INDIANAPOLIS – Northeast Indianas rookie lawmakers are making the most of their first legislative session by targeting a number of topics, as varied as cold medicine and taxes.
I dont want to sit on my hands, said Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City. I learn best by doing – not watching.
Thats why Banks has filed 20 bills. And he thinks he achieved his goal of being the freshman with the most proposed legislation.
Thats what Im elected to do, Banks said. Every bill I file is an opportunity for public debate.
He also had a leg up on some of the other rookies because he had no general election competition. That gave him months to talk to constituents about bills and to jump in when the session began.
Banks is getting some attention for a bill that would phase out Indianas inheritance tax.
Only six states levy an inheritance tax, with the rate depending on the relationship of the heir to the deceased.
The tax generates about $135 million annually, but Banks doesnt believe he needs to identify replacement revenue for the state.
We have scaled back government dramatically, and revenues are going up, so we can absorb this, he said.
So far, a number of other senators have signed on as co-authors to Senate Bill 148.
But Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said approval of the bill isnt likely unless someone finds a way to replace the money. He did concede, though, that the change might stop some Hoosiers from moving to Florida to avoid the tax.
Another of Banks many bills would allow candidates running in Allen Superior Court judge races to raise more than $10,000. He said the cap created a circus out of the last race with both sides having independent groups spending money.
That didnt help with transparency, he said, noting the statute didnt apply to other judicial races around the state.
Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, didnt have as much time as Banks to prepare. She was sworn into office in mid-December to replace Marlin Stutzman, who was elected to the U.S. House.
But she did file Senate Bill 379 – an effort to protect funds in the Lake and River Enhancement Fund.
Last year, Gov. Mitch Daniels administration transferred $2.4 million from that fund to pay for general government expenses. Boaters finance the fund by paying an annual fee ranging from $5 to $25 depending on the value of their boats. The money is supposed to be used to enhance the states waterways, including erosion management and controlling invasive plants and animals.
But Daniels said the state had higher priorities and took the money for other uses. Glicks bill would prevent such transfers.
Its a user fee, she said. It should stay in the fund.
In the House, new Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, also has an ambitious agenda – starting with halting the continued fallout from methamphetamine labs around the state.
House Bill 1030 would require Hoosiers to get prescriptions for current over-the-counter medicines containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Right now, pharmacies keep the products behind or directly in front of counters. Customers also have to show identification and sign a log to buy them.
The drugs are a key ingredient to making meth, and Kubacki said a tracking system the state put in a few years ago isnt working.
It tells us who is making it after the fact, she said, noting Hoosiers can buy a multitude of other products to help with cold symptoms. She also said the products required a prescription in the 1970s.
Kubacki said requiring prescriptions has helped reduce the meth problem in other states such as Oregon and Mississippi.
Opponents point to the added cost of going to the doctor, but Kubacki said the state is spending millions to combat the problem of meth every day, citing law enforcement and social services.
In our area, its just devastating, she said.
Not to be outdone, veteran area legislators are also looking for change. Here are some ideas they are proposing this session:
Rep. Phyllis Pond, R-New Haven, has introduced House Bill 1114, which would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school athletics at the public school in whose district they reside. She said that parents of these children pay taxes to support the schools and their children should be allowed to play sports. Opponents are concerned about recruiting and whether the same rules would apply for participation, such as minimum grade-point averages.
Rep. David Yarde, R-Garrett, wants to ban sex offenders from public libraries in House Bill 1100. He said he was approached by several librarians who have had their public computers used by sex offenders to view child pornography and even gratify themselves in the library. They can be arrested on other offenses related to that conduct, but Yarde said it should be illegal for them to come to the library at all so that children dont interact with them. It would be a felony under the bill to break the law.
Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, introduced Senate Bill 242, which would repeal a cap on sheriffs salaries that was put in just a few years ago. That law said a sheriffs salary could not rise above that of the county prosecutor. It was designed to address a handful of sheriffs in the state bringing in large amounts of money by keeping a percentage of all unpaid taxes they collect or by how much they save the county on inmate meals. Though Kruse voted for the measure then, he now thinks the law is unfairly limiting what local governments choose to pay the sheriff.
Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, wants to end a yearslong legal battle over high-fenced deer hunting in the state. House Bill 1299 essentially codifies a phase-out of these hunting preserves in which people pay to hunt deer behind a fence. A lawsuit in southern Indiana is pending, and the state has spent tens of thousands of dollars defending its prohibition against these operations. They currently remain in business under a court injunction. Wolkins said there are only a handful of such operations left in the state, and it is time to phase them out.