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Tools to help students with dyslexia

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Ideas for legislation come from a variety of sources. Sometimes, a lawmaker learns of an issue and works to find a solution, while other times communities reach out needing help from the General Assembly to provide support to accomplish different goals. Many of the best and most impactful laws are the ones inspired by Hoosiers.

Several years ago, I was approached at the county fair by Cheryl from our community, asking if I was familiar with dyslexia. Not knowing much about the learning disability at the time, I said no. Cheryl introduced me to her son, Josh, who has dyslexia and faced difficulties with schoolwork because he learns differently. After that conversation, I was motivated to find a way to ensure kids like Josh are able to receive a well-rounded education like other students.

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that can affect an individual’s ability to read, write, spell and pronounce words. It can occur in people of all backgrounds and is unrelated to intelligence. Dyslexia does not hinder a student’s ability to think or be creative. In the U.S., 1 in 5 people are dyslexic to some degree, and after speaking with Cheryl and her son, I now know I am also dyslexic.

In 2015, I authored a law providing resources for teachers to better identify students with dyslexia. Under this law, teachers have a clear definition of dyslexia and receive training on how to identify early signs of this learning disability in their students.

When then-Gov. Mike Pence signed this legislation into law, more than 100 students, parents and educators came to the Statehouse to show support. I was amazed at the number of children who shared with me they thought they were stupid, when in reality, they just learn differently. That legislation was a small step in helping students find success in school.

To build on that law, I am sponsoring legislation that would require schools and the Department of Education to take extra steps to further ensure every student who has dyslexia is identified and receives the needed additional help and resources to better address their educational needs. Under this proposal, students in kindergarten through second grade would be screened for signs of dyslexia. Additionally, an educator who specializes in dyslexia would be available to each school corporation in the state to address unique cases. Early detection of dyslexia is vital to getting students on a successful learning path.

Dyslexia is an issue I am particularly passionate about, and I will continue to raise awareness for this learning disability and stress the importance of recognizing it in Hoosier students. To follow the progress of this bill and other important legislation, visit iga.in.gov. As always, if there is anything I can do for you or your family, please contact me at h58@iga.in.gov or 317-232-9648.

Session reaches halfway point

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

The 2018 legislative session is in full swing, and we just reached the halfway point of this short session.  Bills that have been supported by the House can now be heard by the Senate, and the House will consider Senate bills. House Republicans have made great progress with our top priorities, including increasing K-12 funding, strengthening Indiana’s workforce, attacking the opioid epidemic and increasing government efficiency.

In addition to those legislative priorities, several of my proposals made it through the process.

My top priority this session is increasing accountability and transparency during adoption proceedings. I authored legislation that would provide prospective parents with a clearly defined pathway to voice concerns or ask questions at any time during the adoption process. This bill would require an adoption agency to supply these prospective adoptive parents with the contact information for all of its employees. Followed by an explanation of the document’s contents, the prospective parents would be asked to sign it. As a result, it is my hope that those considering adoption will be better able to work with caseworkers and, if need be, contact their supervisors. My ultimate goal has always been placing more children in safe and loving homes.

Another bill that is still moving through the process came from a dilemma brought to my attention by a Johnson County commissioner. The county did not have the authority to repair a subdivision’s drain that was endangering a county road. This proposal would allow counties or Indianapolis to enter into contracts with subdivision homeowners associations in order to finance and repair storm drains. If the HOA’s membership agrees, a special assessment would be charged to cover only the costs of the repair. This commonsense legislation will empower communities across the state to collaboratively resolve local infrastructure issues in a timely and efficient manner.

I also authored legislation to clarify unclaimed property laws. Right now, there are a lot of inconsistencies with the automatic renewal process for deposits like certificate of deposits. When a deposit comes up for renewal, there are several practices that have been unclear in the past. If the customer does not renew it for another period of time, banks can consider these funds unclaimed property and send them to the state’s unclaimed property fund. When this happens, that money can no longer accrue interest, and then there is a lengthy process the customer must follow to get funds back. I’ve heard many banks are already informing their customers of this practice, preventing funds from being incorrectly classified as unclaimed property. My proposal would ensure every bank is following this practice.

Some of my other proposals, however, did not get considered in committee this year, but they still remain priorities to me. For example, I filed a bill that would require schools to put an emphasis on civics education. Too many Hoosiers are graduating high school without fully understanding our country’s history or how to be an engaged citizen. My bill would have required schools to administer a final exam developed by the State Board of Education at the end of a U.S. government course. Because this legislation did not get a hearing by the committee report deadline, it cannot be considered going forward this session. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that all Hoosiers should be equipped with every tool available to be an engaged citizen. I will continue to advocate on the importance of civics next session.

