Democrats continue the push for affordable health care

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states were given the ability to expand Medicaid services to their most vulnerable citizens with 100% of the expansion being funded by the federal government through 2016. Since 2012, Senate Democrats have made this health care expansion a legislative priority by offering a number of proposals that would for the first time offer affordable health care options to 400,000 Hoosiers, create 30,000 high-paying jobs, and bring billions of dollars of additional economic activity to the state of Indiana.

After a year of negotiations to establish Indiana’s mechanism for expanding Medicaid under the ACA, the governor recently submitted a proposal to the federal government to expand health care coverage in Indiana. Although the final details of the proposal have not been approved by the Center for Medicaid Services (CMS), Senate Democrats are encouraged by the governor embracing the president’s health care law and working with the federal government to expand health care to working Hoosiers.

However, members of the Senate Democratic Caucus have long pointed to the years of federal funding, health care coverage, job growth and economic development that have been lost due to the indecision of the governor and Statehouse Republicans.

We have compiled an easy-to-read timeline of what has taken place in Indiana government and highlighted the most significant events regarding the expansion of Medicaid in Indiana.

Medicaid Expansion Timeline

VIDEO: Skinner seeks comprehensive study before expanding voucher program

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.



Budget proposals to strengthen public schools, repair local roads, expand health care coverage blocked


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…”

(Length – 01:21)

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…”

(Length – 00:39)

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 .

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Open for Questions: Your top five questions answered

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’ comments from Feb. 1 “Right to Work” floor debate

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?…”

Length: (01:49)

SEN. SIMPSON: “Right to work is a race to the bottom, it’s a downward spiral…”

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SEN. ROGERS : “There’s a different relationship between management and unions now and we don’t need to interfere…”

Length: (00:23)

SEN. SKINNER: “I don’t believe for a minute that companies are going to flock to Indiana…”

Length: (00:20)

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Senate Democrats protest manipulation of process for “Right to Work”

State Senator Karen Tallian

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…”

Length: (00:16)

State Senator Jim Arnold

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…”

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State Senator Tim Skinner

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…”

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SEN. VI SIMPSON (D-ELLETTSVILLE): “We pride ourselves in the senate to maintain and respect those traditions which are long, long standing…”

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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.

Senate approves “Right to Work” bill over Democrat objections

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.

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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…”

Length: (00:34)

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…”

Length: (00:33)

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…”

Length: (00:32)

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…”

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SEN. BRODEN: “Every study shows that where an industry or area is unionized…”

Length: (00:31)

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…”

Length: (00:26)

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…”

Length: (00:40)

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…”

Length: (00:27)

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…”

Length: (00:12)

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.