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Road funding plan necessary to maintain Crossroads of America

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Now that the 2017 legislative session has concluded, there’s a lot to reflect on. The General Assembly considered a variety of issues and ultimately sent Gov. Eric Holcomb 251 pieces of legislation to potentially sign into law. One of the biggest bills this session was the state’s long-term road funding plan.

If you’ve driven across the state lately, I’m sure you’ll agree that our roads need some work. Over the last several years, the General Assembly has been looking at the best way to increase funding for our transportation infrastructure. I’m happy to report that House Republicans created a 20-year, long-term funding plan that takes care of our current needs, finishes projects we’ve already started and addresses future plans. If we had not acted this year, Indiana’s roads and bridges would face on average a $1.2 billion annual funding shortfall over the next two decades.

To ensure our roads and bridges are safe, we developed a data-driven plan that provides immediate and ongoing funding increases for local and state roads in a sustainable manner. Starting in July, state road funding will see a $357 million increase, while local road funding will receive an additional $260 million.

In order to do this, a user-fee approach will be implemented so that those using the roads, pay for the roads. The user fee on gasoline, special fuel and motor carrier surcharge taxes will each be increased by 10 cents. Raising these fees was not an easy decision for me, nor was it one that I took lightly. However, these fees, in their present form, have lost their buying power over the years due to inflation. The funds being generated by our current fuel tax structure cannot keep up with our transportation infrastructure demands. The fee on gas hasn’t been changed since 2003, while the fees on diesel and motor carrier surcharge haven’t been adjusted for inflation since 1988.

While we were developing this plan, we knew that we needed to support local road projects, so we developed specific funding mechanisms to ensure our local roads aren’t forgotten. A $15 annual statewide infrastructure improvement fee will be placed on all vehicles registered in Indiana. Since hybrids and electric vehicles use the roads, but pay little to nothing in fuel taxes, the fees on these vehicles will be $50 and $150, respectively. All the money collected by these fees will go to the Community Crossings Matching Grant Fund. This fund doubles, and in some cases triples, local government spending on road and bridge repairs, bringing improvements to smaller cities, towns and counties.

On average, this road funding plan will cost Hoosiers around $5 a month. Another thing to note, all the fees paid at the pump will go exclusively to fund roads. This was a necessary step to ensure that Indiana remains the Crossroads of America.

If you have any questions or concerns about the road funding plan or any other legislation that was considered this year, please contact me at 317-232-9648 or h58@iga.in.gov.

 

Addressing the needs of Hoosiers

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

Last week, the Indiana General Assembly adjourned Sine Die. This means we have completed all of our business for the session. It was a quick session with many issues addressed. I am always impressed with all the work we are able to accomplish in just 10 weeks. This year, we were able to find solutions to issues surrounding the 2015 ISTEP scores, address the future of ISTEP, create a plan that meets Indiana’s immediate road funding needs and take serious steps to curb illegal drug use in our state.

I take my job as a member of the House Committee on Education very seriously and work hard to ensure our education system is the best it can be. To prevent negative repercussions from the 2015 spring ISTEP test scores, two pieces of legislation progressed quickly through the process and were signed into the law within the first month of session. Last year, Indiana transitioned to new, more rigorous academic standards. Teacher performance evaluations and school A-F ratings were decoupled from those test scores under House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1003 and Senate Enrolled Act 200, respectively.

We also took a hard look at the current ISTEP test. If enacted, HEA 1395 would repeal ISTEP on July 1, 2017. Over the next few months, a commission—comprised of mostly educators—will examine our current accountability metrics and find the best possible replacement.

