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January 31, 2011

02/01/11  After three weeks of being stuck in neutral, the legislative process has finally started getting down to business. There has been plenty of action on the floor of the Indiana House, as well as in committees.           

We are now starting to see the priorities of those who are in charge of state government. I feel these priorities will be questioned by many Hoosiers.           

Consider the work being done on two of this session’s major issues: unemployment insurance “reform” and charter schools.           

Many of us were under the impression that reforms to Indiana’s bankrupt Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund already were in place.           

In 2009, a bipartisan coalition joined with the governor to pass a package of changes that were designed to fix a system that has caused the state to borrow more than $2 billion from the federal government to provide temporary benefits to Hoosiers who have lost their jobs. These changes improved the way the fund was operated and increased the premiums that businesses traditionally paid to provide benefits.           

After the changes passed in 2009, businesses complained that the premium increases were a bad move during an ailing economy and needed to be delayed. Enough lawmakers agreed with that sentiment that they elected to delay implementation until 2011.           

Now we are told that more reforms are needed. They are contained in House Bill 1450.           

What are these “reforms”?           

Another delay in implementation of the premium increases needed to repair the broken trust fund and get the state out of hock with the federal government. Considering the economy is still slow, delaying this increase again seems like a reasonable request.           

But the new piece of the package is that people on unemployment will see their benefits cut.           

How much? By an estimated 25 percent. That means the average weekly benefit will drop from $284 to $213.           

This comes at a time when some officials are applauding the fact that Indiana’s new unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, and that we finally have fewer than 300,000 people officially classified as out of work. I don’t consider it positive that we still have close to 300,000 Hoosiers unemployed, or that we’re close to approving legislation that will cut the benefits these folks use to support their families while they look for a new job.           

House members also are nearing final approval on legislation (House Bill 1002) that would expand the numbers of charter schools in Indiana.           

The reality is that charter schools are here to stay. Enough have succeeded that they have generated an increased base of support among educators, parents and other officials.           

But I also believe that charter schools must follow the same standards of accountability as public schools in meeting expected levels of performance in helping our children learn. All schools – public or charter – must be treated equally. If we are to use taxpayer dollars to fund these projects, then we should demand that charter schools meet the same standards used to measure success that we ask from public schools.           

This point is important because we are working on a new state budget that is expected to use the same amount of tax dollars to fund new charter schools, as well as our public schools. It’s like deciding to spend more money in your home budget for something new, when you’re having trouble paying your existing monthly bills.         

Does it make sense to take money from our local schools to pay for projects that only will be available to a few students in our state’s largest cities?       

If you want to talk to me about any of the issues being debated in this session – or if your child would be interested in serving as a page in the House and you would like to get more information about the program – here are a few ways to stay in touch.       

You can call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204, or send a message to my web site at While visiting my web site, you also can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the Legislature.