Election Day was November 4th and the members of the Indiana General Assembly got together on November 18th for Organization Day. Organization Day is the third Tuesday following the first Monday in November. This is the day that legislators take their oaths of office and in the days after that, the leaders announce committee assignments and who would be chairing those committees.
The single most important task for the General Assembly this year is creating the next two-year budget. This is done during what is referred to as the long session which can begin no later than the second Monday in January and must conclude no later than April 29th. On Organization Day, the legislature announced that this session will begin on January 6th.
Even though the budget will dominate the session, there are things that are almost certain to come up.
For example, there likely will be a push by some legislators to bring up the constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. It is doubtful that there will be a vote on it, or that it even will receive a hearing, but that will not stop some legislators from wanting to bring it up.
Another issue: nuclear power. John Ketzenberger of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute has reported that Senator Jim Merritt has said he will reintroduce legislation that will add nuclear power facilities to the list of clean energy generators in Indiana.
An item that has the potential to come up every session is daylight saving time. In recent years there have been concurrent resolutions petitioning the United States Department of Transportation to hold hearings on placing all of Indiana in the Central Time Zone.
In advance of the session, a number of groups promote their legislative priorities for the session.
On October 14th, the House Republican Caucus announced its legislative agenda and it included matters related to the budget, education, ethics, and public safety. More specifically, they pledged to pursue a budget that did not raise taxes, fix the school funding formula, strengthen disclosure laws for legislators, and address infant mortality in Indiana.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce created some controversy when it announced its legislative priorities. Along with calling for a greater percentage of the state sales tax revenue going to roads and highways, they called for the Superintendent of Public Instruction to become a position appointed by the governor instead of an elected position. The position of Superintendent of Public Instruction is called for by the Indiana Constitution, but Article 8, Section 8 of the Constitution says the “method of selection, tenure, duties and compensation shall be prescribed by law.” That means changing the position from elected to appointed would not require a change to the Constitution.
Some of the groups that announce legislative priorities may be surprising. The public may be familiar with cities and counties announcing legislative priorities, but may not realize that state governmental bodies announce their priorities as well.
The Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE) released its legislative priorities earlier this year. In support of their goal for 60% of the adults in Indiana having a post-high school certificate or degree, they want to see each public higher education institution establish pathways to completion for students who have stopped out, dropped out, or who have let the institution know they intend to withdraw. They also want to see a new grant program created targeting students who have stopped out or dropped out. Finally, they want to replace an existing grant program with a more flexible program that could be used by non-traditional students who have more complicated lives than traditional students.
In addition to the groups that issue a list of legislative priorities, the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University conducts the Hoosier Survey each year and releases the results before the start of the legislative session. Not surprisingly, this year the survey found that “bringing more jobs to the state” was the number one issue. Improving public safety and improving local schools were the second and third more important issues according to the survey.
There are ways in which the various legislative priorities overlap and provide opportunities for cooperation, but there also are plenty of opportunities for competition. Each legislative session reminds us that there are a limited number of resources to address an unlimited number of problems. Each session also reminds us that no matter how much special insight we think we have, we will be wrong about some of the issues that will move and others that will never get off the ground.
The legislative session will not begin until January 6th, but if you want to influence what happens, you cannot wait until then to begin preparing for the session.
Andrew Downs is Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW.
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