INDIANAPOLIS -- Rather than talking about what didn't pass in the 2009 regular session of the Indiana General Assembly, let's talk about some of the bills that did pass.
As we wait for the governor to call legislators in for a special session to pass a new state budget, there were 184 bills approved this year (120 from the Indiana House and 64 from the Indiana House and 53 from the state Senate) that are in the final stages of becoming law.
Of that number, most attention has been on the bipartisan plan to begin fixing Indiana's bankrupt unemployment insurance trust fund. House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1379 provides the means to reform a system that presently relies upon federal loans to provide benefits for Hoosiers who are temporarily out of work and looking for a job.
This reform does not cut benefits for the unemployed, something I felt was imperative during a national recession. We are replenishing the trust fund by gradually increasing premiums charged to employers, while generating savings by reforming the way state's Department of Workforce Development (DWD) administers the system through an oversight commission.
Combined, these reforms would total more than $615 million. That does not address the entire problem, but negotiators in both chambers realized that this first step needed to be taken to put this system back in working order. The governor already has indicated he will sign HEA 1370 into law.
Had the state of Indiana not taken this course of action, the federal government would have taken control or our unemployment insurance trust fund.
The most significant education reform proposal set to become law will protect students and improve classroom discipline. HEA 1462 will require teachers to undergo an expanded background check in order to receive or renew their licenses. The measure also protects teachers from frivolous lawsuits that result from attempting to impose reasonable discipline in their classrooms.
Major steps were taken on election reform. HEA 1346 will enable you to go online to register to vote and update your voter registration information. Members of the armed services stationed overseas will be able to cast absentee ballots online.
Firefighters, police officers and paramedics who are called to an emergency while voting will be able to return to their polling places, sign an affidavit and cast their ballots.
Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 209 will make it easier for people to vote through provisional ballots. Counties with vote centers (several conveniently located polling places, rather than numerous neighborhood precincts) will be required to permit "no fault" absentee voting and to provide early voting options. It also will become easier for counties to establish satellite vote centers, which are early voting locations other than a county clerk's office.
Through HEA 1176, we have strengthened oversight of Indiana's mortgage lending industry, which will help Hoosiers pursue the American dream of owning and keeping a home. These changes will h elp educate prospective buyers and prevent them from being exploited by unscrupulous lenders.
In an effort to reduce the number of accidents caused by teen drivers, SEA 16 restricts teens from using cell phones and other telecommunication devices when they are behind the wheel and limits the number of passengers that teen drivers can have in the car. It also modifies Indiana's graduated driver's license program by increasing the ages at which teens can obtain a permit or license.
Our state's ongoing efforts to protect Hoosiers from identity theft continue with HEA 1121, which creates a unit within the Indiana Attorney General's office geared specifically toward investigating and prosecuting these crimes and assisting their victims. It also enhances laws that safeguard personal information and provides victims with additional tools to recover from these crimes.
Finally, I cannot talk about this session without mentioning an issue that drew some of the most emotional debate all year: Protecting dogs that are housed in mass breeding facilities commonly known as puppy mills. HEA 1468 upgrades penalties for animal abuse and neglect. Commercial dog breeders and brokers would have to register with the state, and provide minimum standards of care for animals.
As we wait for the start of the special session, you still can reach my by calling the toll-free Statehouse telephone number at 1-800-382-9842, writing to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, Ind., 46204, or submitting your comments to my website at www.in.gov/H44. While visiting my website, you also can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the legislature.