Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

January 7, 2014

TOM LoBIANCO: 'Short sessions' quickly becoming political slogs

Marriage fight could crowd out other Statehouse issues.

Increasingly inside the Statehouse, “short session” is no longer a term to be confused with an inconsequen-tial gather-ing of the state’s lawmakers.

When lawmakers return for the start of 2014’s “short session” this week, they are set to take up two high-profile measures — one to write the state’s gay marriage ban into the constitution, and another that would eliminate the personal property tax paid by businesses.

Lawmakers began adding a second annual meeting to each two-year term — just like Congress — more than four decades ago as a means to deal with minor budget fixes that could not wait. But that budget-fixing mechanism has evolved in recent years into sessions in which elected leaders tackle some of the most high-profile and contentious measures.

The precursor to this year’s business tax cut proposal came during the short session of 2008, when lawmakers (and ultimately voters) placed property tax caps into the state constitution. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce, among others, has argued the cuts unfairly placed the burden of local property taxes on businesses and left homeowners largely unscathed.

Top Republican leaders, including Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma, want to eliminate the tax, along with lobbying powerhouses including the Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association.

Pence, in particular, is coming into the 2014 session with some big expectations. In addition to the personal property tax elimination, he has proposed expanding school vouchers for teachers and preschool-age children and increasing aid for charter schools.

Social and religious conservative groups, meanwhile, are seeking the marriage amendment. While Bosma and Senate President David Long have said they still support limiting marriage to being between one man and one woman, neither appears to be actively pushing the issue — at least not in public. The marriage fight has the potential to crowd out other issues depending on how much time lawmakers spend on the fight.

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