Local Legislators Talk 4th Port, Education, Roads At 2019 Pre-Legislative Luncheon

State representatives Randy Frye and Randy Lyness, as well as state senators Chip Perfect and Jeff Raatz, spoke at Wednesday’s Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce Pre-Legislative Luncheon.

Photo by Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce. 

(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) -  Southeastern Indiana lawmakers gathered this week to answer questions from the public 

State Representatives Randy Frye (R-Greensburg) and Randy Lyness (R-West Harrison), along with State Senators Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg) and Jeff Raatz (R-Centerville) were in Lawrenceburg on Wednesday for the 2019 Pre-Legislative Luncheon. 

The luncheon started with introductions, which focused on topics such as transparency of healthcare, challenges in educations, and the disconnect between legislators and the public.

Senator Perfect explained in his introduction how the changes in legislation have become ineffective. He says, "Take down the amount of legislation, do less and hit the mark more."

Senator Jeff Raatz spoke about education, saying about 80 bills were assigned to the education committee, but only 30 or so will be heard due to the amount of time the committee has.

Raatz addresses a big issue in education being the new iLearn testing. He wanted to be sure to acknowledge the fact that teachers will still be getting the grant due to the issues in the new testing and the accountability model that the state uses to "grade" the school. 

He agreed with Perfect regarding ineffectiveness of the amount of bills that are heard. Raatz says, "We are going to try to keep things down this year as well. If we get 30 bills, maybe we will hear 15, and keep them at a level that will leave K-12 alone, let them function for a year or two."

During State Representative Randy Frye's introduction, he introduced a bill that he is working on to exempt active duty military from Indiana income tax. 

"Currently, we exempt the reserves or the national guard, but not the active duty military. In most cases, those folks aren't even in the state of Indiana while they are serving anyway." says Frye. "Although not sure if it will get done, he will sure try." 

He emphasized that this will be a four-year phase, so that it will not dramatically 'bump up' the state budget. 

Frye also touched on the new Ivy Tech scholarship for active volunteer firefighters or EMS.

Community Crossing grants are for local roads and bridges. Randy Frye is on the transportation committee that heads these grants. 

He announced that these grants have give $27 million to District 67, which has helped fund projects such as pavement work on U.S. 50. These grants are all paid in cash, with no bonds, interest, or financing. 

Frye also noted that the state is going "full speed ahead" to build the new state road 101 from Markland Dam to U.S. 50. To date, this would the largest investment in our economy in Southeast Indiana history, totaling $163 million. 

After these introductions and updates, the floor was opened up for questions. 


4th Port 

"Can you give us an update on the status of the Port?"

Randy Frye took to this question by simply answering, "We are right where we were six months ago. It is quite frustrating."

It was said that there is a contract to buy the land. However, the state wants to be certain, without a doubt, that the land is clean and reusable.

Frye says it is extremely important to make sure that the taxpayers will not have to turn around and pay the bill to fix a problem that should have never been there. 

Even though this process is going much slower than anticipated, the information needs to be given to the State of Indiana before the process can move forward and get it right.

Starting with Pence, and now onto Governor Holcomb, this is a top priority to get this moving forward. 


Riverboat Money 

"Can you give us an update on the changes that we can anticipate for the Riverboat money revenues? From that changes that were made last year. How will that impact the municipalities from the money that they are receiving?" 

Senator Chip Perfect led the conversation on this question. 

Perfect starts by saying, "As I said last year the bill was not great, however the good news in the bill was that there was time. Meaning there is another legislative session between when a number of those things go into effect."

He goes on to say the Governor’s Office reached out to him, and wanted his opinion and thoughts before they signed the bill.

Senator Perfect says that the governor said "I feel like I need to sign this bill in order to make other things happen, but I’m very concerned about what this is doing to communities to which we made a commitment…."

Perfect responded with, "From my perspective, if you are willing to support the concept of this Bill as a work in progress, meaning we have to make some changes to it to mitigate those facts, then I would say there is a lot of good in there. That’s the one really challenging thing.”

A commitment was given from the Governor and author of the Bill to correct some of the things that are wrong so that the local communities do not take a hit.

Chip stressed that people should think of what they are doing not as politics, but just a big negotiation.

With the state receiving multiple “big wins” in this Bill, it is taking from the host communities.

From what Senator Perfect tells us, the state knows its wrong. Perfect can’t guarantee 100% that they will get it fixed, but it will be a legislative priority for this session.

People budgeting have a strong belief that if the state's revenue go down, the local community’s go down.

The main problem with this is that host communities get revenue, everyone else get per capita revenue.

Perfect says, "We have to realize that the host communities have a completely different set of challenges and responsibilities, and [they] stepped up for the state of Indiana and provided this economic opportunity ... I just can't believe the things that gaming revenue has fixed in this state. Mainly the teacher retirement funds that were under funded have been supported by that extremely well."

He wrapped up with plainly saying, "I am working on it."

Frye added to let us know we "have the right man working on it."


Infrastructure Grants 

"The Community Crossings Grant has been a success for all of us and we appreciate all the work you have done in that. Do you see in the future there could be a program similar to Community Crossing for infrastructure like sewer and water?"

Randy Frye answered by saying this is a very good possibility. 

He tells us, "I know that we are looking at, and it needs to be done." 


World Broadband 

"A question for Representative Frye. With your telecom and utility experience and committee: World broadband, certainly very important, can you give us an update on what is happening there? What kind of incentives and what will we be able to expect?"

Frye let us know that there has been multiple routes invested into. 

In his opinion, he does not think that this is the last set of grants that will be put into expanding fiber optics throughout the state. 

$100 million spread across 92 counties does not build a lot of fiber, so Frye imagines that this could only be the beginning. 

He told us that he is currently working with REMC in this area to build some fiber to continue the growth of world broadband. 


Cost of Healthcare 

This issue was brought up in the conversation regarding 'Key Stone' legislature coming up in the 2020 year.

"Because most of it is federally controlled, as the state, it is very easy to just pass off and say 'Well it's all federal, what can the state do?' but as Chip mentioned early on this year at caucus a couple of months ago, and healthcare was certainly focused on taking what the states can control and try to chip away at them." said Raatz.

Efforts were made this summer to take a closer look at what can be controlled at the state level. 

Healthcare providers that were in attendance of the luncheon made it very clear that they were not in favor of the current healthcare system.

Highpoint Health President tells us that this system is not sustainable. 

He says, "When we send out a bill, we have no understanding of whether we are going to get paid or what we're going to get paid. The gamesmanship between us and the insurance companies has reached just absolutely absurd levels."

Once a claim goes beyond 90 days, the "collectability" drops by a percentage. 

As a small hospital, Highpoint Health does not have the infrastructure to chase the missing dollars. Underpayments are received by a third party who collects the missing payments. They then keep a percentage, and Highpoint will get some of the money that they would not have gotten otherwise. 

Denials are a whole other problem. Once a claim goes beyond 90-120 days, the ability to collect it virtually goes to zero. Again, other companies make a living from chasing those missing dollars.

This all stems from that gamesmanship between the payers and providers. 

It was in agreement that the state legislators believe that something needs to be done with the current healthcare system. 


To end the luncheon, Senator Perfect let everyone know that the best way to get their own ideas heard was to get more involved. He says, " The best way to get us [Lyness, Perfect, Raatz, and Frye] out of the equation, which is what a lot of people talk about, is for all of you to get in the equation." 

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