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Charbonneau: Senate Focuses First Half on Jobs, Education, Government Reforms

March 2, 2011
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03/03/11 Jobs, education and government reforms were the focus of the Indiana Senate during the first half of the 2011 legislative session, says State Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso).

“Senate lawmakers are tackling tough issues this session,” Charbonneau said.  “We will continue working hard in the weeks and months ahead as we focus on passing a fiscally sound budget for the state and a fair redistricting plan, as well as other important issues that Hoosiers are passionate about, like debating a possible statewide smoking ban.”

Charbonneau provided a sampling of key bills passed so far by the 2011 Indiana Senate:

JOBS:
Tax Rate Attractiveness, Competitiveness – Senate Bill 589, authored by Charbonneau, would make Indiana even more attractive for business expansion and relocation by lowering corporate income taxes.
Currently, Indiana is ranked 10th among pro-growth states, because of our low cost of doing business, dedicated workforce, excellent universities and comparatively low property and individual income taxes. However, Indiana’s corporate income taxes are among the highest in the nation and when combined
with federal taxes, Indiana has a higher rate than China, Germany and Japan. SB 589 would implement several recommendations of last summer’s Economic Development Study Committee – a bipartisan panel of lawmakers and Hoosier employers – and would lower the tax rate from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent,
making Indiana more competitive and attractive for private-sector job growth.

Clean, Safe, Dependable Energy – Senate Bill 251 encourages federally mandated environmental updates of generating facilities, creates incentives for producing clean energy and more affordable pay-as-you-go cost recovery to develop and produce safe nuclear energy. In 2009, utility forecasters estimated Indiana will need 17 percent more generation capacity by 2020 and 30 percent more by 2025 in order to meet demand of businesses and household customers. Utility costs are major considerations for employers looking to expand or relocate. SB 251 represents Indiana’s first-ever comprehensive statewide energy plan for safe, affordable, dependable power determining the cost-of-living and quality-of-life for generations of Hoosier workers and retirees to come.

Fiscal Constraint – In hopes of passing a fourth consecutive balanced budget, Senate bills have been thoroughly reviewed to avoid any additional costs to state government and taxpayers. In many cases,
legislation has been amended or placed aside to avoid further burdening hardworking Hoosiers and employers with any general tax increases, especially during this prolonged national recession. Indiana’s recovery is too fragile to jeopardize private-sector job growth by growing government and raising general taxes.

EDUCATION:
Effective Teachers – Senate Bill 1 would help school corporations locally develop and administer rigorous, annual teacher evaluations in hopes of identifying and rewarding highly effective educators. Evaluations would also help identify underperforming teachers and provide valuable feedback leading to remedial assistance. Money previously allocated simply toward teacher seniority and degrees earned would in the future reward student success, classroom performance, school leadership assignments or incentives to teach high-priority subject areas or grade levels. Special education teachers and others without growth data would also be evaluated on multiple factors to be determined locally.

12th Grade Scholarships – Senate Bill 497 would offer $3,500 state-funded scholarships to students completing high school early, so they may pursue higher education or technical schools that would lead to a certificate, two- or four-year degree. Qualifying students would be Indiana residents and enrolled full-time at a public school for at least the last two semesters before completing required coursework. The measure would be paid from the Indiana Department of Education’s tuition support funding.

Collective Bargaining – Senate Bill 575would return negotiable topics of teacher contracts to their original purposes – salaries and wage-related benefits. SB 575 specifically mentions several items lawmakers
see as important discussible topics that may be detailed in other written school policies: curriculum development and revision; hiring, promotion, demotion, transfer, assignment and retention of certified employees; textbook selections; student discipline; student/teacher ratios; student and staff safety in the workplace; and teaching methods. Current contracts delve into management decisions citizens might recognize as duties of local principals and superintendents. Nothing in this education bill calls for the
elimination of due process for teachers. Instead, the proposal aims to streamline and align it with the current due process granted to principals. SB 575 would not eliminate collective bargaining by educators. The reforms would merely re-focus contracts and help clear bureaucratic underbrush. Reducing salaries of existing teachers is not the goal of SB 575. Rather, it is intended to enable rewarding teachers for driving student growth and performing as high-quality professionals. Under SB 575 as amended, current contracts will continue at the discretion of the corporation if new agreements cannot be reached. If an impasse occurs, an arbitrator may be called in to settle the matter.

