This session, State Senator Tim Skinner opposed a bill that would greatly expand Indiana’s private school voucher program. Under House Bill (HB) 1003, the voucher program would be extended to any student who lives in an attendance zone with a failing school or has a sibling already participating in the program. In addition, the legislation permanently lifts the cap on the number of vouchers and increases eligibility to those earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Senate Democrats have opposed this measure due to the more than $100 million in funding it will take away from public education between fiscal years 2014-15, as well as the unknown future costs of a fully expanded program. In an effort to slow this expansion, Senate Democrats proposed a summer study committee to research the effect voucher expansion will have on public education and its potential costs, but they were rejected along party-line votes. HB 1003 is likely to undergo additional changes during conference committees, where Sen. Skinner will shape final negotiations.
On Monday, Senate Democrats offered eighteen substantial amendments to House Bill (HB) 1001, legislation crafting the state’s next biennial budget. Proposed changes to the measure included investments in the areas of education, infrastructure, and health care.
“Hoosier families know that sound fiscal footing relies on a foundation of good investments,’ said State Senator Karen Tallian. “Our budget recommendations are comprised of strategic contributions our state can make now that pay off in the long-run.”
Sen. Tallian, who serves as Ranking Minority Member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, continued saying that proposed changes to the budget reflect discussions Hoosier families have around their kitchen tables and endows the state’s resources towards strengthening Indiana’s network of communities.
Improving Hoosiers’ health
Budget proposals offered by Senate Democrats included initiatives to expand health care coverage to 400,000 working Hoosiers. Recommendations included expanding Medicaid when the cost is fully paid for by the federal government, structuring an expansion after the state’s Healthy Indiana Plan and creating a contingency plan if the governor’s proposed expansion is rejected. Democrats continued to reiterate the 30,000 jobs expanding coverage would create as a strong basis to cover more Hoosiers, though the initiatives were rejected along party-line votes.
Sen. Tallian explained why offering an alternative health care component was an important addition to the budget:
SEN. TALLIAN: “The Senate Democrats today offered four amendments that would have addressed Medicaid expansion, health care expansion for Indiana…”
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Investing in pre-k, capping voucher funding
Acknowledging the strong support for the importance of early education and the need to oversee the state’s school voucher program, Senate Democrats offered a package of amendments to improve educational outcomes for all Hoosier children. An initiative offered by State Senator Earline Rogers would have created a pilot preschool program to evaluate best practices. An additional amendment would have separated the funding appropriated to the state’s voucher program and capped the amount of funds diverted from public schools.
SEN. ROGERS: “Well, what it would have done was, for us to stop and take a look at the vouchers and to not proceed until we were certain that the dollars were there for the other public schools…”
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SEN. ROGERS: “We’ve always thought that early childhood education was the missing piece of the puzzle that we needed for education reform. You know studies show…”
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Rebuilding local roads
An amendment offered by Senate Democrats to restore transportation funding back to the levels included in the House-passed budget were rejected along party lines on Monday. The amendment would have allowed more flexibility and control for local governments. Senate Democrats aimed to give those communities additional infrastructure funding to be allocated to where attention is most needed in their communities. State Senator Tim Skinner authored the amendment as a means of injecting immediate dollars into communities to begin their local roads projects.
SEN. SKINNER: “Well, I think every one of us recognizes that we have not done enough in the last few years because of the recession to stay on top of the funding that we need for local roads…”
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Senate Democrats will continue to push for these common sense initiatives as the budget process moves forward.
A complete listing of Senate amendments can be found at: http://www.in.gov/apps/lsa/session/billwatch/billinfo?year=2013&session=1&request=getBill&docno=1001 .
Sen. Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute) reacts to Gov. Mike Pence’s first State of the State address on Tuesday night.
In December, the Indiana Senate Democrats launched an interactive campaign to learn what you wanted to know about state government. The Open for Questions campaign recorded 136 questions and 3,973 votes were made on those questions.
The five most popular questions and answers straight from Senate Democratic Caucus members are featured below. Thank you to those citizens who participated in this online conversation.