The House of Representatives will begin considering Senate bills in committees in the coming weeks. To keep track of the bills as they switch chambers, visit iga.in.gov. A great way to stay up-to-date with what is happening at the Statehouse as well as see events that are going on in our community, is to sign up to receive my weekly e-newsletter at www.in.gov/h58. As always, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts or concerns regarding legislation or if there is any way I can help you and your family. You can email me at h58@iga.in.gov or call 317-232-9648.

Stand up for the national anthem

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

Over the last few months, I have watched some NFL players kneel during the national anthem with great interest. Issues like this always stimulate extreme controversy. These protests do nothing more than divide our country, and I believe there are more appropriate ways to express unease with our country’s current political climate. I believe football players cross the line when they choose to kneel for the national anthem.

I want to stress that I am supportive of the First Amendment. Everyone has the right to express their thoughts in a public arena, no matter the message. However, I have concerns with how these football players are voicing their opinions. In this day and age, there are few things that a majority of us can agree on, but respecting our flag and national anthem is one that has withstood the test of time. The history of ceremoniously raising our flag at the commencement of public events is a tradition that spans over 200 years. Moreover, the original poem, which provides the lyrics to our national anthem, is also more than two centuries old.

During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem after witnessing the British bombard Fort McHenry, an American-held fort, during the Battle of Baltimore. After the smoke had cleared, he looked over and saw our flag still flying high. He was so inspired by this image of defiance that he wrote the poem that would later become the Star-Spangled Banner, our national anthem. Over the decades, honoring the flag and playing the anthem has become a tradition at official ceremonies, war memorial services and, yes, even public sporting events. Because of this history, our flag and national anthem are not simply symbols, but rather the embodiment of our country and the American ideal of justice for all.  Countless lives have been lost protecting our freedoms, and we should show the utmost respect for them.

In 2004, I had the opportunity to travel to Bosnia, a European country. This trip opened my eyes to the horrors that exist within the world. Our group was escorted around the country by the military because the fighting between two factions had become so bad. Between these two groups, thousands of men, women and children were slaughtered for no reason. During the trip, my group visited an old battery factory, which was considered a peacekeeping facility that served as a meeting place for both sides. Our interpreter used to work at the factory with his family. In 2002, a combat team came to the factory and demanded four people come with them. By the end of that day, our interpreter’s brother, mother and father were all slaughtered in front of him. I cannot possibly imagine the horror of watching that happen. Bosnia experienced this kind of terror almost daily not so long ago. At one point, our guide said there were so many bodies in the water, they clogged the dam.

With tears in my eyes, I said, “I don’t see how you can talk about this.” He responded, “It’s simple. I need to do everything I can to ensure the U.S. stays in Bosnia to help our people.”

This is why I believe we should always stand for the national anthem. There are people around the world who are fighting to have what we have, and we must not take for granted the rights and security we enjoy.

We also have so many who have lost their lives and loved ones defending our great nation. I have a friend who served in the military during the Vietnam War. One night, he was over at my house, and, out of nowhere, he became extremely upset. He started telling me about his time overseas and his patrol partner. They were walking through the jungle for a routine patrol, and his partner stepped on a land mine. During the explosion, he lost his legs. As my friend was trying to comfort his partner, he just kept screaming, “Where are my legs? I can’t find my legs.” That soldier died, and the memory is still with my friend.

I tell you these things to show you there are real people out there, with real stories, who have made real sacrifices. This is why I sand for the national anthem.

Every day I’m proud to be an American, and I’m so thankful for the opportunities I have. I’m not against football players or any other athlete, but I do think that this has gone too far. Kneeling during the national anthem, no matter how peaceful or noble the cause may be, is an insult, albeit unintentional, to the men and women who have bravely defended our freedom, no matter the cost. There are other avenues to express your opinion. I urge anyone who is upset about anything happening in our country to continue to speak out. It’s your right as an American citizen, but I ask that you do so in a way that does not disrespect our flag, national anthem and veterans.

Lawmakers tackle important issues through study committees

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

One of the unique things about Indiana’s state government is that we have a part-time legislature. This means we only meet and vote on legislation for about three to four months at the start of each year. The rest of the year is spent back home with our families and constituents, focusing on local issues and oftentimes pursuing a career outside our elected position. I have been selling homes with my wife, Volly, for nearly 40 years. Being a citizen legislator allows me to bring a unique set of skills and perspective to the Statehouse while I represent our community.

