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December 11, 2013

Ind. lawmakers face ambitious agenda

Pre-K funding on docket for 30-day session

INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers are crafting an aggressive agenda for the new year that includes a tax break for businesses, preschool funding for the poor, road spending and a divisive constitutional amendment — all packaged into a so-called “short session” of the Legislature.

A significant part of the workload has been cast by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who’s entering his second year in office with ambitious plans for legislators facing an early deadline when the convene Jan. 6. The Legislature’s sessions in even-numbered years are limited to 30 days, by law, and must end by March 14.

In a speech this week, Pence unveiled what he called a “very bold agenda” for the General Assembly.

“I’m here to say we’re on the right track,” Pence said. “But, with 250,000 Hoosiers out of work, with 200,000 kids that find themselves in under-performing schools, we must remain determined to keep the momentum going. In fact, I think we should accelerate our pace.”

Like Pence, House Speaker Brian Bosma said he wants the Republican-controlled Legislature to fund pre-kindergarten education for low-income children. Pence’s plan would expand the state’s school voucher program — already the biggest in the nation — to cover children in families with incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $43,567 for a family of four.

Families could use those vouchers to send children to a private or public preschool that meets state standards. A similar proposal was killed in the Senate last year.

Funding the plan will be an issue. Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley put a damper on the governor’s tax and spending plans at the Bingham Greenebaum Doll Legislative Conference in Indianapolis this week, where Pence gave his speech.

“It’s fair enough to begin the discussion on them in 2014,” Kenley said. “In all reality, we’re not going to redo the budget in 2014, and we’re not going to pass a mini-budget.”

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