By Derreck Stahly
Organization Day has arrived at the Statehouse and newly-elected lawmakers are settling into their new roles.
“A lot of new faces. A lot of new energy. Diverse group from all parts of the state,” Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said. “We’re lucky to have a talented group of new ones.”
Nine new senators and 12 new representatives were sworn into office during the ceremonial start to the legislative session. A tenth senator, yet to be selected by a caucus, will be sworn into office at a later date to fill former Sen. Jim Banks’ seat. Voters elected Banks to represent the 3rd District in Congress.
Among the new lawmakers is Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, for whom serving in the House is the family business. His father, Rep. Earl Harris Sr., held the same seat from 1982 until his death in 2015. His mother, Rep. Donna Harris, finished her husband’s term through 2016 but decided not to run for re-election.
“Not only were my parents voted into this position, but I’m following in their footsteps,” Harris Jr. said. “That to me means a lot, that the community has that faith in our family.”
Harris Jr. said his unique family history gives him connections and a better understanding of how the House works.
“My hope and thoughts and plans are — that background, that experience will help me in terms of making this transition, in terms of helping me be more effective with it,” said Harris Jr.
Education is the top issue for Harris Jr., who worked with students at Indianapolis Public Schools in the video production for 20 years before returning home to East Chicago. Education is also the top issue for House and Senate leaders as well. Additionally, during the 2017 General Assembly lawmakers must pass a new budget, and they plan on changing how roads and other infrastructure are funded.
Republicans hold a 41-9 majority in the Senate and they have 70 of the 100 seats in the House, which means the GOP can form a quorum for conducting business in both chambers even if Democrats don’t show up. That would have been useful in the past when Democrats boycotted House business over labor issues.
Long said he is excited to work with the newly-elected senators.
“Twenty percent turnover in the Senate, a body that used to turn over a glacial pace, is pretty significant,” he said.
The new legislative session starts on Jan. 3 for the Senate and Jan. 4 for the House.