On a day usually reseved more for ceremony than substance, new Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma shook things up on Tuesday during Organization Day at the Statehouse. Among his pronouncements:
Appointing two Democrats (Chet Dobis and Steve Stemler) to committee chair posts. That is believed to be the first time members of the opposite party have been granted that opportunity in the nearly 200 years of Indiana statehood.
Creating a new group (to be chaired by Dobis) titled the Select Committee on Government Reduction. The goal: get rid of unnecessary regulations, as well as boards and commissions that no longer serve a critical importance (many will fit into that category).
Calling on all committee chairs to consider legislation offered by all members — regardless of party.
Limiting state reps to no more than 10 bills each, saying, "If you can’t get your agenda done in 10 bills, maybe your agenda is too long."
Announcing that all House committee hearings will be broadcast over the Internet, giving the public the opportunity to following the proceedings if so desired.
It’s easier in November than January to pledge bipartisanship and vow to listen to what the voters had to say in declaring business as usual is not good enough. But this has all the sights and sounds of more than political posturing. Let’s hope it is the first of many signs that the General Assembly is serious about placing progress on critical issues over partisan power plays. It would be a most welcome change.
The 2010 legislative session might officially begin Tuesday with Organization Day. The discussion started today, however, at the Indiana Chamber’s Central Indiana Legislative Preview. The four caucus leaders had plenty to say during an hour-plus dialogue. Just a few of the highlights:
Plenty of debate and disagreement over the property tax caps. House Speaker Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) tried to insert some ABCs into the 1-2-3 argument, with his main point being that assessment problems still need to be fixed. Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) warned of constitutional challenges (lawsuits) if the caps are not passed. Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) offered that "we really don’t know if 1-2-3 are the right numbers" and said there should be no exemptions for any counties
State budget: House Minority Leader Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says there are two priorities for his caucus — no new taxes and no additional spending. Long: "Any bill that has spending in it is more than likely dead on arrival."
Party lines were clearly at play on federal health care reform, with Long "scared to death about what they’re talking about in Washington," while Simpson is "all for a national health insurance plan that insures more people." Bauer arrived in time to add that a fortune could be made and debt problems resolved if a 25% premium charge was placed on every advertisement both for and against health care reform
Local government reform: Simpson says exemptions for certain counties or areas have no place in such legislation; Long sees much duplication in township services in urban areas, but not necessarily in rural places; and Bauer gave arguments on both sides of the question before asserting that reform "must take place in steps and some steps will be taken this session."
Support of delay in unemployment insurance tax increase on employers: Bosma said "yes" to delay or even permanently postpone; Bauer adds that modifying those increases should take place in conjunction with a jobs program; and Simpson notes her caucus will "undoubtedly support a delay" but also believes that reforms in the hearings and appeals processes should be part of the equation
Education reform was addressed with Long contending that while some say Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is a bull in a china shop, "I say we need a bull in a china shop. He needs to continue to push the envelope." Simpson says Democrats are more open to these discussions due to the efforts of President Obama. Bauer wants the focus more on students, expecially those struggling in inner cities, than teachers. Bosma sees the coming decade as one of "examination and action" on education, but that will not be the case in the 2010 General Assembly session
Bottom line: Excellent discussion; there will be plenty of issues in play during the short two-month session; and no one really knows what the outcomes will be.
Members of the Indiana General Assembly are coming to town November 18 for their annual Organization Day. What do they do on that largely ceremonial occasion? Organize things.
The day before, however, is when leaders of the four caucuses come together to share some insights on what might happen when the action heats up in January. The Indiana Chamber’s Central Indiana Legislative Preview takes place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, November 17 at the Indiana Convention Center.
The best things about the preview: you get to ask questions and make comments, and whether it’s the wonderful food or just the pleasant atmosphere of a few hundred interested people in the audience — the legislators typically speak their minds. They don’t mind emphasizing their priorities and noting a few things that aren’t likely to happen if they have any say in the matter.
So, make your reservation, take a slightly longer than normal lunch and move from the political to legislating mode on November 17.