For months, leaders of the General Assembly worked diligently to address the funding needs of our transportation infrastructure. House Enrolled Act 1001 directs $186 million upfront to a newly created local road and bridge matching grant. The legislation also redirects 1.5 cents of the 7 cents of sales tax on gasoline to the matching account as a source of ongoing funding and codifies the current equivalent of 1 cent already being dedicated to road funding. This means 2.5 cents of every 7 cents per gallon in sales tax is going toward roads—that’s in addition to the state’s 18-cent gasoline excise tax, which is already dedicated solely toward roads and bridges. An additional $328 million would go toward state road and bridge maintenance over the next two years. Next year, lawmakers will need to continue working on a long-term plan that will address our future road funding needs.

Under Senate Enrolled Act 67, local governments would receive up to $430 million for road and bridge improvements across the state. In addition, about $505 million in local option income tax reserves currently held by the state will be returned to local units with $330 million dedicated to roads.

Indiana has led the nation in methamphetamine lab incidents for the third consecutive year. I was proud to support legislation that tackles the meth scourge afflicting our state. Senate Enrolled Act 80 maintains legitimate access to pseudoephedrine (PSE)—an ingredient in certain cold, flu and allergy medications and an essential precursor to make meth—to Hoosiers without a prescription. Pharmacists, upon making a professional determination, may sell an extraction-resistant PSE formulation or a smaller package of PSE to a purchaser who does not have a current relationship with the pharmacy. A prescription would only be required if a purchaser refuses the alternative options.

House Enrolled Act 1157 makes it illegal for meth-related felons to possess PSE without a prescription. A stop-sale alert would be issued by the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), a real-time electronic tracking system used by pharmacies and law enforcement, when one of these felons attempts to purchase PSE in Indiana.

Finally, there was a brief discussion of adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in Indiana’s civil rights statute. While the House of Representatives did not vote on a specific piece of legislation, there were several amendments considered in committees and on the House floor. These amendments were not successful.

While I may not always agree with those who contact me on issues, I will continue to listen to anyone who reaches out to me. In order to represent you effectively, I encourage those with questions or concerns to contact me at 317-232-9648 or h58@iga.in.gov. I look forward to hearing from you while I continue to represent our community.

Working for you year-round

Friday, July 17th, 2015

As you may know, the Indiana General Assembly operates as a citizen legislature, meaning we only meet at the Statehouse for a few months. The rest of the year is spent back home, in district. The most rewarding part of being a state representative is helping those in my community directly. Often times, a person contacts me or my office when they feel they have limited options or do not know where else to turn. I am always willing to help find a solution and make sure your needs are heard and addressed.

There are many issues that are brought to my attention by constituents. Sometimes it is an idea for legislation and sometimes it is a little more complex. A lot of times, you may have a problem, but you aren’t sure who to reach out to. As your state representative, one of my responsibilities is to act as a liaison between you and state agencies to help address your concerns more efficiently.

Many state agencies are able to give you answers, provide you resources and offer you support. When you call my office for help, we work with the agency to get you the best possible solution as quick as possible. State agencies like the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) or the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) are valuable resources, and I encourage everyone to utilize them if you ever need to. You can find contact information along with descriptions for all the state agencies at www.in.gov/core/find_agency.html.

For many years, I have worked closely with FSSA to assist people applying for certain programs, especially those that help families through tough times. I have helped numerous individuals, who were put on a waiting list for child care vouchers for example, get in contact with FSSA. Within a short amount of time, they were able to get their problem resolved.

Other examples include assisting individuals with questions regarding income levels and how that could affect their eligibility for the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) 2.0. After putting them in contact with FSSA, they were able to assist them and clarify the criteria for HIP 2.0. In many situations, we can get help to you quicker by finding out what might be delaying the process and get the needed information. Being a resource for my constituents is just one of the many duties I have as a state representative.

Throughout the interim, we conduct and meet on study committees. This gives us an opportunity to study topics and potential legislation. We work diligently to understand all aspects of different legislative topics as we consider them for law, which is why interim study committees are so vital to the legislative process.

This year, I am honored to be appointed to three committees. I will be serving as Vice Chair of the Interim Study Committee on Pension Management Oversight and sitting on the Interim Study Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance as well as a member of the Military Base Planning Council. I am eager to begin meeting with these committees to continue working for our great state.

