GREENSBURG – The flurry of activity that has accompanied the new legislative session at the Indiana General Assembly spilled out into the Tree City Saturday during a town hall meeting at Decatur County REMC.
Sponsored by the Greensburg/Decatur County Chamber of Commerce, the meeting brought two state senators, two state representatives and a U.S. Congressman to Greensburg for a short session intended to inform the general public of the present state of things in Indianapolis and on Capitol Hill.
The panel included District 67 State Representative Randy Frye (R-Greensburg), District 55 State Representative Cindy Ziemke (R-Batesville), District 42 State Senator Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) and District 43 State Senator Johnny Nugent (R-Lawrenceburg).
The group was briefly joined by U.S. Congressman Luke Messer, a Republican who represents Indiana’s Sixth Congressional District.
Chief among a litany of items affecting the state – and the nation as a whole – is the recent roll-out of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Law.
Congressman Messer described the debut of the program as “disastrous,” with the after-effects “touching every district” in Indiana and beyond.
Messer, a native of Greensburg, was a vocal opponent of the new law and called for its repeal. The president’s signature legislation requires essentially every United States citizen to enroll in a healthcare plan. Those who do not may be subject to fines.
The controversy over the new law helped bring about such a division in Washington last fall that a government shut-down occurred, lasting for 16 days.
With that in his rearview mirror, Messer said the next step is informing the public what individuals must do to comply with the law.
“It’s the law of the land and we have a responsibility to help everyone understand it,” Messer said.
“It’s clear that it’s [the Affordable Care Act] helped some people, but it’s also clear that it’s hurt more people than it’s helped.”
That sentiment found a companion in Senator Leising who said some of the requirements of the law – especially in regard to healthcare policies and choosing where one wishes to be treated – could lead to very serious problems.
“If you’re really sick, or if you have a really sick child, it’s going to be terrible,” Leising said.
The Republican State Senator expressed her fear that hospitals could close due to the new law, particularly Critical Access Hospitals in rural areas, in addition to the prospect that business owners will scale back hiring in order to avoid paying an annual mandated fee based on the number of full-time and full-time equivalent employees.
The future solvency of Medicare and Medicaid programs also prompted discussion, though it was clear there are no easy answers.
Nearly as divisive as the primarily partisan battles over President Obama’s healthcare law is the pending Statehouse fight over House Joint Resolution-3 (HJR-3).
The controversial resolution calls for an amendment to the state’s constitution that would define marriage as solely between a man and a woman.
The resolution has caused a divide between Hoosiers who support the view of “traditional” marriage and those who believe the amendment unfairly targets homosexual couples and others who wish to establish civil unions or legally-recognized domestic partnerships. Prior to the start of this legislative session, the resolution was known as HJR-6.
State Rep. Randy Frye again went on record in support of bringing the resolution to the November ballot.
“I’ll vote in favor of it [the amendment],” Frye said Saturday morning.
“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, but I also believe [the fate of the amendment] should be up to the citizens of the State of Indiana to decide,” the Republican representative said.
“We’re all interested in seeing how HJR-3 progresses.”
Fellow House member Cindy Ziemke said she would vote “no” on the resolution due to her feelings the amendment, which was authored prior to Ziemke being elected, is “poorly crafted.”
“I have difficulty with the language of this bill,” Ziemke said expressing her reservations that the bill could disallow civil unions and domestic partnerships.
“It takes away something people currently have,” the Republican representative said. “When you’re looking to change the constitution of this great state, it should be right. It should be very hard to do.”
Other discussion Saturday was far less divisive or potentially inflammatory.
Rep. Frye noted his support of ending the state’s tax on personal property on new investments, a longstanding regulation that some legislators believe stands in the way of job creation.
Frye believes the removal of this tax will allow business owners “more tools to attract employers.”
Information handed out to attendees of the program by Rep. Frye shows the popular representative, who is seeking reelection this fall, intends to focus on education, the funding of road projects and helping to address a “skills gap” among manufacturing workers.
Rep. Ziemke has championed education since she began her tenure in the Statehouse last year.
Ziemke talked of her focus on early childhood education and her support of a voucher program intended to help better prepare 4-year-olds in impoverished families for kindergarten.
Ziemke said she strongly supports Gov. Mike Pence’s focus on adoption as well. The District 55 representative said she hopes the Hoosier State will be among the most welcoming for adoptive parents.
The Batesville business owner commented briefly on bills that would require, among other things, drug testing for welfare recipients and the prohibition of certain unhealthy items – such as soda, candy, etc. – for individuals purchasing food under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Senator Leising, likewise, discussed a bevy of Senate Bills she hopes will continue making education a priority in the state.
Senate Bill 113 passed the Senate Education Committee last week and will soon head to the Senate floor for a full vote. Leising has long-supported this bill, which would require children to learn cursive writing.
The Department of Education made learning cursive optional in 2010. Leising contends that cursive writing and cognitive learning are directly linked.
The veteran senator also said she supports SB 111. This bill is intended to delay, for one additional year, any potential changes made to the soil productivity factor by the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF).
Bringing together agriculture and education, Senator Leising said she supports a bill that would allow students participating in the Indiana State Fair to receive excused absences from school.
Leising also discussed how alcohol is sold at the state fairgrounds throughout the year, but not during the State Fair in August. This prohibition dates back 67 years due to clean-up involving carelessly discarded glass bottles used to house beer at the 1946 State Fair.
Leising said opening up the fairgrounds to alcohol sales would allow Hoosier breweries and wineries an opportunity to sell their wares during the fair, in an environment restricted to those age 21 and over.
Retiring State Senator Johnny Nugent, the elder statesman of Saturday’s group, took the opportunity to give thanks to his fellow legislators as well as the people of southeastern Indiana whom he has served for more than three and a half decades.
“I’ve thoroughly been honored to serve over the last 36 years,” the Cleves, Ohio native said. “That, in my opinion, is the role of the public official.”
Nugent called his fellow panelists “the hardest working members of the General Assembly I have ever seen.” He also took the opportunity to endorse Republican Chip Perfect, a personal friend of Nugent’s, as his replacement when he retires in November.
Perfect, who has formally announced his candidacy for Senate District 43, was in attendance Saturday. Nugent called him “the right person at the right time.”
Congressman Luke Messer’s brief visit also gave him the opportunity to sing the praises of the four Republican legislators who visited Greensburg Saturday.
Messer described the panel of guests as “thoughtful” and “among the very best in the state.”
Contact: Brent Brown 812-663-3111 x7056; email@example.com