Indiana lawmakers outline 2019 legislative priorities

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Indiana lawmakers are in Week 2 of the legislative session, and leaders in both chambers laid out what's most important to them for this 2019 session.

The Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) has asked for roughly $286 million in funding, and, according to House Speaker Brian Bosma, that amount is just to keep the department at current levels. House Republicans want to fix Child Services using recommendations given during last year's independent audit of the department.

State Rep. Greg Steurwald, a Republican from Avon, said, "We reduced the caseloads for caseload workers. We also took a look at giving additional time for DCS to prepare initial assessments so they have the proper amount of time to make a proper assessment."

Another top priority this budget session: teacher pay. Lawmakers agree teachers need raises. Where Democrats and Republicans differ, though, is exactly how to give teacher more money.

House Republicans want about 85 percent of money that goes into the public school education fund to be used directly for classroom education purposes. It wouldn't be a mandate, but a guideline.

"If we can increase the average that goes from these funds, statewide, by 5 percent to teachers, it ends up increasing statewide teacher pay by about $350 million," Bosma said. "That's just an example." 

Democrats want to require a 2.5 percent yearly teacher pay increase. They've got other ideas where the money could come from. 

"Virtual charter schools that are suffering, that are not giving back what we thought of as a state," state Sen. Eddie Melton, a Democrat from Gary, said. "Is there any room within that budget  to reallocate dollars?" 

State Rep. Greg Porter, a Democrat from Indianapolis, suggested lawmakers not be afraid to tap into Indiana's $350 million in education reserves or the state's $1.8 billion surplus to address teacher pay. He said lawmakers can find the money; they've just gotta think outside the box.

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus is also focusing on hate crime legislation. Several bills are already filed, and hate crimes are on Gov. Eric Holcomb's agenda, too. 

"I think, in this session, it's an act that needs to be done," Democrat state Sen. Greg Taylor of Indianapolis, said. "It cannot provide what we have today, which is the status quo." 

To read the Indiana Legislative Black Caucus 2019 agenda, click here

To read the Indiana House Republicans 2019 agenda, click here

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