BLACK LEGISLATORS JOIN FORCES FOR COMMON CAUSES
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
State Senator Lonnie Randolph (left) and State Rep Charlie Brown share a joke during a press conference.
Indiana State Representative Charlie Brown prepares for the next session.