Friday, May 13, marked the official end of the Indiana General Assembly 2005 legislative session with Gov. Mitch Daniels signing the remaining bills sent to his office for approval.
Gov. Mitch Daniels
Of the more than 250 pieces of legislation passed by the Senate and House of Representatives this year, the governor vetoed only two.
House Enrolled Act 1142 "Medicaid matters and organ procurement" would have required the Division of Family and Children to pay funeral director and cemetery expenses incurred for an individual receiving or certified to receive certain public assistance, but it also gave the Division a preferred claim against a decedent's estate that has sufficient assets to pay the funeral director and cemetery expenses.
Senate Enrolled Act 218 would have allowed evidence of failure to comply with the laws concerning safety belts to be used as evidence in a civil action to reduce damages for injury to a person who is at least 15 years of age at the time of the accident, and limited the liability of an insurer.
Of the hundreds of bills the governor did sign, several were key pieces of legislation pushed hard by the new administration and considered key to Daniels' economic development plans.
Senate Enrolled Act 1 provides several new actions to make Indiana more appealing to small and large businesses alike, according to the Governor's Office, including modernizing Indiana's tax code.
"This is a green flag for businesses to invest and grow in Indiana. Some of these incentives are targeted to small businesses, which create the most job growth," said Daniels, who signed the bill at Indiana University's Emerging Technology Center. "Companies will be able to invest and grow in our state and help Indiana continue on its comeback, which helps us achieve our goal of growing the income of Hoosiers."
Daniels' plan to pursue hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes owed to the state by offering delinquent taxpayers a one-time opportunity to pay without penalty became law with the governor's signature on House Enrolled Act 1004.
It is estimated that Indiana is owed more than $600 million in delinquent taxes. The Department of Revenue will offer tax amnesty from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15. Penalties, interest and collection fees and criminal and civil prosecution will be waived for delinquent taxpayers who take advantage of the amnesty opportunity.
"Indiana is one of a very few states that has never used this tool, and as we move to balance our budget after a decade of red ink, it makes good sense to do so," the governor said. "Delinquents need to understand they get this one chance to pay up, or face double penalties and aggressive enforcement."
Daniels also scored victories with the signing of the budget bill, which provides a balanced state budget in 2007 and daylight-saving time legislation. After much political wrangling, Daniels' controversial Office of Inspector General was also created with the signing of House Enrolled Act 1501.
State officers and employees are now prohibited from accepting employment, benefits or from participating in decisions when they have a conflict of interest. The law also requires a one-year waiting period before a state officer or employee can work as a lobbyist or with an entity that the individual negotiated with, regulated, supervised or licensed. State legislators are exempt from the new ethics rules, however.
Eleven other states have an inspector general, and the bill received support from the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and an endorsement from the Indiana Sheriff's Association.
The public integrity portion of the bill includes a strong whistleblower provision for state employees who report misconduct, misdeeds and theft in state government.
The Inspector General's Office has already referred an alleged bribery case to a county prosecutor and initiated more than 50 formal investigations.
"Instead of one of the weakest sets of ethics rules, Indiana now has one of the strongest laws, with the mechanisms to uphold it," the governor said.
Daniels also put an end to public funding of political campaigns via the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Senate Bill 467 repeals the political contribution previously paid to state Democrat and Republican parties paid at the time of an application or renewal for a personalized license plate. The state will now collect that portion of vanity plate fees rather than the politicians.
On a disappointing note, the governor also signed House Bill 1431, which reduces the amount that is annually appropriated for clean water funding, agriculture and wetlands. Previously, one-third of cigarette tax income was allocated for clean water funding. The amount has now been reduced to one-sixth of the fund.