Democrats outline legislative plans for General Assembly

Indiana Senate Democrats will push for work-share legislation as well as consumer and job protections when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

Democrats—who hold just 13 of the chamber’s 50 seats—on Tuesday released their 2012 legislative agenda, which Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, said is aimed at “helping turn this economy around.”

“Our No. 1 priority—which should be the No. 1 priority of everyone in the state—is jobs, job creation and economic fairness,” Simpson said.

Democrats will push for work-share, an unemployment insurance program that allows a business to reduce staff hours while the state gives workers a share of the unemployment payments they would have received had they been completely laid off. The goal of the program is to keep Hoosiers employed during slow economic times, Democrats said.

More than 20 other states already participate in work-share programs. Senate Democrats plan to support the House bill expected to be authored by Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, D-Indianapolis, on this issue.

Other Senate Democratic proposals include:

— A bill to require online retailers to collect state sales taxes on purchases. Currently, many online retailers—those without a physical presence in the state—do not collect the tax, which Democrats say gives them an unfair advantage over local businesses.

— Legislation to restrict how an employer can use an applicant’s credit history in hiring. Exceptions would include managerial positions and positions with the state attorney general, local government, law enforcement, or those where credit history consideration is required by federal law.

— A proposal to ban companies from discriminating against people who have been unemployed for long periods. Similar legislation passed in New Jersey and is pending in New York.

— Creation of “new hire” tax credits for small companies, similar to those available to larger firms.

— A plan to give preference for state contracts to companies that employ Hoosiers.

The Democrat plan also includes proposals for early-education programs and additional oversight for private schools that receive vouchers.

“The earlier you start to put children into an educational environment, the better chances they have achieving in school,” said Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary. “My legislation would create an office of Early Learning for Children, working in conjunction with the Department of Education, so that we can begin to look at this very important time in the life of a child.”

Republicans who control the Senate have not released a full agenda. But Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, has said that passing right-to-work legislation—which would free all workers from being forced to pay fees to unions they don’t join—is a top priority.

Long has also said that another priority for the 2012 session will be passing a law that clarifies how or whether homeowners can use physical force to bar illegal police entries. The issue stems from a controversial Indiana Supreme Court decision earlier this year.

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