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New faces, ideas ease legislative work tone

– Twenty-nine new lawmakers were among the 150 that took their oaths Tuesday on the traditional Organization Day for the Indiana General Assembly.

Most of the new members are in the Indiana House – 19 Republicans and six Democrats; with three Republicans and one new Democrat in the Senate.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, joked there are a whole lot of new members wandering around with a dazed look.

“They’ll find their path,” he said.

Veteran House Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, said the new arrivals have refreshing idealism while also noting a steep learning curve on everything from how to file a bill to how committees work.

New member Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola, said he was excited by the camaraderie across the aisle already.

“I like the idea of having new people with fresh ideas,” he said. “We are hoping to find what we have in common rather than coming in ready to square off.”

Fellow newbie Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, said he is already seeing members reaching out socially to get to know one another before everyone returns Jan. 7 for the hard work when the legislative session begins.

“I think the new faces are a good thing. New faces mean new ideas,” he said, and possibly a lower temperature in the chamber.

The last two sessions have been especially divisive as union and education legislation took center stage.

Organization Day is largely ceremonial, with Long’s speech short and sweet. He said there are challenges to drafting a new two-year state budget, such as meeting the needs of schools and possible federal health care obligations.

House Speaker Brian Bosma set a bipartisan tone even though Republicans now have a supermajority in that chamber, 69-31.

“Caution has to be our watchword,” he said of fiscal issues. “Our fiscal plan must be sustainable in the long run.”

He offered an olive branch to teachers on education change, saying rather than a rollback or halt, “it’s time for a thorough examination and revisions where appropriate.”

Bosma also laid out several objectives, including state-funded preschool for the neediest and ensuring every child in the care of the Department of Child Services is properly monitored.

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