I strive to be a resource for you to use all year long. If you are need of assistance or have questions, please reach out to my office by phone at 317-232-9648 or by email at h58@iga.in.gov. Members of my community are important to me, and I want you to know you have a voice in your state government.

 

Not a license to discriminate

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), was recently signed into law by the Governor and has generated much discussion throughout the state and beyond. As legislators who voted for RFRA, we think it is important to clarify what this bill does and show why this is needed in Indiana.

RFRA establishes a judicial standard of review which will provide the courts with clear guidance on how to resolve any matters that come forth surrounding religious freedom. More than 30 states have already instituted some variation of RFRA. In addition, RFRA has been applied at the federal level since 1993 when it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA does not apply to state and local laws and Indiana’s case law is not clear on these issues. Indiana’s RFRA assures that our state courts follow the same reasoning that the federal courts and 30 other states follow when they weigh these issues.

An example of a case to which RFRA was applied, is the recent Hobby Lobby case. Obamacare required that Hobby Lobby pay for its employees’ abortion-inducing drugs, which violated the owners’ religious beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that RFRA entitled the business owners to an exemption from the regulation, because the religious accommodation would not require any of the female employees to do without the drugs.

To those who think this law gives business owners a license to discriminate, we would point out that RFRA can be used only as a defense against government action. In 22 years of this standard being applied at the federal and state level, discrimination has never materialized. RFRA does not give a license to discriminate, rather it protects every Hoosier’s first amendment rights regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.

 

 Woody Burton (R-Whiteland) represents a portion of Johnson County.

 Rep. Dave Frizzell (R-Indianapolis) represents a portion of Marion and Johnson counties.

 Rep. John Price (R-Greenwood) represents portions of Johnson and Morgan Counties.

Protecting our children’s education

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

I am sure many of you are aware of the recent events at an Indiana school in which fifth and sixth grade students wrote essays about their thoughts on education in Indiana. The teacher then distributed her students’ letters to several state officials, informing all recipients that the students were not coached in their writing and did their own research. I want to take a moment to share my concerns about the issue.

 

I first want to say that I value our teachers and communication from them is very important to the General Assembly. As a member of the Education Committee, I recently held a town hall meeting in Johnson County with local educators. We had a spirited discussion about many issues regarding education, including the controversy surrounding the duties of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as the length of this year’s ISTEP+ test. I value the feedback from teachers in my district and the rest of Indiana. We need to know how teachers feel about the legislation we are considering in the General Assembly. However, I am concerned about the way in which this particular teacher chose to share her opinions.

 

Indiana dedicates enormous energy and resources to the education of our children. We incentivize excellent teaching and promote innovation at every level. The classroom is a sacred place. It is the place where children learn to think, to develop opinions and stand for their beliefs. Even if this teacher did not coach her students as she said, it still seems likely that their research was directed. At the very least, students with a dissenting opinion did not get their essays sent.

 

Whatever the case may be, I find it disturbing. It is the job of all teachers to give their students the chance to think for themselves. That means presenting all the facts, all points of view and allowing each child to weigh the information and make a decision. I believe that is, by and large, how education is conducted in Indiana, and I am pleased about that. I want to remind all Indiana teachers that educating our children is this state’s top priority and their role is of utmost importance. I appreciate the work our teachers are doing for our children, and I want to encourage each teacher to continue teaching with excellence.

 

If teachers have opinions or concerns they wish to express, they should be free to do so. I have already emphasized that the General Assembly welcomes any and all input into the legislative process. However, when students are put in the middle of an issue, I must speak. Our children’s voices are valuable, but their protection is also important. I hope we all agree that they deserve fair and unbiased teaching in addition to the opportunity to share their opinions.

 

I am honored to serve as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, and I welcome your feedback on this and other issues. I can be reached at 317-232-9648 or at h58@iga.in.gov.