Education, a hot topic statewide, was also front and center during the first of weekly meetings between Columbus area residents and legislators representing them in the Indiana General Assembly.

About 50 people came armed with questions and open ears to talk about important issues during an hourlong Third House forum this week hostedby the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, hasn’t tracked the exact number of bills up for consideration in the House. But with a high number of them, many probably won’t get a hearing, he said.

Walker, who heads the Senate Elections Committee, said some legislative proposals are generating considerable activity — including education.

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One is to make the state superintendent of public instruction an appointed rather than an elected position.

The state superintendent bill was reassigned to a different committee, but that doesn’t mean the idea is losing traction, Walker said.

It’s moving in tandem with proposals in the House and Senate to have a reorganized State Board of Education select its own chairman, a position currently held by the state superintendent.

Both proposals are being criticized by supporters of Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, who say it would disenfranchise Hoosier voters who elected her in 2012.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent John Quick said that it might make more sense to follow the local model by electing instead of appointing the State Board of Education and have its members appoint the superintendent, rather than have an appointed board select its chairman.

His comment drew a smattering of applause, but that wasn’t his main intention in speaking to local legislators.

Quick’s priority was to drive home a point about the formula that distributes funding for public schools.

Monday was the second enrollment count day of the year, and BCSC’s superintendent’s comments came as the district was standing to lose more than $100,000 because of 42 seniors who graduated at the end of first term.

The Columbus-based school leader also said he’s wondering where the state stands in counting each child in kindergarten as a whole student under the funding formula instead of a half-student.

Although Quick didn’t get a direct answer from lawmakers, Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, said the biennial budget will contain dollars for elementary and secondary education.

budget and other issues

Gov. Mike Pence’s biennial budget proposes $200 million more for K-12 education. BCSC gets about 1 percent of those K-12 dollars.

Smith opened Monday morning’s session by talking about the $31 billion proposed biennial budget and highlighting some of the bills going through the House.

Among them are measures that would:

Increase the life cycle of license plates, saving the state $47 million to $51 million over five years.

Expand the state’s 211 assistance program.

Renew a provision to let school corporations donate to their own school foundations.

Those are just some of the 669 bills eligible for consideration in the House, 76 of which are moving through committees and 31 of which were moving to the Senate after passing a vote on the House floor as of Monday, Smith said.

Third House is intended to offer residents a forum to talk to their state lawmakers as an alternative to the chamber taking a legislative stance on issues before the Indiana General Assembly, said Cindy Frey, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

Legislators say Third House gives them a chance to update constituents on key issues of the session while also gauging what other topics are important to them.

Smith assured one resident that he plans to speak out against a bill that would allow alcohol sales on Sundays.

Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, addressed a local farmer’s concerns about the potential effects of adding a “right to farm” to the state constitution through an amendment.

Steele also talked about bills he has proposed, including one making drugs containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine available only by prescription to combat the state’s growing problem with methamphetamine. Steele is also sponsoring bills to open most of Indiana’s adoption records dating before 1994.

Dr. Drew Robertson, a local pain intervention physician, attended Monday’s session with a specific question in mind for Walker about a bill he sponsored about worker’s compensation.

With legislators and residents bringing up so many topics, the sessions are valuable because they give people on both sides of the table a chance to learn something, Robertson said.

Walker’s proposal, which is headed to the House after passing the Senate 47-3, would affect reimbursements to ambulatory outpatient surgical centers, an alternative to hospital-based outpatient services, by adding them to the legal list of medical service facilities.

As an owner of one such center, Robertson has some concerns about the state’s reasoning in getting involved in a process currently handled between private parties and attaching it to Medicare. Monday’s forum gave Robertson a chance to talk with Walker directly about his concerns.

Although Robertson asked about that specific proposal, he said he has learned about other issues simply by showing up and listening.

If you go

What: Third House Sessions

When: 7:30 a.m. Mondays through April 27, with the exception of March 16 and any Monday that Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. cancels school

Where: Meeting room at Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

What they discussed

Senate

  • Senate Bill 24: Makes the elected state superintendent of public instruction a position appointed by the governor effective Jan. 10, 2021
  • SB 249: Prohibits local entities from restricting people from building or repairing agricultural buildings or structures for livestock if those people meet certain conditions.
  • SB 352: Makes identifying information in adoption records from before 1994 available unless a nonrelease has been filed.
  • SB 445: Makes anything containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine a schedule IV substance requiring a prescription unless the product is resistant to extraction or conversion.
  • SB 568: Adopts the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act as state law.
  • Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 11: Allows the Indiana General Assembly to establish an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative districts.
  • SJR 12: Adds a right to farm and ranch under reasonable regulations to the Indiana State Constitution.

House

  • House Bill 1001: Sets the state’s biennial budget, currently proposed at $31 billion.
  • HB 1003: Makes a study committee to look at potential effects of changing the way state districts are made, including under an independent commission.
  • HB 1010: Expands the state’s 211 dialing code to add assistance for more areas and makes an annual appropriation of $2 million to the 211 services account.
  • HB 1026: Allows for carryout sales of alcohol on Sundays at licensed locations.
  • HB 1123: Brings back a provision allowing a school corporation to donate up to $25,000 per year to its school foundation if it’s matched by a private donor.
  • HB 1125: Lays out criteria for classifying land as agricultural when doing property tax assessments.
  • HB 1216: Requires Indiana State Police to make and distribute a pamphlet for officers to have on hand to give to people making a missing child report that gives information about the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Runaway Safeline.
  • HB 1362: Expands license plate life cycle from five years to up to 10 years.
  • HB 1609: Has the state board of education select its own chairperson, a seat now filled automatically by the state superintendent of public instruction.

For more information on these bills and others, visit iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/

Contacting state lawmakers

State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, District 59, Committees: Elections and Apportionment (chairman); Select Committee on Government Reduction; Family, Children and Human Affairs. Contact: h59@in.gov or 317-232-9620 or 800-382-9841.

State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, District 41, Committees: Elections (chairman); Civil Law (ranking member); Ethics (ranking member); Insurance and Financial Institutions (ranking member); Pensions and Labor; Tax and Fiscal Policy. Contact: Senator.Walker@iga.in.gov or 317-232-9984 or 800-382-9467.

State Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, R-Bedford, District 44, Committees: Judiciary (chairman); Agriculture; Corrections and Criminal Law; Ethics; Insurance and Financial Institutions; Natural Resources; Rules and Legislative Procedures. Contact: Senator.Steele@iga.in.gov or 317-232-9400 or 800-382-9467.

Key dates for Indiana General Assembly

Feb. 25: Last day for the House and Senate to pass bills on third reading and send them to the other chamber for discussion and vote.

April 15: Last day for bills to pass both chambers with changes, if applicable, from conference committees without approval from the Rules Committee

April 29: Last day for the adjournment of both houses. Legislators must pass the biennial budget.