach remains with the passage of a one-year budget that gives us flexibility to respond to the economic conditions of next year. Our final decision will rest in the merits of the conference committees' proposal.
During this past week, the House has concurred on a number of bills that are important for our future.
In an effort to give everyone access to the most up-to-date technology, House Bill 1561 requires the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) to develop a high-speed Internet service deployment and adoption initiative and create a statewide geographic information system of telecommunications and information technology services.
This initiative will help identify under-served areas by charting the existing infrastructure around the state.
House Bill 1598 would create a state recycling program for discarded electronic products. The state would partner with manufacturers of video display devices (like televisions and computer screens) to create a system for recycling unwanted electronic consumer products. Households, public schools and small businesses would be able to use the program and would no longer be permitted to dispose electronic products in landfills.
I supported this bill, authored by State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis), because many consumer electronic goods contain hazardous materials, such as lead and other dangerous metals that should be kept out of landfills to prevent contamination of our soil and water. Developing an e-waste recycling program marks a positive shift in attitude toward public health and environmental safety.
If signed by the governor, e-waste recycling programs would begin as early as April 2010.
House Bill 1191 addresses the transportation and application of fertilizers, including animal waste. The Indiana State Chemist will be responsible for establishing a certification program for commercial fertilizer companies and permitted confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
The legislation authored by Rep. Joe Pearson (D-Hartford City) will require companies and producers who have an Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) confined feeding permit to use best management practices in applying commercial and animal waste fertilizers. The language has been supported by Indiana's livestock commodity groups and producers, farm organizations and the environmental community.
From the beginning, it has been clear that the 2009 session will be judge on what lawmakers are able to do to create an environment to help taxpayers, support businesses and industry, create jobs, fix the unemployment dilemma and pass a responsible state budget.
Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to highlight the final decisions of the 150 lawmakers at the Statehouse.
If you need to reach me during the 2009 session, you can 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 can also sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the legislature.