By Kathy Richardson
Monday at the Statehouse, we started the second half of the 2012 legislative session. Just like halftime at the Super Bowl, we look back at the first half; assess what went well and what we can improve upon during the next half.
While the General Assembly has no halftime show to watch, I certainly did enjoy watching the Super Bowl’s halftime show. In fact, I enjoyed everything about the Super Bowl being in the heart of Indiana, and think our city and state shined this past week!
The last few minutes of a half are crunch time in a game, and the same goes for the Indiana House. We worked very hard to hear all legislation and get it passed over to the Senate by our deadline date.
One bill that passed out of the House would enact a statewide smoking ban in Indiana. A version of this bill has passed out of the House now for a few years, but has not had a hearing in the Senate. The debate and differences typically center on who should and should not be exempt, and the regulation of private business.
Those exempt in this bill are casinos, racinos, racetracks, off-track betting locations, cigar manufacturing facilities, fraternal clubs, cigar and hookah bars. One key difference in this year’s bill is bars and taverns are exempt until Sept. 15, 2013. After that date, though, they will all be non-smoking establishments.
Another bill passed out of the House will clarify the state’s nepotism laws in state government. Most importantly, the bill prohibits a state employee from hiring a relative. It also clarifies, per the request of Indiana’s Inspector General, the state’s current nepotism statute that has been in existence since 1941. This bill goes a long way to bring lucidity and consistency to the state’s nepotism law. While this bill addresses state nepotism, another bill addresses local government nepotism.
We also passed a bill that would give a 13th check to public employee retirees. It was important we pass this bill, because during tough economic times, any extra funds we can provide to retirees are very helpful.
We know how far extra funds can go to help a family, which is why we passed a bill that gives more funds to State Fair stage collapse victims by doubling the amount of compensation available. That same bill also doubles the per-student grant for full-day kindergarten by providing an additional $80 million in funding. Furthermore, the bill will prioritize refunds to taxpayers, because current projections indicate that 4 million Hoosiers could receive a refund of at least $50 each when they file their 2012 tax returns next spring. Lastly, the bill will maintain the state’s commitment to send a portion of any “excess reserves” to the Pension Stabilization Fund to help pay teacher pension obligations.
A bill passed last week expands the definition of synthetic drugs to include a range of chemical compounds. We passed a bill last session we thought would stop the sale of dangerous synthetic drugs, but found drug manufacturers have continued to find new ways of making the drug that avoid using the exact chemical compounds banned by the law. The new bill closes necessary loopholes and makes policing these harmful substances more effective.
The first half of the 2012 legislative session was not without its issues, but I do believe it has been successful for Hoosier families. We were able to move forward and get some bills passed out of the House for the Senate to now review. We will hear and pass needed legislation that came over from the Senate in the second half.
I hope you all enjoyed both halves of the Super Bowl, as well as the entire fun-filled weekend.
It was amazing to see all the activities and visitors in the Super Bowl Village and on the streets of Indy. Once again, Indiana was able to show the world we know how to put on a major event. I know I found it very exciting to be so close to all the action, and it will feel awfully lonely downtown with all our visitors gone. As always, I will keep you up-to-date on all the happenings of the second half of the 2012 legislative session.