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The 116th Indiana General Assembly convened Jan. 7 and, by law, must adjourn by April 29. State lawmakers will spend the next few months deliberating on many issues. However, the most challenging will be crafting a new two-year state budget during an ever-worsening economy.
The state currently faces a shortfall of more than $700 million for the current fiscal year. This will make the work of this session the most challenging in decades.
Due to the national recession, Indiana is among more than 40 states that face lower-than-expected revenues, with at least two more very difficult years predicted. In Indiana, declining revenues have already led to a 10-percent reduction in state spending and no pay raises for state employees.
The governor's proposed $28 billion spending plan is contained in House Bill 1001, which will first be considered by the House of Representatives. Upon House approval, the bill will advance to the Senate for its consideration sometime in February. The governor's budget recommendation does not call for any tax increases or use any of the state's reserve accounts totaling more than $1 billion.
State of the State Address
Last week the House and Senate met in a joint session for the governor's annual State of the State Address. Although it was well delivered, some lawmakers expressed serious concerns. Little mention was made of the state's economic downturn and our 7.1-percent unemployment rate.
An estimated 80,000 Hoosiers lost their jobs last year. In this economic environment, our first priority must be the creation of jobs. Several legislators commented that we need to take immediate and drastic action in order to jump-start the engine of job creation now.
The governor stated that kindergarten through 12th-grade education is at the top of his priorities. However, his budget recommendation to the General Assembly flat-lines K-12 education funding and cuts higher education funding significantly.
Among other things, this would leave schools with no funds for inflationary costs of health care, energy or building repairs. Many schools will be forced to cut positions and programs. As the budget proposal moves through the legislative process, I hope these vital issues will be addressed.
How the Process Works
Once bills are filed, the proposals are assigned by the Senate Pro Tempore or the House Speaker to legislative standing committees, usually by subject matter. Many committees have already begun hearings. Legislation must gain committee approval before advancing to the full Senate or House chamber for consideration by the full body. Once approved by its house of origin, the legislation will transfer to the opposite chamber for its consideration.
Upon the approval of both chambers, bills will advance to the governor for final consideration. The governor then has seven days to sign a bill into into law, let the bill become law without his signature, or to veto the bill.
To stay informed about legislation moving through the state legislature or to track legislation, log on to www. in.gov/legislative. This site provides complete bill information as well as committee hearing dates and agendas.
In addition, citizens can stay current on legislation scheduled for action through a free online program available at www.BillWatch.in. gov.
Track up to 10 bills at a time and receive e-mail notifications only when action is taken on those bills. Visit my Senate web site at www.in.gov/s47 and subscribe to receive periodic e-mails from me about the major issues being debated this session.
Personal contact with constituents has a direct impact on the legislation we consider and what ultimately becomes law. Feel free to contact me with your comments and concerns regarding pending legislation.
Reach me by mail at Statehouse, 200 W. Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204; by telephone at (800) 382-9467 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young represents Perry County in the Indiana Senate.