Unused Schools – Senate Bill 446 allows public charter schools to use vacant buildings of local school corporations for classroom instruction. As public schools, charters are funded with state dollars like traditional K-12 schools. However, charters are at a disadvantage, because they do not receive local property taxes for buildings, grounds and facilities. As a result, public charter schools often have a difficult time finding suitable, safe classroom space. SB 446 would allow charters to negotiate leases or
purchases of unused public schools for $1, providing declining enrollment corporations with cost savings and maximizing taxpayer-funded resources.

GOVERNMENT REFORMS:
Voting Centers – Senate Bill 32, authored by Charbonneau, allows counties statewide to utilize centralized voting centers to increase voter participation and reduce election costs. Tested during the 2008 election
cycle in Cass, Tippecanoe and Wayne counties, voting centers showed high rates of success because of reported convenience and accessibility. According to the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, voting centers
significantly reduce costs of contracting, staffing and equipping polling sites.

Accused Officials – Senate Bill 63 establishes a process to suspend local elected officials charged with crimes related to their elected posts. The bill also provides for other local officials to fulfill duties while accused officials await adjudication of their cases. If accused officeholders are acquitted or the charges are dropped, the bill provides reinstatement with back pay.

Nepotism – Senate Bill 302 would prohibit a relative of an elected local government official of a county, city, town or township from being employed by that local unit of government. A recent report by the
Indianapolis Star found that of a sample of 617 townships, two thirds of the township trustees had someone with the same last name on the payroll. SB 302 would allow those hired before July 1, 2011, to serve until Jan. 1, 2015.

Conflicts of Interest – Senate Bill 166 would remove conflicts of interest that arise when local government employees are also elected to serve on city or county councils or in executive offices that oversee agencies’ budgets and operations. SB 166 would allow those currently serving or elected this fall to serve out their term of office without leaving their full-time employment. By 2015, all employees would be retired from their agency position if they choose to serve or continue serving in an elected office directly impacting their agency budget or operations.

School Board Elections – Senate Bill 61 aims to improve voter participation in important school board elections by moving them from spring primaries to fall general elections when turnout is much higher. In 2010, Indiana election records showed 21 percent of voters participated in the spring primary when declared party preference was required as opposed to 41 percent in the fall general election.

OTHER KEY PUBLIC POLICIES:
Spice – Senate Bill 57, authored by Charbonneau, would ban synthetic marijuana products statewide and establish penalties for using and selling the substances. Several Indiana communities have banned the pot-like products, commonly referred to as Spice, creating a patchwork of policies for law enforcement and limiting penalties to fines. A statewide law would allow police and prosecutors to work together to target manufacturers, dealers and users.

Alcohol ID – Senate Bill 78 would modify Indiana’s identification requirements for consumers purchasing alcoholic beverages. Last year, in an effort to curb teenage drinking, lawmakers acted on a call from retailers for a zero-tolerance law requiring all alcohol consumers to be carded. However, numerous complaints surfaced, primarily from senior citizens who believed their age – and right to purchase beer, wine and liquor – were obvious. This year’s SB 78 would require age ID from all consumers appearing
younger than 40 years old.

Informed Consent – Senate Bill 328 requires women seeking abortions be given helpful, written information about the procedure and risks. The proposal would apply today’s customary standards in the medical marketplace to provide patients with verbal and printed information about medical procedures.

Texting Ban – Senate Bill 18 would ban texting and e-mailing while driving. However, SB 18, authored by Charbonneau, permits use of hands-free and voice-operated devices. Actively texting drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 of every 6 seconds, according to a 2009 Virginia Tech study. At 55 mph, drivers can travel the length of a football field – including the end zones – without looking at the road. AAA reports 87 percent of drivers rate text messaging and e-mailing while driving as very serious threats to safety. At least 30 states have implemented similar measures.

Cellular “Do Not Call” List – Senate Bill 9 would strengthen consumer protections by allowing Hoosiers who use cellular phones as home phones to register for Indiana’s “Do Not Call” list. Advocates hope to
prevent anonymous telemarketers from targeting cellular users, many of whom are charged for minutes, texts and picture messages. Indiana’s current “Do Not Call” list contains 1.8 million telephone numbers. To date, more than 200,000 Hoosiers have reportedly requested their cell numbers be added to the registry.

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