State Senator Johnny Nugent speaks at the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce Post-Legislative Luncheon on Wednesday.
Mike Perleberg-Eagle 99.3
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – The 2012 Indiana legislative session was a winning one for southeast Indiana, lawmakers and lobbyists told area business leaders Wednesday.
As has become a regular happening each year, the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce presented its Post-Legislative Luncheon at Hollywood Casino. Dozens of business leaders heard the news brought back by area representatives from the most recent session at the statehouse.
“I thought it would be kind of a ho-hum session,” State Sen. Johnny Nugent (R-Lawrenceburg) said. “This was a very productive session. I was surprised.”
Lawmakers were not required to pass a state budget this year. Usually, so-called “short sessions” doesn’t carry as much importance.
But in the final year of term-limited Governor Mitch Daniels, Republicans – with large majorities in the House and Senate – worked feverishly to get as much of their agenda through as possible, including a new right to work law.
“I am still a member of Local 416 of the Indianapolis Fire Department. They take my union dues out of my pension check on a monthly basis,” said Rep. Randy Frye (R-Greensburg), a retired Indianapolis firefighter after more than 20 years. “And I supported right to work. I was co-author of that bill.”
Frye said he believes good unions like Local 416 will be fine in a new right to work state. Weak unions will get stronger or they’ll disappear, he said.
“Workers are free to choose if they want to be in a union or not,” echoed Rep. Jud McMillin.
Nugent voted against right to work in the Senate.
There was little effort by the 2012 General Assembly to reach into southeast Indiana’s gaming money pot.
“The number one duty that I’m always charged with around here is to protect the riverboat money. But, protecting it doesn’t just mean being content with there we are, especially with Ohio coming online. We have to be aggressive in making sure that we maintain our revenues here against the competition,” McMillin said.
The lawmakers pointed to the full funding of full-day kindergarten as another large accomplishment in 2012.
Jewell DeBonis, a statehouse lobbyist with Indianapolis-based Lewis Kappes Government Relations Group representing multiple local municipalities, said the 2012 session was almost like two separate sessions.
“The first half of the session dealt with the right to work issues, and the second half was for everything else,” DeBonis noted.
In 2011, Democrats successfully fended off right to work by fleeing to Illinois for five weeks. Despite another in-state attempt to halt the bill, Democrats eventually allowed the bill to be voted on.
“Time will tell what the outcome will be,” DeBonis said, alluding to the 2012 elections.
However, thanks to Indiana’s redrawing of legislative district lines – redistricting is required by U.S. and state law every ten years following the U.S. Census – Republican will only have a larger advantage in state elections.
At least 19 new faces will appear in the House in 2013, as that many lawmakers have announced they are not running for re-election.
“To the victor go the spoils and the lines were drawn to elect 67 Republicans to the House,” DeBonis said.
Among the session winners, DeBonis said, were counties with riverboat casinos.
“You guys won,” she told the audience. “Anytime they leave your money alone, you’re a winner. Trust me.”
Other winners, per DeBonis, included:
Indiana taxpayers – No tax increases were approved. A tax refund of $50 per taxpayer was approved. The state inheritance tax is being phased out, benefitting families of farmers and business owners.
Education – Lawmakers are using $80 million of $320 million discovered in the state coffers in December to help fund full-day kindergarten. Schools will have two official enrollment count days to more fairly distribute funding. A bill to address college credit creep was passed.
Local government – Lawmakers did pass a bill to stop conflicts of interest in county, city, and town government. Proposals to eliminate townships and county commissioners failed.
Among the session losers were social conservatives.
“This particular focus of this session was on largely fiscal issues, not social issues,” DeBonis said, adding that bills pushed by social conservatives could return in 2013.
Local government may also be considered a session loser, depending on how much money is raised for county-operated 911 call centers. With the dwindling use of land line phones, Senate Enrolled Act 345 aims to charge cell phone users a fee on their monthly bill to fund 911 services. The most positive estimates say the law will raise up to $15 million for 911, while others suggest the number could be as low as $4 million.
Other session losers:
Racinos – Owners of struggling horsetrack casinos in Shelbyville and Anderson were seeking tax breaks and a change in the way their taxes are calculated, which were denied.
Democrats – Dems were unable to stop right to work from becoming law. The party also wanted to pass a bill requiring more oversight of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was noted by DeBonis as a session winner and loser.
On the governor’s up side, he endorsed and signed right to work into law, lobbied for an received a statewide smoking ban, and successfully fought for an additional $6 million for victims of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse.
Daniels lost out on his local government reform agenda.
What lies ahead in 2013? Nugent predicts more fireworks.
“Next year will be the bi-annual state budget. That’s always a very partisan issue and likely will be again,” he said.
Dearborn County may also have its largest influence ever at the statehouse beginning next session. In the 2012 redistricting, the county remains in part of two House districts (Frye’s District 67 and McMillin’s District 68), but gains a second Senate seat with Nugent’s District 43 and Sen. Allen Paul’s (R-Richmond) District 27 splitting the county.
“Our Dearborn County has been represented by one state senator forever. Now, for the first time, we’ll be represented by two state senators. We’ll have more muscle. More representation,” Nugent said.
“It does give you more muscle,” said Frye, whose district expands east to include the southern third of Dearborn County. “I love working with these gentlemen.”
McMillin said he was sorry to be losing Aurora in his district, but happy to be gaining Bright and Hidden Valley.
Paul said District 27 lost 22,000 residents between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, which is a large reason it has extended southward to include the four northwest townships in Dearborn County.