Lawmakers eye workforce development in new session

Indiana's General Assembly got off to a quick start Monday with Republican leaders promising to focus on workforce development and Democrats seeking a two-year moratorium on divisive social issues.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said training people for new, advanced manufacturing jobs will take precedence the next four months.

New House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, emphasized that among Democrats' priorities is a request to avoid divisive social issues like gay marriage and abortion for the next two years. But Bosma rebuffed the call for a moratorium, saying the term "social issue" is highly subjective.

"We aren't declaring a moratorium on anything. That hasn't been my normal custom to make those types of decisions on behalf of the body," Bosma said.

Still, Pelath asked Republicans to show "enlightened restraint" on their "goals" for such issues in the coming months.

"Above all, we must make sure the power of government does not shift far from the center; the majority has a duty not to misinterpret the reasons why they were elected," said Pelath, leader of the heavily outnumbered Democrats.

The 2013 session will be filled with talks of what should be in the state's next biennial budget, from a potential personal income tax cut to the restoration of education spending cut in the last few years. How social issues will be handled, including an effort to write the state's ban on gay marriage into the state constitution, remains a looming question.

The marriage debate, in particular, has the ability to suck the air out of the 2013 session. Bosma declined Monday to push off the gay marriage battle until later, but Long has said he's waiting on a legal review of what impact a Supreme Court ruling would have before deciding whether to take up the issue.

Meanwhile, the Assembly's other 148 lawmakers plan to begin meeting in committees this week to vet a wide range of proposals. The Senate education committee will consider an expansion of the school voucher program and proposals to increase funding and flexibility for high-performing schools.

Lawmakers also await Gov.-elect Mike Pence's first legislative agenda. He laid out the broad strokes on the campaign trail, but has yet to fill in the details. Pence takes office Jan. 14.

One of the few definitive proposals from Pence — an effort to cut the personal income tax from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent — has gotten a chilly reception from lawmakers in both chambers.

Long said he expected plenty of discussion about the 10 percent income tax cut, although a decision on that might not be made until near the end of the legislative session in April and legislators have reviewed the latest state revenue projections.

"We'll have to see how the economy is doing," Long said. "Have we had a hiccup or not? Are we doing better than we thought? Those are obviously the key factors in deciding how to address that particular issue."

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