SEI Lawmakers Listen, Reflect At Chamber Luncheon
By Mike Perleberg
(left to right) State senators Chip Perfect and Jeff Raatz as well as state representatives Randy Lyness and Randy Frye listen to a question from the audience during the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce Post-Legislative Luncheon on Thursday, April 7. Photo by Mike Perleberg, Eagle Country 99.3.
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – Southeast Indiana’s four Republican state lawmakers each agree that the 2016 legislative session was productive.
“Overall I think the session was great. You have a great group of legislators. I couldn’t be happier to be one of this group,” State Rep. Randy Frye (R-Greensburg) said Thursday.
Frye was joined by fellow state representative Randy Lyness (R-West Harrison) and state senators Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg) and Jeff Raatz (R-Centerville) in speaking at the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Post-Legislative Luncheon at Ivy Tech Community College in Lawrenceburg. Indiana Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb also made a brief appearance.
The event was sponsored by The Bright Beacon.
Perfect echoed Frye’s comments on the southeast Indiana contingent. Out of 841 bills introduced this year – “way too much legislation” as he put it – Perfect said 212 of them were passed. Despite the controversial legislation that usually grabs the news headlines, 97 percent of those bills passed with bi-partisan support and 62 percent were unanimous, he added.
But references to even-year legislative sessions as “short sessions” is a misnomer, said Perfect. This year, legislators were voting on eight bills per day compared to five per day in 2015.
“It was more work and it felt like it,” Perfect said.
Raatz said he worked closely with Perfect during the session, which he termed as “very quick”.
Lyness, who was selected by caucus to fill the House District 68 seat last year when former state representative Jud McMillin resigned, said he “didn’t speak to much” during his first session at the Statehouse.
“I was there to learn,” he said before relating a story about his first committee meeting in which he heard legislation on allowing beauticians to trim men’s beards.
Indiana Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb (left) shakes hands with Dearborn County Commissioner Kevin Lynch at the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce Post-Legislative Luncheon on Thursday, April 7. Photo by Mike Perleberg, Eagle Country 99.3.
The apparent favorite legislation to discuss were House Bill 1001 and Senate Bill 67 which provide funding for Indiana’s transportation infrastructure, including releasing local option income tax money to local governments across the state. But the proposals will only provide funds for the next four years – at most, according to Frye.
“We’re going to be back next year trying to find a solution for long-term (road) funding,” Frye said.
On the education front, the lawmakers were happy to report that they passed legislation that will see the troubled ISTEP+ standardized test scrapped in 2017. A panel is tasked with recommending a new assessment test by next year.
Perfect said the state is making a big push for career tech and vocational training. Southeast Indiana, he said, is ahead of most of the state in its alternative programs for students who aren’t aiming to attend college.
“I think we’re going to see Ivy tech at the forefront of what vocational education means in the State of Indiana,” Perfect said.
Criminal code reform and the drug-related issues confronting Indiana were brought up with questions from law enforcement officials in the audience. Raatz said lawmakers passed a bill increasing the sentences for repeat drug dealers in response to lower sentences that were part of updates made to Indiana’s criminal code in 2014. Frye said more money is moving from corrections and prisons to community corrections programs. Perfect added that lawmakers are focusing more on drugs as a mental health issue.
Indiana has been the top state in the nation for meth lab seizures each of the past three years. Frye said legislation making it harder for meth cooks to obtain cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine from pharmacies won’t change the process of getting cold medicine for law-abiding citizens.
Frye has been a main catalyst in the Fourth Port Plan, a plan by Ports of Indiana to place a potential fourth port on the Ohio River in southeast Indiana. Providing a brief update on the project, Frye said while the study has been announced by the governor, it is just not ready to be shared yet. Environmental studies are being conducted, according to Frye, at unannounced locations for the possible 900-acre industrial complex.
Not much emerged on the riverboat gaming front in 2016, but the 2017 session may be a different story. Hesitant to raise taxes for additional revenue in a year when they must craft a new two-year state budget, many state lawmakers may look to take a bite out of local riverboat revenues.
Riverboats aiming to maintain profits may also be lobbying lawmakers next year to allow them to renegotiate local development agreements that have been very generous revenue sources for cities like Lawrenceburg and Rising Sun.
“The market has changed. The boats are not doing as well as they did. The pie has shrunk and everybody is feeling the impacts of that, including these important businesses that live in our communities and employ people in our communities… …We’ve got to get it right for them so that they can continue to live and prosper, because if they don’t, we don’t,” Perfect explained.
Frye, first elected in 2012, said 2015 was the worst Statehouse fight he has ever seen over casino gaming revenues. He thinks Governor Mike Pence’s Regional Cities Initiative passed this year to provide millions of dollars to economic development in Indiana’s metropolitan areas may end up being a useful tool in fighting for local gaming revenues, which are used to support economic development in the southeast region.
Despite problems and issues facing southeast Indiana, senator Perfect said the region may have it better than most.
“I didn’t have a full appreciation for what we have here until I got to the Statehouse and heard from other legislators about the challenges they face in their communities. I’m pleased to report that while sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, we’re doing better than most. We’re ahead of the curve in this community on a lot of issues,” Perfect concluded.