Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

March 11, 2014

TOM LoBIANCO: Legislative summer studies often precede tough action

Lawmakers to look at preschool, sex assault, road funding this year.

Indiana lawma­kers have only a few more days this week before they wrap up the 2014 legislative session. But that doesn’t mean they’re totally done for the year.

A handful of top issues being debated this session are on their way to “summer study,” as the Statehouse lingo goes. Lawmakers are set to study business taxes and preschool vouchers, even if they do approve the tax cuts and new education spending sought by Gov. Mike Pence this session.

Critics of these studies say they equate to “punting” on the issue, while supporters say it allows the time to delve deeper into a subject after the harried days of the session. Either way, months of routine meetings on one specific topic often help drive action on many of Indiana’s toughest issues.

The best example from this year could be the regulations for religious day care centers that lawmakers are on the verge of approving. Proposed regulations were often stymied in previous sessions, despite grim reports of child deaths and multiple newspaper investigations that exposed widespread problems. But it wasn’t until after lawmakers spent a summer reviewing the issue that new rules seemed possible.

This summer, lawmakers — and the citizens and experts they call on to serve with them on the respective study committees — won’t be tackling only the business taxes and preschool vouchers.

Rep. Christina Hale, D-Indianapolis, was able to declare victory last month after Republicans gave initial approval to her request the issue of teen sexual assault, a problem she says is underreported, was tabbed for a summer review. And lawmakers will spend the next two years looking comprehensively at the state’s transportation funding, a problem state leaders have tinkered with for years now.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, who is considering Pence’s request for the release of $400 million in road funding lawmakers marked for savings in their most recent budget, noted the problem of declining gas tax collections due to improving vehicle gas mileage is a long-term issue that needs to be tackled head-on.

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