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Column: Legislators tackling more than marriage amendment


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INDIANAPOLIS — It would be easy to think that the only thing the General Assembly will be considering this year is a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Certainly, that’s what is getting most of the attention.

And as the 2014 legislative session begins this week, the nation will indeed be watching. The question: Will Indiana buck the national trend toward acceptance of same-sex couples?

But while that issue plays out, there will be action on lots of other issues as well — many of them with big implications for the state, its economy and its people.

Here are some of the other questions facing the General Assembly:

Eliminating a tax on business

Gov. Mike Pence has made phasing out the property tax on business equipment the cornerstone of his second legislative agenda. Pence is trying to convince lawmakers that the tax — which generates $1 billion annually for local governments and schools — is a drag on the state’s economy.

But Pence has said repeatedly he won’t be laying out a financial plan for eliminating the tax. That’s a job for lawmakers, he said.

Some legislative fiscal leaders are skeptical about the new or expanded taxes that might be necessary to keep local governments afloat, although Pence is implying that maybe the state’s economic growth could replace that money over time.

A voucher program for preschool

Indiana still doesn’t require kids to attend kindergarten, but Pence is turning his focus to preschool. He wants the state to pay for every poor child — those who qualify for free or reduced lunches — to attend a pre-kindergarten program.

Again, Pence hasn’t provided much detail to go with this proposal, which makes it hard to estimate its impact. But Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has projected that could cost $200 million a year.

He and other key lawmakers have said that’s a high price tag for a non-budget year. But Pence said he wants the General Assembly to develop a program and then fund it later.

House Republicans also are expected to endorse some kind of preschool program and so this issue is bound to get lots of debate.

Curriculum standards for schools

A few years ago, the State Board of Education adopted what’s called the Common Core, a set of curriculum standards adopted by a majority of states and endorsed by the Obama administration. There was little controversy about the issue.

But now, a number of conservatives — and some liberals — object to the standards, in part as national interference in local schools. The uproar led lawmakers last year to pause the Common Core’s implementation in Indiana and order study of the issue.

That study is ongoing but it looks like lawmakers might just step in and ban Common Core completely. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said Indiana needs to create its own standards — and therefore its own testing program.

But the view is not universal. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and some education groups still back Common Core.

And more …

Of course, there will be hundreds of other bills and issues lawmakers consider in a session scheduled to last through mid-March. Already, Senate committees are set to consider bills that would create more rules for teen tanning, strengthen penalties for those who provide locations for underage drinking parties and make it tougher to take private land to construct trails and greenways.

And one of last year’s most controversial issues is back: The so-called ag-gag legislation, which is meant to protect farmers and other private businesses from undercover photos or filming. That one is sure to get a lot of attention.

You can check out the bills and watch the action at http://iga.in.gov/ — the legislature’s newly designed website. And of course, check TheStatehouseFile.com for the latest news.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Frankin College journalism students.

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