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Indiana House faces pressure to finish work on time

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The Indiana House spent its first full day back since boycotting Democrats returned to their jobs doing something it couldn't do the last five weeks: working on bills.

Representatives debated points on prickly subjects such as abortion, private school vouchers and elections, took votes and maintained a cordial atmosphere. For the most part, it felt as if the walkout had never occurred, but the boycott puts lawmakers on a tighter calendar as they work to tackle big issues before the scheduled end of the legislative session April 29.

The House dove into two big proposals — the state budget and a plan to direct taxpayer money to private schools — Tuesday as they worked from the morning into the night. The brisk pace was expected to continue as the House deals with its own agenda, which was stalled by the walkout, and the Senate bills they would normally be handling at this point in the session.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the five week "vacation" by House Democrats means lawmakers may have to work on Fridays and Saturdays. He said representatives would go with little sleep and eat sandwiches and pizza while working at their desks if necessary to get work done.

"We are under tremendous time pressure here," Bosma said. "We have five weeks to complete 2-1/2 months' worth of work, but we will complete it."

Lawmakers — who had plenty of time to think up proposed amendments during the Democrats' boycott — filed nearly 350 on the budget alone that could have been called for votes Tuesday.

Among those actually discussed was one that would remove a provision that allows the governor to withhold allocations made in the budget. Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said the budget becomes a mere suggestion if the governor can override lawmakers' intent.

"The budget just doesn't have any meaning any longer," Pelath said.

Republicans say that provision is needed to keep the state in the black during tough times. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has cut millions from state spending in the current budget cycle, for example.

Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said governors should have the power to make cuts when the Legislature isn't in session.

"They're elected to lead," Espich said. "There are times they must lead."

Republicans, who hold a strong majority in the House, defeated the proposal.

Lawmakers also took up a sweeping voucher program that would use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private schools. The bill was one of the core reasons House Democrats fled to Illinois on Feb. 22, denying the House the quorum needed to conduct business. Democrats returned Monday after winning concession on that bill and others, and the changes to the voucher bill were formally adopted Tuesday.

Lawmakers limited the program to those meeting certain income levels based on family size. The bill as originally proposed would have allowed those from a family of four making more than $100,000 to use vouchers, but the amendment approved Tuesday reduced that level to about $60,000. The House also included limits on the number of students who could participate in the program during its first two years.

Republicans turned back several Democratic proposals, including one that would only allow vouchers for students in underperforming schools.

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, called the voucher bill a "massive entitlement program" and said he wouldn't vote for it. But he said the changes made Tuesday do improve the legislation.

"We've made enormous progress," he said.

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  1. I took Bruce's comments to highlight a glaring issue when it comes to a state's image, and therefore its overall branding. An example is Michigan vs. Indiana. Michigan has done an excellent job of following through on its branding strategy around "Pure Michigan", even down to the detail of the rest stops. Since a state's branding is often targeted to visitors, it makes sense that rest stops, being that point of first impression, should be significant. It is clear that Indiana doesn't care as much about the impression it gives visitors even though our branding as the Crossroads of America does place importance on travel. Bruce's point is quite logical and accurate.

  2. I appreciated the article. I guess I have become so accustomed to making my "pit stops" at places where I can ALSO get gasoline and something hot to eat, that I hardly even notice public rest stops anymore. That said, I do concur with the rationale that our rest stops (if we are to have them at all) can and should be both fiscally-responsible AND designed to make a positive impression about our state.

  3. I don't know about the rest of you but I only stop at these places for one reason, and it's not to picnic. I move trucks for dealers and have been to rest areas in most all 48 lower states. Some of ours need upgrading no doubt. Many states rest areas are much worse than ours. In the rest area on I-70 just past Richmond truckers have to hike about a quarter of a mile. When I stop I;m generally in a bit of a hurry. Convenience,not beauty, is a primary concern.

  4. Community Hospital is the only system to not have layoffs? That is not true. Because I was one of the people who was laid off from East. And all of the LPN's have been laid off. Just because their layoffs were not announced or done all together does not mean people did not lose their jobs. They cherry-picked people from departments one by one. But you add them all up and it's several hundred. And East has had a dramatic drop I in patient beds from 800 to around 125. I know because I worked there for 30 years.

  5. I have obtained my 6 gallon badge for my donation of A Positive blood. I'm sorry to hear that my donation was nothing but a profit center for the Indiana Blood Center.

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