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Indiana lawmakers still hoping to adjourn Thursday

March 3, 2010

Indiana lawmakers moved closer Wednesday to reaching a compromise on a bill that would prevent companies from banning guns that employees keep in their locked cars while on company property.

But Democrats who control the House and Republicans who rule the Senate remained at odds over legislation involving unemployment insurance taxes, giving schools ways to offset $300 million in budget cuts and tax credits and other incentives designed to create jobs.

Legislative leaders had planned to adjourn Thursday, more than a week before a March 14 statutory deadline for doing so. Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said his chamber was willing to go beyond that date to resolve those major issues, and progress was being made in back-room negotiations.

But House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, suggested little progress was being made and it might be best to stick to a midnight Thursday deadline.

"If we haven't done this in two months, what hope is there that we could do it beyond tomorrow?" Bauer said late Wednesday afternoon.

The state could save about $100,000 if the General Assembly adjourned Thursday, he said.

"We're not getting any response, so it's better to go home," Bauer said. "It's better to say, 'We did our best and God bless you.'"

But negotiators were nearing an agreement on a bill that would give workers the right to keep weapons locked in their car trunks or out of sight in locked vehicles parked on their employers' property.

"We're getting very close," said Sen. Johnny Nugent, R-Lawrenceburg and a member of the board of the National Rifle Association.

A proposed draft by negotiators would exempt more employers from the legislation. They would include investor-own natural gas and electric utilities, certain chemical plants, and agencies whose drivers transport developmentally disabled people.

Earlier versions already had exemptions for school property, child care centers, domestic violence shelters and group homes.

Business lobbyists and advocates for domestic violence victims oppose the bill because of possible workplace violence. However, the NRA and other supporters argue the bill would only allow people with the legal right to carry a weapon to bring it to work — and then only as far as the parking lot, where it must remain locked in their car.

Meanwhile, Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and Rep. Eric Turner, R-Marion — sponsors of legislation that would impose a statewide smoking ban in most public places — said they were trying to revive it. They said it was possible they could do it by blocking other legislation backed by the Senate.

However, Long said the Senate would not discuss the smoking ban further this session.

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