BLACK LEG­IS­LA­TORS JOIN FORCES FOR COM­MON CAUSES

Post-Tribune - - Post-Tribune Local - BY CAR­RIE NAPOLEON

Lead­ers of l eg­isla­tive cau­cus have out­lined an agenda for the 2015 ses­sion of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly fo­cus­ing on im­prove­ments i n ed­u­ca­tion, eco­nomic devel­op­ment, health care and crim­i­nal jus­tice.

“The mem­bers of the In­di­ana Black Leg­isla­tive Cau­cus will be of­fer­ing a se­ries of pro­pos­als through­out this ses­sion that will be de­signed to meet our mission of lift­ing up all res­i­dents of our state,” State Sen. Lon­nie Ran­dolph, D- East Chicago, said.

The cau­cus i s made up of the state’s 12 black l egislators, with all com­ing from Lake and Mar­ion coun­ties and present a united front on i ssues that are uni­ver­sal to both coun­ties’ con­stituents.

Mem­ber State Rep. Ver­non Smith, D- Gary, said that as the eco­nomic divide widens due to l eg­is­la­tion on the na­tional l evel, it i s even more i mpor­tant to make sure

“Our agenda i s meant to deal with the work­ing poor, the havenots, the un­der­paid,” Smith said. On mat­ters l i ke ed­u­ca­tion, un­til the so­ci­etal i ssues are ad­dressed i t will be dif­fi­cult to turn the state’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem around. Smith said half of the state’s $ 2 bil­lion sur­plus has been built from cuts to ed­u­ca­tion.

Nei­ther public schools nor char­ter schools are be­ing funded at the proper l evels. Char­ter schools were i ntended to serve as best prac­tices ex­am­ples to be l earned and copied i n the public schools, but that has not hap­pened l argely due to a l ack of fund­ing, Smith said.

Ran­dolph said the cau­cus will be keep­ing a close eye on l eg­isla­tive i ssued deal­ing with ed­u­ca­tion. The Gover­nor has said an ad­di­tional $ 200 mil­lion will go to­ward schools but one- third of that i s ear- marked for vouch­ers and char­ters. The rest does not amount to much when di­vided among all of the state’s school cor­po­ra­tions.

The cau­cus also has con­cerns about any change i n the ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing for­mula that will fun­nel more money from the schools i n the state’s poorer com­mu­ni­ties to other dis­tricts i n what i s be­ing de­scribed as a way to make the fund­ing for­mula more fair.

State Rep. Char­lie Brown, DGary, said health­care re­mains a pri­or­ity for the cau­cus as well. Brown said he was pleased the fed­eral gov­ern­ment fi nally ap­proved the Healthy In­di­ana Plan 2.0 fund­ing, but ques­tions why it took so l ong and ended up costi ng In­di­ana tax­pay­ers so much in the mean­time.

Brown said there will al­ways be a chal­lenge i n the state­house be­cause i deas are com­ing from two dif­fer­ent points of view. With all the mem­bers of the Black Cau­cus Democrats in a Republi- can- dom­i­nated leg­is­la­ture, that chal­lenge can be even more pro - found.

“That does not mean we do not have some­thing in com­mon,” Brown said. The cau­cus helps cre­ate strength in num­bers when pre­sent­ing i ssues com­mon to con­stituents in both Lake and Mar­ion coun­ties.

Ran­dolph said a cou­ple of the bills au­thored by cau­cus mem­bers have been heard in com­mit­tee al­ready, an en­cour­ag­ing start to the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Smith also said he is hope­ful that mo­men­tum will con­tinue.

“This year has started off bei ng in a very co­op­er­a­tive spirit. This past week, I saw some de­vi­a­tion from that,” Smith said.

State Rep. Ed Sol­i­day, R-Val­paraiso, said one of the chall en­ges with the area i s fi nd­ing a com­mon cause be­tween the north and south Lake County be­cause there are many dif­fer­ent i ssues. South Lake County i s experiencing pop­u­la­tion growth and devel­op­ment while there is a need to rebuild the mid­dle class i n much of the north­ern part of the county.

“I’ve come to the con­clu­sion no man or woman has a mo­nop­oly on the truth. It i s how much con­sen­sus do I have and how much can I build, or am I chasi ng rab­bits,” Sol­i­day said.

