When lawmakers meet again starting this week, their top priorities will be finding a replacement for the ISTEP test and a long-term plan to fund road construction.
Local lawmakers said they have been getting feedback from local education officials about how they want to replace the ISTEP exam, and from residents about how they think roadwork should be paid for. What exactly will be done to address both issues will be debated, discussed and decided in the next few months before the session finishes at the end of April.
And while those are the top issues on the agenda for the 2017 legislative session — along with approving a new two-year budget for the state — legislators who represent parts of Johnson County have other proposals, too.
State Rep. Woody Burton, for example, is writing a proposed law that would allow local governments to charge a food and beverage tax, which has been a repeated request from Greenwood in recent years to help pay for local expenses.
Other legislators want to dedicate more resources to help people suffering from addiction. State Sen. Rodric Bray wants to find a way to look at improving water line infrastructure, which has been a concern in local communities as the systems age and break down.
Burton, who represents portions of Greenwood and Whiteland, is proposing legislation that would allow local governments to enact their own food and beverage tax, which would charge an added 1 percent on the bills at local restaurants. That money could then be used by communities, such as Greenwood or Franklin, to help pay for local expenses.
Greenwood has asked lawmakers for the authority to charge its own local food and beverage tax for years, and put the money toward expenses, such as public safety and parks. Burton had concerns about that in the past because he didn’t think one community, and not others, should be able to charge the tax, he said. That’s why his proposal would allow all local governments to charge the tax, if they choose, he said.
“When we put a cap on property taxes, which we needed to do, then the economy went south and local government suffered and have been struggling. Some places need that extra revenue. We are not going to raise property taxes, but this would be available for them to make decisions for themselves,” Burton said.
Continuing concerns about drug abuse are a key issue for State Sen. Greg Walker, who represents portions of Johnson and Bartholomew counties. Those cases affect families and children and can also lead to abuse and neglect cases, he said.
Walker is focusing on synthetic drugs, which are a challenge to address with legislation since new combinations of chemicals are created, and the law has to catch up as they are made, Walker said. He is working with area prosecutors to find a way to get more comprehensive legislation that would address new drugs as they are created, he said.
“These are a moving target,” Walker said.
But he also wants to find ways to address addiction with other drugs, including expanded rehabilitation programs for people after they are arrested and helping families address drug issues early on, when they realize a loved one has a problem, he said.
“There is a lot of talk about drug problems, getting people to recognize them in friends, family, neighbors before get too deep into the problem,” Walker said.
But as the state’s revenues have declined recently, the key question is how any of those programs will be funded, he said.
That will also be a key concern in the ongoing debate about how to pay for road funding long-term, said State Rep. David Frizzell, who represents portions of White River Township and Marion County.
Options presented so far include adding tolls to certain interstates or increasing the sales tax on gasoline, neither which are ideal, but need to be considered, Frizzell said.
Whatever is done needs to not saddle future generations with debt, said State Rep. Chris May, who was elected to represent portions of Johnson and Brown counties.
State Rep. John T. Young, who is newly elected to represent sections of Johnson and Morgan counties, is opposed to creating a new tax or expanding an existing one, unless there are no other options, he said. But the state is faced with a challenge since revenue from the fuel tax has been falling, partially due to vehicles getting better gas mileage, he said.
He also is excited to address issues in education, including with ISTEP and funding pre-K programs, and wants to make sure schools have more control over the issues that impact them, he said.
The state needs to be sure to hold schools accountable through standards and assessments, but schools are all different, and what works for one may not work for another, he said.
“Schools know what works best, and that is who I listen to,” he said.
Here is a look at the proposals local lawmakers will be proposing or working on during this session:
State Sen. Rodric Bray
Represents: Portions of western Johnson County and Morgan, Putnam and Owen counties
Redraft business entities law to be more uniform
Allow electronic filing and notarizing electronically
Make uniform fees for recording documents across different counties
State Rep. Woody Burton
Represents: Parts of Greenwood and Whiteland
Allowing local governments to approve an up to 1 percent food and beverage tax to help with funding local expenses
More resources to help people with addiction issues
Getting an added check to public employee pensions to make up for a lack of cost of living increases
Classifying battery on public sports officials as a crime and setting punishments
Changing the requirement that made voters individually select council candidates when voting a straight party ticket
Allow bullets using new technology and made with plastic tips to be sold
State Rep. David Frizzell
Represents: Part of White River Township and part of Perry Township in Marion County
Better access to epilepsy medications for people who need them
Repay some of the debt from dental school for graduates who practice in low income areas for four to five years
Excuse people living in poverty and veterans from paying fees for their professional licenses
Create before and after school programs for pre-K students
State Sen. Greg Walker
Represents: Portions of Johnson and Bartholomew counties
More comprehensive legislation for synthetic drugs, where new drugs and new formulas are being developed
More funding for drug rehabilitation programs
Long-term funding plan for public employee pensions
Change election legislation so third party candidates are not required to get more signatures to be on that ballot than other candidates
State Rep. John T. Young
Represents: Portions of Johnson and Morgan counties
Minor fixes to state laws, such as for jurisdictional issues with driving privileges or for family law issues