The Decatur Daily Democrat
Lehman gives legislative and state reports
After 28 years in politics (14 on the Adams County Council, followed by 14 in the Indiana House of Representatives), Matt Lehman of Berne has reached the second-highest rung of the House leadership ladder: majority leader of 70 other Republicans, versus a mere 29 Democrats.
Lehman was the guest speaker at Monday’s May meeting of the Decatur Chamber of Commerce at Riverside Center and covered a lot of ground as he commented on the state overall, the 2022 legislative session, and what to look forward to later this year and into 2023.
Taking a question from an audience member about the hottest topic of the day (abortion), Lehman predicted that when the U.S. Supreme Court delivers its ruling on the famous 1973 Roe v. Wade pro-abortion case in June or July, Gov. Eric Holcomb will swiftly call the Indiana General Assembly into session to deal with it.
When that happens (and with a stridently anti-abortion ruling by the court universally expected), Lehman said, “I think you’ll see very strong language coming out of the General Assembly protecting life.”
However, that will happen only after, he said, “probably one of the most contentious debates in my career” in the legislature and around the state by the public.
Lehman noted that Indiana does not have a “trigger law,” as some 13 states do have, which will automatically outlaw abortions virtually entirely as soon as the high court acts. That’s because, he said, the state constitution does not allow such occurrences based only on contingencies, meaning that one decision automatically leads to another decision.
Instead, he said, the legislature will have to pass a law to deal with whatever the Supreme Court says. He added that before the Roe decision, abortions were illegal in Indiana.
State of the state “Indiana is in a very good place,” Lehman said, with its state debt paid off and plenty of money in the bank. He did not mention the decision by state officials to give each taxpayer a $125 refund in June because of the large state surplus, although he noted that even before the Trump and Biden presidencies, Indiana had monetary surpluses ranging from $1.7 billion to $2.5 billion per year.
The state income tax has been cut to 2.9%, one of the lowest in the nation, he said. The state sales tax is at seven percent. Lehman pointed out that his daughter lives in Tennessee and said she’s elated that that state has no income tax, which prompted him to tell her that Tennessee does have a 9.5% sales tax as a trade-off.
He further said next year’s legislative session will be when a budget is established. At present, he stated, the biggest underfunded part of the budget is the teacher retirement fund, chiefly because not many new teachers are being added across the state.
Lehman also spoke of how much business and industrial development is going on in Indiana. He noted that Indiana has a AAA bond and credit rating, the highest possible. Legislative summary --During 2022, the legislature was faced with the COVID pandemic and the Biden administration’s national vaccine mandate, so the state legislature acted to protect employees “without entering the employers’ world,” said Lehman.
That meant giving employees ways to avoid getting vaccines via religious or medical reasons, plus an exemption for those who caught the virus and survived. It was what Lehman called “threading the needle.”
However, he said the dire situation that existed in January “dropped like a stone” by March and “was no longer an issue,” but left the state with a surplus of antiCOVID supplies.
Overall, he said of the state’s COVID response, “I think we found the right place in the end.”
--Turning to employment, he said businesses and industries need workers, even as unemployment rates are very low and hundreds of thousands of people are being hired nationwide every month. He pointed to a drywall installer he talked to who told him that he can’t find people to do that hard and dirty job even though the man is paying $30 per hour.
One key shortage, especially in a rapidly-aging society, is of nurses, Lehman said. He urged “streamlining” licensing and education in such vital fields.
--The state decided this year to require that everyone convicted of a felony must be sent to the state Department of Corrections, thus “freeing up jail space” in the 92 counties.
--In education, Lehman said the main issue was critical race theory (CRT), which he said is only a college course and is not taught in Indiana from kindergarten through 12th grade.
However, he added, “We’re starting to lose teaching of American exceptionalism,” which he boiled down to mean success and growth through hard work and “the American way.”
What he took away from the CRT issue is that “you can’t teach that we’d be better off with socialism,” whether on the far right (national socialism, which is Nazism) or the far left (communism).
Lehman said one man told him he was very upset that his child was being taught that Thomas Jefferson was a slaveowner. “Well, he was!” said Lehman. He said teachers can certainly teach such historical facts as that, but don’t use the sordid facts of Jefferson’s life to remove his statues or denigrate the words he wrote.
As he put it, do not “remove everybody from history that we don’t like.”
--Regarding transgender people playing sports, he called the data “staggering” and gave a few examples:
1. A woman who is a college basketball star said she can’t compete against her brothers because, even though they are lousy at basketball, they are taller and stronger.
2. There are 275 boys running in track events in the U.S. who are faster than the fastest girl, which shows the dominance of male muscles.
3. A person who was born male, then underwent sex-reassignment surgery went from being the 545th male swimmer to being the number one female swimmer.
Lehman said females must be allowed to compete against females, which is what the legislature decided. “It’s here. It’s going to grow,” he said of the issue. However, he said Gov. Holcomb vetoed that bill, but the legislature “will override that veto” in a few weeks during a special session. Future issues
One of the most important, he said, is high health care costs. Indiana has one of the most costly health care systems in the country: six percent above Medicare.
To correct that, Lehman said, the state must ( 1) be healthier and (2) contain costs.
Another matter is broadband access for as many of the state’s six million people as possible, which he humorously referred to as “five G, six G, seven G, eight G.”
Energy is also vital and Lehman said he is now “a firm believer” in much more use of nuclear power to meet state and national demands as well as handle the growing global climate catastrophe.
He said he took a tour recently of Indiana Michigan Power’s Cook nuclear power plant in southeastern Michigan and was very impressed. He said there is no danger of a Chernobyl-type disaster at the Cook site, referring to the 1986 explosion at a plant in the old Soviet Union (now embattled Ukraine) that is still the world’s worst such accident.
Such large plants wouldn’t be needed, he said, if the state chose to build smaller plants and scatter them around the state. However, he asked what would become of solar and wind power if many small nuclear power plants are used.
He further commented that, due to regulations, it takes 15 to 20 years to build and operate even one nuclear power plant, so that option is still down the road.
Technological and information privacy is another matter, with innumerable people, companies, governments, groups, etc. gathering data all the time, he said.
Marijuana is a fast-growing topic (no pun intended) in the U.S., he said, with 33 states making it legal in one form or another, although it’s still illegal according to unchanged federal law.
Lehman said he opposes recreational use of pot, which he called a “gateway drug,” but noted that eight bills were introduced in the 2022 session to legalize it in one way or another.
On the subject of “windmills,” the old-fashioned term to describe giantsized energy-producing structures on land and in oceans, Lehman said decisions should be left up to counties, with a prime consideration being how much farm land would be lost when such devices are built.
He said some farmers tell him there’s just more money for them to sell land for wind power than to keep farming it.
“We’ve got to find new forms of energy,” Lehman declared, as the U.S. continues shifting away from coal.
The 79th District Lehman said redistricting this year after the 2020 census removed four townships in southern Allen County and added four townships in northern Jay County. The rest of his 79th District includes all of Adams County and all but one township in Wells County.
Overall, he likes this arrangement better because his district is now classified as “rural,” instead of partly “urban” due to the Allen County areas, which, he pointed out, caught him in the middle between rural Allen County residents fighting urban Fort Wayne residents.