Sol­i­day said he sees Smith and Brown pretty reg­u­larly, and he and Smith have worked on a cou­ple bills to­gether i n the past on com­mon i ssues and re­mains willi ng to do so when their i nter­ests i nter­sect. He has not yet seen a list of pri­or­i­ties from the Black Leg­isla­tive Cau­cus for the 2015 cal­en­dar.

THE AGENDA:

Ed­u­ca­tion

State pay­ments for school text­book costs ( SB 340): Au-

thored by State Sen. Ear­line Rogers ( DGary), the l eg­is­la­tion would re­quire that public schools pro­vide cur­ric­u­lar ma­te­ri­als at no cost to stu­dents.

School dis­ci­pline ( HB 1558): Au­thored by State Rep. Gre­gory W. Porter ( DIn­di­anapo­lis), the mea­sure would ask the In­di­ana Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to de­velop a model ev­i­dence - based plan for i mprov­ing be­hav­ior and dis­ci­pline i n schools across the state.

Crim­i­nal Jus­tice

Re­cidi­vism re­duc­tion pil ot project ( Se­nate Bill 300): Au­thored by State Sen. Greg Tay­lor ( D- In­di­anapo­lis), t his mea­sure would en­able 1 0 coun­ties across In­di­ana t o par­tic­i­pate in a three - year project de­signed to see what can be done t o re­duce t he num­ber of re­peat offe nders.

Study of for­mer of­fender em­ploy­ment bar­ri­ers ( House Bill 1612): Au­thored by State Rep. Vanessa Sum­mers ( D- In­di­anapo­lis), this l eg­is­la­tion would cre­ate an i nterim com­mit­tee to study the prob­lems faced by of­fend­ers who are at­tempt­ing to fi nd em­ploy­ment af­ter their re­lease from pri­son.

Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment

Small Busi­ness and Gro­cer In­vest­ment Pro­gram ( HB 1256): Au­thored by State Rep. Robin Shack­le­ford ( D- In­di­anapo­lis), the bill would es­tab­lish a pro­gram that

en­ables the In­di­ana Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion ( IEDC) to pro­vide grants or l oans to food re­tail­ers that i ncrease l ocal ac­cess to fresh foods, veg­eta­bles and other healthy foods i n un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties.

Pro­fes­sional Devel­op­ment Sports Com­mis­sion ( HB 1376): Au­thored by State Rep. Earl Har­ris ( D- East Chicago), the bill would es­tab­lish a com­mis­sion to ex­plore the fea­si­bil­ity of at­tract­ing a pro­fes­sional sports fran­chise to north­west In­di­ana.

So­cial Jus­tice

Bias mo­ti­vated crimes ( HB 1330): Au­thored by State Rep. Gre­gory W. Porter ( D- In­di­anapo­lis), the pro­posal would en­hance the penal­ties for such crimes as bat­tery, rob­bery, ar­son, and ha­rass­ment i f they are based on an i ndi­vid­ual’s race, reli­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der, or dis­abil­ity. It also would re­quire law en­force­ment of­fi­cers to re­ceive train­ing in iden­ti­fy­ing, re­spond­ing to, and re­port­ing bias mo­ti­vated crimes.

Racial pro­fil­ing ( HB 1284): Au­thored by State Rep. Cher­rish Pryor ( D- In­di­anapo­lis), the bill would pro­hibit a l aw en­force­ment agency from en­gag­ing i n racial pro­fil­ing or con­duct­ing pre­tex­tual stops.

Self- de­fense ( SB 46): Au­thored by State Sen. Jean Breaux ( D- In­di­anapo­lis), the l eg­is­la­tion would spec­ify that a per­son i s not j us­ti­fied i n us­ing force against some­one else i f the per­son us­ing force i s the i ni­tial ag­gres­sor, has reached a safe place and i mme­di­ately re­turned to the l oca­tion of the attack, or i s pur­su­ing an at­tacker or tres­passer who has re­treated and no l onger presents a threat.

| FILE PHOTO

State Se­na­tor Lon­nie Ran­dolph (left) and State Rep Char­lie Brown share a joke dur­ing a press con­fer­ence.

| DOUG MCSCHOOLER

In­di­ana State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Char­lie Brown pre­pares for the next ses­sion.

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