House Republicans plan 2015 session focused on school funding, ethics rules overhaul

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INDIANAPOLIS — House Republicans presented a 2015 legislative agenda Tuesday that calls for rewriting the state's school funding formula, as well as lawmakers' own ethics rules.

Flanked by members of his leadership team, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the group planned to spend the upcoming session focused on the budget, schools, ethics changes and public safety measures. He also announced that a nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence, which won a funding fight with Republican Gov. Mike Pence last month, would be honored as the House's charity of the year.

Lawmakers return to the Statehouse in January for their so-called long session, which is a four-month meeting that will be dominated by the crafting of the state's next two-year budget. Several other issues have already been teed up for the session, from talk of regulating fenced-in hunting to a possible expansion of gambling.

Bosma, who is looking to protect a GOP supermajority in the Indiana House in the upcoming elections, delivered some of the first definition of the session Tuesday. He paraphrased former Gulf War leader Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to make the point that he would be focused on a handful of issues rolled out Tuesday.

"As Schwarzkopf said, no matter what else happened we got those things done," Bosma said.

The ethics overhaul, which is likely to include stricter rules for what lawmakers must disclose publicly, follows a scandal involving House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, R-Cicero. An Associated Press investigation found that Turner had millions of dollars at stake through his family nursing home business when he successfully fought a ban on nursing home construction.

Turner, who has consistently said he did nothing wrong, announced last month that he would resign if re-elected to take a job with a megachurch group in Atlanta. Turner has long played a top role writing tax legislation for House Republicans. He wasn't at Tuesday's news conference.

Bosma also said his caucus would examine an overhaul of how the state pays for schools, with an eye toward getting more money for suburban and rural schools. He noted that some school districts get as little as roughly $5,000 per student, while others get as much as $9,000 per student.

In an about face from previous years, he also announced that support for public schools would be a priority, but made no mention of "education reform." Bosma also didn't mention campaign politics during the rollout, but the state's teachers unions have targeted a handful of House Republicans in the upcoming elections.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, is looking to break the 69-31 edge Republicans enjoy in the House. He said Bosma and House Republicans routinely "took a meat cleaver" to the state's public schools.

"If you close your eyes for a moment, some of what the House Republicans advocated today sounded like they were reading from a book written by House Democrats," Pelath said in a statement.

Bosma also cast doubt on any effort by Pence to push sweeping tax changes in the upcoming session. But he said he would be open to small measures, including a "simplification" of the tax code.

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