“If the senators work for the people how come we can’t cut their pay or reduce their benefits? Do you think we should start voting on pay raises or benefit packages for you?” -DC from Dyer, IN
“If students who receive voucher money to attend private school are dismissed (kicked out) mid-year and return to the public school, do the private schools return any of the money to the public school fund?” -Paul from South Bend, IN
“As the Indiana population continues to age, what can Indiana legislature do to ensure appropriate care (physical and mental) of its’ older adults living below the poverty line?” -Angie from Indianapolis, IN
“How will the legislature deal with the families who pulled their kids from private schools for one year so they can get voucher money forever thereafter? Is this not “playing” the system? A gold mine for private (religious) schools?” -Brian from Chesterton, IN
“When will a law be passed that prohibits those in public offices from receiving more than one paycheck from the same government unit?” -JLp465 from East Chicago, IN
Senate Democrats rallied one last time on Wednesday to speak out against the contentious “Right to Work” bill as it gained passage in the Indiana State Senate. With a vote of 28 to 22, House Bill 1001 was sent to Governor Daniels who promptly signed the legislation this afternoon. Click the links below to listen to Senate Democratic Caucus members floor comments in opposition to the legislation. (Read more about events of Feb. 1 >>)
SEN. SIMPSON: “Weeks and months from now I want you to ask yourself this question; Was it worth it?…”
SEN. SIMPSON: “Right to work is a race to the bottom, it’s a downward spiral…”
SEN. ROGERS : “There’s a different relationship between management and unions now and we don’t need to interfere…”
SEN. SKINNER: “I don’t believe for a minute that companies are going to flock to Indiana…”
Senate Democratic members of the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee did not attend a meeting of the committee on Monday morning in protest over what they called a “mockery of the legislative process.” State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage), Ranking Democrat on the committee, said the Democrats did not want to participate in today’s committee meeting because they felt it was an unnecessary break from the Senate’s traditional decorum.
“Our position on ‘Right to Work’ is well established, and we’ll be on the floor to vote against it on Wednesday,” Sen. Tallian said. “What we’re protesting this morning is the process by which this bill is being rammed through the legislative process for nothing more than a political statement.
“Apparently lowering wages for Hoosier workers is an emergency.”
SEN. TALLIAN: “You know, the Senate Democrats may be small in number, but we can still be the conscience of this legislature…”
State Senator Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte), also a member of the committee, said, “If we aren’t fast-tracking ‘Right to Work,’ why are they holding this special committee hearing? If this was the traditional process, as claimed, this committee hearing would be held in just over a week from now. What’s the rush?”
The Senate typically waits to act on House bills until the Senate bill deadlines have passed. Those deadlines fall this week.
SEN. ARNOLD: “Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of standing up on the Senate floor…”
State Senator Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute), said, “This is a bad bill, and it’s being pushed through like an emergency when it is not. This is not how the process typically works, and we certainly don’t believe it justifies subverting the due diligence that each law should be given.”
SEN. SKINNER: “This whole process from the beginning to the end has been a sham…”
SEN. VI SIMPSON (D-ELLETTSVILLE): “We pride ourselves in the senate to maintain and respect those traditions which are long, long standing…”
Presumably, Republicans have pushed to get the bill through the General Assembly and on the governor’s desk before this Sunday’s Super Bowl hosted in Indianapolis.
Despite numerous objections by Senate Democrats, the Indiana Senate voted 28 to 22 to approve Senate Bill (SB) 269, the controversial “Right to Work” bill, on Monday. Senate Democrats argued that the legislation will be harmful to Indiana workers, working families and local economies by lowering average incomes statewide. Democrats also argued that the legislation is unnecessary due to current federal protections for those who choose not to join organized labor and that no concrete evidence has been presented showing that not having this policy has stifled job growth in the state. Nine Republicans voted with the 13 Democrats in the Senate in opposition to the bill.
Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson says the bill doesn’t confer rights, but instead makes it illegal for unions to make employees who benefit from negotiated salary, safety and benefit terms pay their fair share of the cost of providing those benefits.
SEN. SIMPSON: “This so-called “Right to Work” bill is not conferring any rights to a job on anyone…”
State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said the issue is really about the ability to join as a collective voice and the strength of the middle class embodied by the union movement.
SEN. TALLIAN: “This legislation is a classic class fight between unfettered, unrestricted, unregulated capitalism…”
State Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) said the legislation is about paying one’s fair share. He also questioned the wisdom in the state’s interference in contracts between employees and employers as proposed under the bill.
SEN. LANANE: “There is one thing that I think is absolutely true, that is that this bill will hurt unions…”
State Senator John Broden (D-South Bend) says Right to Work will set off a decline in wages because every study shows that where an industry is unionized, wages are higher for all workers in the area not just those in the union.
SEN. BRODEN: “After having heard all the debate…”
SEN. BRODEN: “Every study shows that where an industry or area is unionized…”
State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said the legislation will hurt working class families and lower wages.
