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Lawmakers to return to work, three big items to be discussed

December 29, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS - Lawmakers return for the 2019 session Wednesday with a host of topics on tap. But three major issues will likely take up the most oxygen.

The state’s two-year budget is always a challenge but this year is complicated by higher-than-usual needs for the Indiana Department of Child Services.

A discussion over a bias crime bill : one that would allow judges to give longer sentences to those who commit crimes against a person or place due to a protected characteristic such as race : will no doubt be brimming with emotion.

And Hoosiers will see if Indiana ventures into legalized sports wagering.

Here is what you need to know about the three major topics:

WHAT: Indiana’s budget

THE BASICS: The General Assembly must craft a two-year spending plan that is effective July 1. The current budget spends 825 million in tax collections over the next biennium. But lawmakers are cautioning a tight budget due to growth in funding for abused and neglected children as well as low-income health care.

Here is what you need to know about the three major topics:

WHAT: Indiana’s budget

THE BASICS: The General Assembly must craft a two-year spending plan that is effective July 1. The current budget spends 825 million in tax collections over the next biennium. But lawmakers are cautioning a tight budget due to growth in funding for abused and neglected children as well as low-income health care.

“The budget is going to be more difficult than a lot of people realize,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said. He said the key issues are protecting young people, recommitting to teachers and students in a substantial way and realigning workforce efforts.

THE PLAYERS: The Senate has a new chief budgeteer : Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, while House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, returns. Brown is recovering from a motorcycle crash, and a co-chair has been appointed to help him with budget duties : Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers. Micah Vincent, head of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, will oversee administrative efforts along with State Budget Director Jason Dudich.

THE KEY FACTOR: Department of Child Services and Medicaid requests put in doubt much help for Indiana schools. A lack of progress on teacher pay : or even keeping up with basic inflation : will be hard for legislative members to accept or explain.

WHAT: Hate crimes

THE BASICS: Indiana is one of only five states that doesn’t have an explicit hate crimes law. In most states, those who commit crimes based on hate against a person’s race, religion or other characteristics can be charged with a higher crime. Indiana Republicans have soundly rejected that. They are willing to consider adding a list of protected classes to aggravators a judge can consider to give the maximum punishment to a convicted criminal. Religious conservatives argue such a law treats citizens differently and is unnecessary.

WHAT: Sports wagering

THE BASICS: The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way earlier this year for legal sports betting when it struck down a federal law that banned commercial sports betting in all but a few states. Some states immediately jumped in the game while others like Indiana are debating the idea. A study commissioned by the Indiana Gaming Commission found Indiana could reap $87 million in new tax revenue from regulated sports betting in the first five years. Indiana casinos are pushing for legal sports betting to be run through established casinos as opposed to stand-alone commercial betting facilities found in other countries. One facet of the discussion will be whether Hoosiers can bet from their phones or personal computers.

nkelly@jg.net

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