After a dramatic session for the Indiana General Assembly, we've come to what should be the end. The official deadline to adjourn is midnight Friday, April 29th. Though major changes have already been made in some areas, there's still much to do in five short days.
Chief among the week's goals, and perhaps the most urgent for Governor Daniels and the legislators, is the state budget. The Senate and the House each have their own versions of the $28 billion, two-year proposal. According to a Herald Bulletin article Sunday, fiscal leaders from both chambers will confer this week to compromise on several outstanding disparities:
The House version contains a proposal backed by Daniels to create a rebate plan that would give money back to taxpayers if the state’s reserves ever exceed 10 percent of state spending. The Senate version raises the trigger to 12 percent so that some of those reserves would go to fund the state’s underfunded public employee pension program.
The House version slashed the amount of gambling revenues from the state’s two racinos — the race-track-based casinos — funneled into a program that promotes the state’s horse-racing industry. The Senate version restores much of that funding.
There’s disagreement among Daniels, the Senate and the House on the details of a cut to Medicaid services for low-income Hoosiers. Daniels’ budget plan eliminated dental, chiropractic and podiatry services for adults; the House plan restored the cuts; the Senate plan cut Medicaid funding for dental and chiropractic services for adults but kept them for children.
And just days ago, Senate Republicans stuck an “anti-bolting” provision onto their budget bill that would allow any citizen in the state to sue state legislators who engage in the kind of quorum-busting walkout that House Democrats staged earlier this session. Under the provision, legislators could face $1,000-a-day fines if their absence stops legislative action for three days or more. It also allows a citizen to sue legislators who walk out in the final week of the session for any length of time.
Meanwhile, a few procedural votes are all that are left to write redistricting changes into law, and according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on Monday, just one vote in the House is needed to create the state-funded private school voucher program. Daniels has already signed off on limits to collective bargaining for teachers. Legislators still need to make a final decision on the contentious expansion of charter schools across the state.
Several social issues, including corporate tax cuts as well as bans on synthetic marijuana and texting while driving, also need settling before Friday's deadline. According to the Journal Gazette's overview of some remaining concerns:
A restrictive abortion bill is headed back to the House that would, among other things, strip Planned Parenthood of Indiana of millions of dollars in funding. It also would require doctors performing abortions to have hospital privileges; limit abortions to before 20 weeks of pregnancy and add numerous informational items to the state’s informed consent law.
House Republicans support the bill, but [Indiana House Speaker] Bosma is concerned the Planned Parenthood provision might violate federal law and raise constitutional concerns.
A gun pre-emption bill would void most local firearm ordinances and is a shoo-in for passage in some form, though the GOP author is concerned there are now too many exemptions in the bill.
Legislation cracking down on illegal immigration likely will be approved easily after much of the controversial language was removed — partly at the behest of Daniels.
Despite their best efforts following the Dems' return post-walkout, legislators are scrambling to fulfill their duties in the statehouse.
“The goal since we returned was to move things forward expeditiously,” Bosma said. “Long nights with dinners at the desk so we would not have the last week with the big backlog that could be used as leverage and it looks like we’re there.”
Following conference committee meetings this week, all new versions of bills must be approved once again by both chambers before landing on Gov. Daniels' desk for consideration.