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Lawmakers from region press ideas for new laws

– Proposed legislation is still being processed, but so far northeast Indiana’s legislators are pushing several interesting ideas that relate to areas such as schools, job creation, septic systems and credit scores.

In all, 18 lawmakers represent Allen County and its surrounding areas. Four are new to the legislature this year and seven are longtime veterans.

Much of the session will be focused on drafting a new state budget, including how much money goes to education, whether to cut state income taxes and how to help state and local officials adequately build and maintain roads.

Other topics sure to receive attention include a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, a rewrite of the criminal code and various education changes.

Thousands of bills in all will be proposed, but only a few hundred will become law.

Here are a few of the ideas local legislators will push in 2013:

•Rep. David Ober, R-Albion, has filed a bill to give A-rated schools in Indiana more flexibility in their calendars. House Bill 1074 would allow these schools to focus more on the hours in class than the rigid 180-day requirement. For instance, if schools add an hour to the school day they could cut 16 days. This could be helpful in dealing with snow days or professional development time.

“Local superintendents and school boards know their schools better than us,” he said. “It’s a tool in the tool belt and a pathway to calendar flexibility for all schools in the future.”

A similar bill is moving in the Senate. It is unclear if Ober’s bill will receive a hearing.

•Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, wants to give residents some accountability when locally elected officeholders are accused of a crime. She said there have been charges filed in LaGrange County against several officials in recent years, but the officials are allowed to remain in their public positions during the process. She said it creates a cloud of uncertainty for residents.

Senate Bill 226 would suspend these officials without pay until charges are dismissed or the person is acquitted or found guilty. If there is no conviction in the case, officials would receive back pay for the length of their suspension. Health insurance would not be cut off.

“The public has a right to have faith in their elected officeholders,” Glick said. “This protects them.”

She also said the bill could be amended in committee to add state legislators as well.

•Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, wants to slightly alter the process in which new charter schools are created by the Indiana Charter School Board. House Bill 1203 would require an additional hearing before the board if an applicant initially sought to open up and serve students in one school district’s boundaries but instead moved to another district’s borders.

“It’s just a matter of transparency and fairness,” he said. GiaQuinta said the Fort Wayne Urban League charter school was granted a charter to operate in East Allen County Schools but wound up in the Fort Wayne Community Schools’ district.

The chances the bill moves forward are slim since Republicans hold a supermajority in the chamber.

•Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, filed Senate Bill 35 to allow residents to sue police officers who interfere with a person’s right to record an officer on duty with video or photos.

Several other states have prohibited the recording of police actions altogether, and police have been known to confiscate videos or arrest those taking the video. Banks wants to make sure that doesn’t happen in Indiana – as long as the person taking the video is not obstructing police in any way.

He said some law enforcement groups have expressed concerns but, “they have nothing to be concerned about if they are doing their jobs appropriately.”

•Rep. Kathy Heuer, R-Columbia City, already had an initial hearing on her training proposal. House Bill 1170 now moves to the full House for consideration.

Her legislation would allow existing businesses to tap state training dollars to upgrade skills of current employees.

Currently, businesses must promise to add jobs or make a new capital investment. Heuer thinks this is a way to help businesses that aren’t expanding or growing but also are struggling with a skills gap.

“Every place I went last summer said all the programs in place are to attract new business but there is nothing to help those already here,” Heuer said.

The bill would provide a 50 percent reimbursement to employers of what they paid for the additional training. They must spend the money first and the employee must complete the training before being reimbursed.

•Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, is seeking to roll back a state regulation that he says would add hundreds of dollars in unnecessary costs to septic repairs.

He said he agrees with the rule requiring a soil scientist inspect the site for new septic systems, but not repairs. He said Kosciusko County does 1,000 repairs a year, and he called the regulation an unfunded mandate of $300 per repair.

“They have to be able to fix the system,” Wolkins said. “We aren’t going to throw them out of their house.”

His legislation would allow other experts in the field to inspect. It has not yet been assigned a bill number.

•Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, is trying to control how insurance companies use your credit score. House Bill 1073 would prohibit the use of the score for increasing rates at renewal time.

Lehman said some insurance companies have used the credit score to justify large increases.

He acknowledged the bill probably won’t end up being a full prohibition but rather a lesser limitation.

“I am starting the discussion about using these scores wisely and fairly,” he said.

nkelly@jg.net

More online

•To learn about any bill under consideration during the 2013 legislative session, use the following link: http://www.in.gov/legislative/2474.htm.

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