Marriage, education fights may crowd 2014 session

Indiana's legislative leaders are holding their cards tight as they prepare for a battle over amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Monday that he expects some sort of conclusion by the end of the General Assembly's 2014 session. Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he still is polling his members before deciding how to handle the issue.

Indiana already limits marriage to being between one man and one woman, but supporters of a constitutional amendment say it is needed to prevent a court from overturning state law. Bosma and Long both said Monday the issue is not a top priority in either chamber, where they oversee large Republican majorities.

"We have to deal with the issue with dignity and respect for opposing viewpoints. We can't call people bigots or sinners or whatever," Bosma said. "We have to deal with this and work through it, whether we want to or not, together as Hoosiers and bring this 12-year discussion to a conclusion in one direction or another."

He declined, however, to say when the issue might come to a vote.

Bosma and Long detailed their 2014 legislative priorities Monday along with House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative preview.

Lawmakers return Tuesday for a formal meeting but do not plan to meet again until January, when their 2014 session begins.

Bosma added Monday that lawmakers may need to step into the middle of the ongoing education "civil war" between Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, and Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican. He did not say how lawmakers might intervene in the battle, but said he and others have been working behind the scenes to cool down both sides.

Ritz has blamed Pence's creation of a second education agency for an ongoing power struggle, which flared last week when she abruptly ended a State Board of Education meeting. Pence has called her claims that he's trying to take over the state Department of Education a misunderstanding.

Both issues have the potential to crowd out other items leaders from both sides say they would like to focus on during the 2014 session. All four leaders said they would like to find ways to expand early childhood education across the state, but Republicans and Democrats are likely to have very different ideas for accomplishing that.

Bosma and Long said they would like to eliminate the state's personal property tax, which is largely levied by local governments on business equipment. Pelath and Lanane said the state needs to find better ways to improve earnings for workers. And all four said they plan to continue working on job-training initiatives begun during the last session.

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