By Brenda L. Holmes
State Rep. Jeff Thompson and Sen. Pete Miller met with Hendricks County residents this week at the third and final legislative breakfast for the current session.
The legislators attending gave community members updates on bills that are currently under consideration at the Indiana Statehouse.
“One item that has been passed early on is the bill designed to help bridge the ‘skills gap,’” Miller said. “This was an important issue for Gov. Mike Pence.”
Pence signed the bill into law, which includes two key proposals that will help improve the state’s workforce through development and vocational education.
Senate Enrolled Act 465 encourages a partnership between employers and schools to help create better job training in the classroom and provide apprenticeships to students.
House Enrolled Act 1002 establishes the Indiana Career Council which is comprised of leaders in state government, businesses, education, and labor. The goal of this council is to foster collaboration in the government’s workforce development efforts.
“We’re looking forward to the benefits that we’ll see in the future,” Miller said.
He also updated residents on a bill that would relax the requirements for school district superintendents.
“As it stands now, superintendents need to have an education license,” he said. “Not that an education license is not important, but it might just help the pool of applicants for some of our districts.”
He said the law would help large districts like IPS who may want to hire an individual from the private sector who may have great management skills but not the education background.
“I don’t see this bill applying to any of our schools in Hendricks County,” Miller added.
Both Miller and Thompson gave kudos to Rep. Greg Steuerwald for his work on the criminal code bill. Steuerwald was at the breakfast for a short time but was unable to stay for the question and answer period because he had a meeting downtown to work on pending legislation.
“The bill will streamline the process and help us not to load up our prisons with non-violent offenders,” Miller said.
Thompson said this session has moved along very smoothly due to better scheduling at the Statehouse.
“We’ve had the best schedule management ever,” he said. “We’ve had over 100 bills on the schedule and we’ve only had to work past dinner a few times. In the past, it has been routine to work up until after 11 p.m.”
Thompson said he is currently “knee-deep” in fine tuning the budget bill (House Bill 1001) which has passed by the House and Senate.
He said the bill maintains healthy reserves and accelerates the phase-out of the death tax; reduces taxpayer-funded debt by paying off bonds on state-owned facilities; provides an additional $354 million for K-12 education; prioritizes higher education without adding a penny of debt, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in interest by investing $197 million into infrastructure projects on university campuses; provides an additional $250 million per year in sustainable funding for roads and bridges; and invests an additional $33 million into workforce training programs and another $23 million into programs for economic innovation.
The bill passed the House 68-28 and the Senate 38-12, and is in conference committee.
He said legislators are focusing on the economy.
“When I first entered the House in 1999, 28 percent of students were receiving free or reduced lunches,” Thompson said. “Now 47 percent are receiving free and reduced lunches. What if that goes up to 66 percent? We need to figure out what’s going on in our society that’s making this happen.”