Even though the legislature completes their official business during the first few months of the year, lawmakers continue to hold interim study committee meetings throughout the summer and fall months to discuss potential legislation and issues facing the state. During the legislative session, there are hundreds of bills filed. To ensure we do not tackle any issue too hastily, we devote a lot of time researching proposed legislation. Because we only have a short amount of time to fully vet bills under consideration, we sometimes recommend topics be considered by a study committee after the legislative session. These committees, just like standing committees, are made up of part-time citizen legislators who have experience working in an industry or with a particular policy topic.

This year, I am serving as the vice chair of the Interim Study Committee on Pension Management Oversight and as a member of the Interim Study Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance.

Every year, the Interim Study Committee on Pension Management Oversight takes a hard look at the state’s public pension program, vetting any proposed changes. This committee plays a critical role in maintaining Indiana’s public pension plans, so hardworking Hoosiers are able to save for and enjoy retirement with peace of mind. I’m passionate about this because our retired public employees spent a majority of their life serving our great state and deserve the retirement money they saved through our public plans.

The Interim Study Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance has been working to find ways to streamline our banking laws and cut unnecessary red tap in the insurance industry. Over the years, our insurance laws and requirements have grown so much that they have begun to place a burden on Hoosiers. Through our meetings we hope to find solutions to make any reporting requirements easy and efficient.

Most of the interim study committees are already holding meetings. You can find a complete schedule at iga.in.gov as well as watch archived and live meetings. The public is always encouraged to attend these meetings, and if we are discussing a topic that directly impacts you, we welcome you to testify and share your experience before the committee. Hoosiers offer great insight on issues that need to be addressed.

If you have any questions about study committees or the legislative process, please contact me at 317-232-9648 or h58@iga.in.gov. I also encourage you to sign up for my e-newsletters to receive regular updates at www.in.gov/h58.

Hoosiers begin to see road improvements

Friday, August 18th, 2017

This past legislative session, the General Assembly worked hard to create and implement a long-term, data-driven road plan that provides much needed funding to fix and maintain our transportation infrastructure over the next 20 years. As the Crossroads of America, our economy is impacted by the condition of our roads and bridges, so it was important that we invested wisely without incurring new debt that would place a financial burden on future generations.

As a result of this comprehensive road funding package, our community will receive nearly $177 million for infrastructure projects over the next five years under the ‘Next Level Roads’ initiative. These state projects in our area will include resurfacing 115 lane miles and replacing or rehabilitating 10 bridges. These new projects will increase safety, prevent everyday wear and tear on our vehicles, and serve as a boon for our economy.

This funding does not include the Community Crossings Matching Grants, which have yet to be distributed to local governments. Last year, Johnson County and cities and towns in our area received grants that helped jumpstart and complete many local projects. I look forward to seeing the various infrastructure improvement projects occurring throughout our community as well as the state in the coming years.

Recently, you may have experienced some road construction on U.S. Highway 31 and State Road 135 in Johnson County. Right now, it seems like a terrible inconvenience, but once these projects are complete, I believe it will be well worth it.

While these projects are taking place, please remember to exercise caution when driving through work zones. Since 2014, at least 12 people have been killed every year by crashes within INDOT work zones. To help keep Hoosiers safe, remember these safe driving tips: be prepared for unexpected changes in lanes and speed limits; don’t text or talk on the phone; maintain a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of you; and expect delays. When making your travel plans, you can find real-time traffic conditions on INDOT’s website at www.in.gov/indot.

As your state representative, I strive to ensure that you and your family are informed on the important issues that are discussed and voted on at the Statehouse. I know many people had concerns initially about where the money for our 20-year infrastructure funding plan would come from and how it would be used, and some still do. I completely understand that. In fact, I had initial concerns too. Raising user fees is not something anyone likes to do; however, the data shows that we needed to take quick action to ensure our roads and bridges will be maintained for generations to come. I’ve had many conversations with people from our community, and after sharing all the facts, most people agreed that our plan was necessary and the best possible solution: The more you use the roads, the more you will contribute directly to their upkeep. This is only fair. I hope as you see more and more work being done to improve our roadways, you can see these user fees as worthwhile investments in our state.

If you have any questions or concerns about road funding or any issues facing our state, please contact me at 317-232-9648 or h58@iga.in.gov. I also encourage you to sign up for my e-newsletters to receive regular updates at www.in.gov/h58.