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Archive for February, 2009

General Assembly Reaches Halfway Point

Legislators have reached the halfway point of the 2009 General Assembly session. The major actions so far: the passage of a one year budget in the House, and the gutting of several local government consolidation bills. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Marianne Holland reports.

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Republican Senate Leader, Harsh Words for Democrats on Jobless Fund

Senate Republican and President Pro Tem David Long of Fort Wayne said today, House Democrats failure to send a bill to fund Indiana’s unemployment insurance fund to his chamber could ultimately result in a special session. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Marianne Holland reports.

Restrictions on Industrial Livestock Farms Approved by House

A bill that prohibits new industrial livestock farms near state lands has been approved by the Indiana House. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Marianne Holland reports.

Legislation Would Change Judge Exception for St. Joseph County

Superior Court judges in northern Indiana’s Saint Joseph County, which includes South Bend, could be elected, rather than appointed, if a bill sponsored by Mishawaka Democrat Craig Fry becomes law. The legislation would require superior court judges in Saint Joseph County specifically to be selected in nonpartisan elections. Right now, they’re chosen using a system called merit selection, where a committee in the county submits names to the governor, who then makes the final pick.
Only Lake County uses the same system. Indiana’s other 90 counties have some form of election for their judges.
Proponents of the bill say judges aren’t held accountable under the present system. Voters decide whether to retain the judges every six years, but no judge in St. Joseph County has ever lost one of those elections.
St. Joseph Superior Court Chief Judge Michael Scopelitis opposes the measure. He says electing judges would expose them to political pressure.

“When citizens understand what merit selection is really about, they overwhelmingly support it over a popularly elected judge. Because basically, people do not want their judges taking money from people, lawyers, organizations and special interest groups that are going to wind up appearing in front of that judge.”

An amendment in the House limits the amount of campaign contributions a judge could receive. The bill now awaits action in the Indiana Senate.

State Universities React to House Budget Bill

With the House’s approval of a one year state budget, all of Indiana University’s campuses were granted a one percent increase in operating cash from the state. In an update delivered to IU’s trustees at a meeting in New Albany, IU’s statehouse liaison Tom Morrison said the institution’s interests have fared well so far.

“Now I would sit here any other year and be afraid to tell you that.But in this year, given the economic climate, this is something that we’re very pleased about. And pleased that the House leadership took the approach to prioritize higher education as they did K-12 education.”

Morrison went on to tell the board the House’s bill likely represents the high water mark for what the university should expect next year from the state. With next week marking the halfway point of the General Assembly’s legislative session, Morrison says IU still has little idea how much cash it will have to spend.

“We would love to stop the game at halftime. But we don’t have the ability to do that. But this is halftime and we do have a longtime to go. And in between now and the end of the session, that bill will go through the Senate. “

The Republican-controlled Senate is less likely to embrace higher education spending than the Democratically-controlled House did. Morrision says state’s latest revenue forecast is also “looming.” He says if that report, scheduled to come out in mid-April, shows revenues far below projections, the General Assembly could become much more conservative with how they spend the state’s money. But he says the stimulus package which became law this week may help.

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Iraq Soldier Raises Funds for Fellow Vets

Many war veterans return from deployment only to face a lack of basic amenities, such as housing. To help address the situation, a soldier based in Iraq is raising funds to build a Habitat for Humanity house in Evansville. As of Friday morning, more than 13-hundred dollars has been raised, since Army Major Jason Burley’s plan was posted on Habitat Evansville’s website Tuesday. Spokeswoman Lydia Johnson says donations have come from soldiers in Iraq, people from Burley’s home state Minnesota, and from Evansville residents.

“On any given night, we can have 200-thousand homeless veterans across the United States. So it’s definitely an issue and definitely a problem, and I think a lot of people realize that, and they feel like this is something very small that they can do and help at least one family.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates there are about 12-hundred veterans without homes in Indiana. It costs 55-thousand dollars to build a Habitat house, and Habitat for Humanity of Evansville has a veteran in mind for the house.

Transportation, The Statehouse and The Federal Stimulus Plan

Throughout this year’s General Assembly session, the term “economic stimulus package” has rarely appeared without a reference to roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements. Now that the multibillion-dollar federal recovery package has been signed into law, workers, taxpayers and motorists are wondering what it means for Indiana. This week, Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Marianne Holland talked to two of the major transportation insiders at the Indiana Statehouse….Democratic Representative Terri Austin of Anderson, Chair of the House Transportation Committee….and Republican Representative Randy Borror of Fort Wayne….who authored the Major Moves highway construction program enacted in 2006.