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Local lawmakers turn their agenda to jobs, unemployment

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Helping individuals get off welfare and into full-time jobs, and helping small businesses create retirements savings plans are among bills that state legislators who represent Bartholomew County plan to introduce during the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly.

State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, said people who are unemployed can receive a maximum of $390 weekly in benefits from the state. However, some people turn down full-time jobs because they pay less than what the unemployment benefits do.

Currently, if a person accepts a full-time job that pays less than the state maximum unemployment benefit, the person loses the difference between their pay and the state benefit. Only if a person accepts a part-time job that pays less than the state’s maximum benefit does the state pay the difference.

“Right now we are encouraging people to stay on the system, and I want to encourage people to stay off the system,” Smith said.

Smith wants to rectify that situation with legislation that would pay individuals the difference if a job pays less than the unemployment benefits, plus a little extra as incentive in order to persuade people to take jobs and not rely on unemployment benefits.

Smith’s bill would change how unemployed people are classified. Any person who took a job that paid less than the state benefit, whether it was full-time or part-time, would be considered a part-time worker and continue to receive the difference between their pay and the state benefit. If they took a job that paid as much or more than the state benefit, they would be classified as full-time workers and lose the state benefit.

State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, wants to help small businesses and people who are self-employed form 401(k) retirement savings.

Some employers are currently unable to administer retirement savings plans and offer them to employees, Walker said.

His bill would provide access to a plan administered loosely by the state, and allow small businesses to participate and the employers to provide matching contributions.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, a Republican who represents eastern Bartholomew County, said lawmakers should focus first on the two-year state budget and then on legislation related to jobs, the economy and funding education programs. He said he hopes there is enough money to fund preschool programs.

Eberhart said he might author some bills. He has a few ideas in the works, but isn’t ready to announce what they are until he has done more work on them.

New Rep. Jim Lucas, a Republican who represents a small piece of southeastern Bartholomew County, said he’s excited about starting his first General Assembly session but will take a patient approach and is pondering whether to file any bills.

“I spent five years on the (Seymour) City Council. I know and understand how government works, but I know you don’t go into something like that unless you’ve got all your ducks in a row.”

Lucas said he wants to learn how everything works at the state level, while at the same time research areas of interest in case he might want to introduce legislation.

Sen. Brent Steele, who represents a portion of Bartholomew County, plans to introduce a controversial bill that would make possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana an infraction instead of a misdemeanor. About 20 marijuana cigarettes can be made from 10 grams of marijuana.

Under current state law, possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor, the highest level of misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor carries a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Possession of more than 30 grams is a Class D felony, the lowest level of felony. A Class D felony carries a punishment of six months to three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Steele said some state lawmakers have proposed making possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, subject to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

However, he is proposing making possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a Class C infraction instead of a Class C misdemeanor. A Class C infraction carries the penalty of a fine of up to $500 and no jail time.

Steele said he believes the focus should be on “pursuing, prosecuting and incarcerating people who commit violent crimes, not simply people who make poor personal decisions.”

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