SEN. TAYLOR: “This is an effort by people to stomp on the interests of working class citizens…”
State Senator Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute) said he is concerned that the message this bill sends is counterproductive for workers and businesses. He says he is convinced that this bill will bring wages down, not help families make a living in Indiana.
SEN. SKINNER: “I taught in a very blue collar area of Terre Haute. A lot of kids whose families were in unions…”
State Senator Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) said she is concerned that the legislation will begin a spiral of low quality jobs with lower wages in Indiana.
SEN. BREAUX: “My fear is that if we introduce ‘Right to Work’ that not only will we see a decrease in wages…”
State Senator Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond) said the legislation targets a fabricated problem at the expense of working families in the state.
SEN. MRVAN: “I think this ‘Right to Work’ law is phantom issue…”
Last week, Senate Democrats offered a number of amendments to the bill, including a referendum proposal that would allow the law to be voted on by the public.
SB 269 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration. A companion bill, House Bill 1001, is also now moving through the House and may be voted on in that chamber on Tuesday. Either of the bills could become law if approved by both chambers, as Governor Daniels has committed to signing the legislation into law.
Today the Indiana State Senate debated a number of amendments on Senate Bill 269, the so-called “Right to Work” bill. Senate Democrats offered seven amendments, including an amendment by State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) that would allow a public referendum if the legislation was approved by the Indiana General Assembly and became law.
AMENDMENT #13: Public referendum on “Right to Work”
Under Sen. Tallian’s proposal, the legislation would become effective on Nov. 5, 2012, and include an expiration date of Nov. 7. A public vote would be held on Nov. 6 providing voters with the choice of allowing the law to expire or affirming the law and eliminating the expiration. Amendment 13 was defeated by a vote of 14-36.
SEN. TALLIAN: “This so-called “Right to Work” issue has divided our legislature this year, last year and in previous years…”
Senate Democrat Leader Vi Simpson (D-Ellettsville) rose in support of the referendum saying it would allow time for the public to fully learn the language of the bill and then voice their opinion. Simpson contended that if those on either side of the facts were confident in their research, they should be open to a public discussion on the merits of the bill.
SEN. SIMPSON: “This amendment is about letting the people have a voice. You know, we tried to close down the statehouse…”
State Senator John Broden (D-South Bend) also spoke in support of the amendment, saying that he has seen no issue that requires more public education and input than the so-called Right to Work legislation. Broden also quoted comments from Governor Daniels urged the legislature in his 2008 State of the State address to “trust the people, give them the facts and let them vote” in reference to another public debate
SEN. BRODEN: “In the eleven years that I have been here in the General Assembly I don’t think I have ever encountered an issue that more strongly begs for a vote from the people…”
AMENDMENT #5: Affirming current right to not join unions
Sen. Tallian also offered an amendment to the bill that would strip all language except the clause that protects an individual’s right not to be required to join a union. Tallian said the amendment should address the primary concern asserted by “Right to Work” advocates that the issue centered on one’s freedom to not join a union. Amendment 5 was defeated by a 13 – 37 vote along party lines.
SEN. TALLIAN: “Federal law already prohibits forced unionization, but for those skeptics I offer this solution…”
AMENDMENT #3: Protecting existing union contracts with in-state employers
Another amendment offered today would have grandfathered in existing negotiated contracts between employers and employees. State Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) spoke in favor of the amendment arguing that it would provide an alternative by making Indiana a “Right to Work” state for businesses relocating here after the law’s effective date, but not affect current contracts between unions and employers already doing business in the state. Some proponents, including Governor Daniels, have said the “Right to Work” law is critical for recruiting new employers to the state. Amendment 3 was defeated by a 14-36 vote with one Republican voting in favor of the amendment along with the chamber’s 13 Democrats.
SEN. LANANE: “So I have a little bit of a problem with the argument that I have heard about Right to Work..”
AMENDMENT #2: Set back effective date to Jan. 1, 2013
Another amendment would have removed an unusual emergency clause and effective date of Mar. 14, 2012. State Senator Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte) spoke in support of the amendment, saying the implementation of a law with such dramatic effects on working families should not be rushed. Legislation typically has an effective date of July 1, the beginning of a new state fiscal year, or Jan.1. Amendment 2, which would have moved the law’s effective date to Jan. 1, 2013, was defeated by a 14 – 37 vote.
SEN. ARNOLD: “I think this bill is being driven and being geared around the Superbowl..”
State Senator Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute) also spoke in support of the amendment, saying that he sees no need for the emergency clause when even the governor has stated that there is no rush to approve the legislation at an accelerated speed.
SEN. SKINNER: “I see absolutely no need to rush this on, to have an emergency provision in this bill…”