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Analysis: Lawmakers put pragmatism before party

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Left to their own devices, Indiana's Republican-led General Assembly pushed the state right ever so gently, adopting such marquee conservative priorities as tax cuts, a school voucher expansion and constrained spending in measured fashion.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, hit the brakes during the 2013 session on the adoption of national Common Core education standards and a guaranteed-purchase contract with the developers of the $2.8 billion Rockport coal-gasification plant.

A last-minute push to cut state employee benefits was pulled by Republican leaders, who decided the issue needed a public vetting. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, also pulled a measure that would have banned secret filming on private property, a measure sought by farmers who said they were under assault from animal rights activists but opposed by free speech supporters who dubbed it the "ag gag" bill.

"Part of the leader's job is to be sure the vision is set and the Legislature moves in the right directions. I feel like we made wise decisions in that regard," Bosma said, shortly after the 2013 session ended, about 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

The tone of the session was a far cry from 2012, when Republican's made Indiana the 23rd state to ban mandatory union fees via right-to-work legislation. There were no union members chanting in the marble halls this year or packing the Statehouse lawn. Nor was there a push for sweeping education, immigration or abortion changes.

Gov. Mike Pence urged lawmakers to tack harder to the right, but his influence during his first session was weak and his first-year agenda light. Lawmakers took his budget, which curbed spending to pay for a 10-percent cut in the income tax, and added more for roads and schools, while giving him a modest tax cut. Senate lawmakers trimmed Pence's call for a school voucher expansion.

"As this legislative session draws to a close, I am grateful for the efforts of every member who made this one of the most civil and substantive sessions of our state legislature in recent memory," Pence said in a written statement.

Pence's staff said he would answer questions about the session on Monday.

Democrats noted that a modest push to the right is still a push in the opposite direction they would like. Addressing lawmakers shortly before the end of session, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, called the session a wasted opportunity to help the middle class.

"I have to admit, I'm envious of you guys. You've been presented a tremendous opportunity to lead Indiana. You've been given two supermajorities. You've been given a governor who's supportive of you — most of the time — and even a bounty of statewide officials, save one. And even she enjoys working with you," he said, alluding to Democratic School Superintendent Glenda Ritz. "And that's why I'm so concerned that you didn't use it to do more."

There's little question that Republicans, who won a supermajority in the House last year and maintained one in the Senate, dominated the 2013 session. But contentious measures were largely shelved this year.

Legislation that would have allowed school prayer and challenged the teaching of evolution was locked away in the Senate rules committee at the start of the session. Republicans considered writing the state's gay marriage ban into the state constitution, but opted instead to wait on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer on a pair of cases that could override any state measure.

A mid-session push to arm teachers in schools, in response to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, was changed to a grant program that would help schools hire more trained law enforcement. And a measure that would have mandated drug testing for welfare recipients died in the Senate amid concerns that children would lose aid if their parents tested positive.

In some cases, the Legislature even re-evaluated measures previously championed by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett, both Republicans. Bennett's A-F school grading system will be recrafted by the state board of education as part of a measure that also "pauses" national Common Core education standards to allow lawmakers to study their impact.

And lawmakers decided they acted too soon, six years ago, when they authorized the Daniels administration to enter into a 30-year contract with the developers of the Rockport coal gasification plant, led by Daniels' longtime friend and ally, Mark Lubbers. Lawmakers voted to have the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission review the project's cost to ratepayers, if the state Supreme Court determines the contract is void.

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  1. These liberals are out of control. They want to drive our economy into the ground and double and triple our electric bills. Sierra Club, stay out of Indy!

  2. These activist liberal judges have gotten out of control. Thankfully we have a sensible supreme court that overturns their absurd rulings!

  3. Maybe they shouldn't be throwing money at the IRL or whatever they call it now. Probably should save that money for actual operations.

  4. For you central Indiana folks that don't know what a good pizza is, Aurelio's will take care of that. There are some good pizza places in central Indiana but nothing like this!!!

  5. I am troubled with this whole string of comments as I am not sure anyone pointed out that many of the "high paying" positions have been eliminated identified by asterisks as of fiscal year 2012. That indicates to me that the hospitals are making responsible yet difficult decisions and eliminating heavy paying positions. To make this more problematic, we have created a society of "entitlement" where individuals believe they should receive free services at no cost to them. I have yet to get a house repair done at no cost nor have I taken my car that is out of warranty for repair for free repair expecting the government to pay for it even though it is the second largest investment one makes in their life besides purchasing a home. Yet, we continue to hear verbal and aggressive abuse from the consumer who expects free services and have to reward them as a result of HCAHPS surveys which we have no influence over as it is 3rd party required by CMS. Peel the onion and get to the root of the problem...you will find that society has created the problem and our current political landscape and not the people who were fortunate to lead healthcare in the right direction before becoming distorted. As a side note, I had a friend sit in an ED in Canada for nearly two days prior to being evaluated and then finally...3 months later got a CT of the head. You pay for what you get...

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