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Elkhart County lawmakers foresee debate on marriage amendment, ed, taxes

Key topics in the coming state legislative session will be preschool education, same-sex marriage and Gov. Pence's personal property tax cut plan.

Posted on Jan. 5, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 5, 2014 at 2:59 p.m.

The same-sex marriage amendment issue and Gov. Mike Pence’s proposal to ax the tax on business equipment are getting much of the attention ahead of Indiana’s 2014 legislative session.

They’re hardly the only issues lawmakers will tackle when the gavels go down on Monday, Jan. 6, and the Indiana Senate and House start formal deliberations. Also fodder for discussion, say members of Elkhart County’s delegation to Indianapolis — pre-school education funding, drug-testing of public aid recipients, requiring licenses of moped operators and much, much more.

Here’s a peek at some of the possible issues and what Elkhart County lawmakers have to say about them, starting with two of the likely biggies — same-sex marriage and the business equipment tax. All five representatives and three senators representing portions of Elkhart County are Republicans.

MOST BACK THE MARRIAGE AMENDMENT

Five of the eight lawmakers serving the county expressed support both for putting the marriage amendment question on the November general election ballot and support for the proposed change itself. They are Reps. Tim Neese of Elkhart, Wes Culver of Goshen and David Ober of Albion and Sens. Joe Zakas of Granger and Carlin Yoder of Middlebury.

Rep. Tim Wesco of Osceola has previously expressed support for the change, though he couldn’t be reached for comment for this article.

Rep. Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse expressed reservations.

Rep. Ryan Mishler of Breman couldn’t be reached for comment.

The amendment, if lawmakers put it on the ballot and Indiana voters approve it in November, would define marriage in the Indiana Constitution as the union of one man and one woman, effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Marriage between one man and one woman “has been the standard for millenia,” said Zakas.

Kubacki, who backs the notion of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, noted that Indiana law already defines marriage as such.

“I’m struggling with changing the constitution for something that’s already in state law,” she said. Moreover, changing the Constitution, she worries, could result in a legal challenge, requiring Indiana to spend money it doesn’t have to launch a defense.

Yoder said the issue could occupy a lot of lawmakers’ time though he hopes it doesn’t. Culver, for his part, said he suspects that 90 percent of Indiana lawmakers have already made up their minds on the issue, suggesting it won’t necessitate extensive attention.

AX THE BUSINESS TAX?

Many of the Elkhart County lawmakers expressed reservations about axing the business tax, also known as the personal property tax, in part because there are few specifics at this point. Pence proposes eliminating the tax, which generates around $1 billion per year, to make it cheaper to do business in Indiana and foment business expansion.

The lawmakers are also mindful of the impact to local government. Eliminating the tax would reduce funds going into the coffers of local government, already struggling due to revenue dips brought on by property tax caps. Many local leaders in Elkhart County are clamoring against Pence’s plan.

“I don’t think they’re in any shape to lose that money,” said Yoder.

PRESCHOOL ED, COMMON CORE

Expansion of funding for preschool education will likely come up, and that merits mixed opinions from the Elkhart County delegation.

Yoder and Culver oppose such expansion. Officials have enough to contend with in funding K-12 education, Yoder thinks, and it would be a mistake to launch another government education initiative because of limited funding sources.

Culver, moreover, thinks early education is more the responsibility of the family. If there are to be more offerings, they should come from private sector initiatives, not the government.

Kubacki, meanwhile, backs increased funding for preschool education, saying it creates a foundation that pays off in the long run. “We need to spend more money on the foundation so we can get the kids to college,” she said.

Whether to stick with national Common Core educational standards or craft guidelines specific to Indiana will also likely emerge. Some conservatives have expressed concern over implementation of national Common Core standards, viewing them as an intrusion in local control.

Education is a “states rights” issue, Neese said, and he would prefer locally crafted guidelines.

Zakas and Culver lean toward Hoosier-crafted guidelines as well, though Culver said he’s “not that extreme one way or the other.” Some school officials say they’ve already made an investment in shifting to federal standards, Culver noted, but state-crafted guidelines, he thinks, would allow for more innovation.

DRUG TESTS, MOPEDS, INCOME TAX

Neese foresees another push for legislation that would potentially require drug-testing of certain recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, public aid geared to low-income families with kids. A measure fizzled in the legislature last year.

The legislation would contain provisions meant to prod drug users into rehabilitation programs, Neese said, and hold TANF recipients accountable for drug use.

Culver plans to continue his push to make sure local governmental units get all the withholding income tax revenue they’re due from the Indiana Department of Revenue, or DOR. Some local leaders in Elkhart County complain that the state doesn’t return all the income tax revenue sent to Indianapolis by local employers and Culver’s initiative would require better tracking by the DOR of the funds.

Neese plans to push once again for new rules governing mopeds, or scooters — requirements, perhaps, that users have operating licenses and insurance. He also plans to keep up the push to eliminate the state tax on recreational vehicle sales to out-of-state buyers.

Kubacki plans to propose legislation requiring a prescription to get pseudoephedrine, an initiative that has sputtered in the past. The measures is aimed at combatting methamphetamine production, which requires pseudoephedrine.




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