As the Indiana General Assembly reconvenes today, Governor Mike Pence has laid out his 2016 legislative agenda. Pence says jobs, roads, education and health care are his key priorities.
At the top of the list is his 21st Century Crossroads program, which would make $1 billion in new state road funding available over the next four years without raising taxes. Pence is also backing Senate Bill 67 which would make $418 million in Local Option Income Tax reserves immediately available to local governments for road and bridge improvements.
One item not on Pence’s agenda is an update to Indiana’s civil rights laws to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Eric Berman, political reporter for Network Indiana/WIBC, says the civil rights debate will be the biggest topic in this legislative session.
"The legislative leadership has said there are other important things, and there are other important things, but there is no question that this is going to dominate public discussion," says Berman. "The governor still has not staked out a position. The speaker of the house has been somewhat quiet as well. The Senate Republicans and the Senate Democrats have laid out their versions of a bill but I don’t think there is any agreement on this and it’s going to be a real six-way balancing act to get something passed."
Berman says road funding will be another major topic but the General Assembly will probably pass some form of short-term funding with a commitment to revisit the topic next year during the budget session for long-term funding. "That still leaves the details of how you raise the money. The advantage that they have is that everyone in both parties, both the legislature and the governor, agree that we should do something this year."
With education, Pence is backing two bills to help schools and teachers. Senate Bill 200 will hold schools harmless for their A-F accountability grades in the last school year. A second bill is meant to shield teacher bonuses from a drop in ISTEP+ scores, a bill which Berman says is likely to pass. Berman adds there has been talk again of dropping ISTEP+ with another test, which is an issue that is sure to get a lot of attention.
Pence is also backing several health care-related bills, including an increase of penalties for drug dealers, the creation of the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse and an expansion of Indiana’s Lifeline law.
Network Indiana/WIBC Political Reporter Eric Berman says, while not on Pence’s list, the civil rights debate will be the biggest topic during this session.