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State lawmakers at halfway mark

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

More 1,300 bills greeted the Indiana General Assembly when it convened for a “long” budget session in January. When the session reached the halfway point, less than a third of them were left.

During Friday’s Third House Forum, State Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) joined State Sens. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) and Mike Gaskill (R-Pendleton) in a discussion of which bills still have a fighting chance as the session heads into its final month.

Regional jail

House Bill 1022 would set the wheels in motion for a unique concept in the way Indiana builds correctional facilities. Both Saunders and Gaskill had high hopes for the bill’s passage and high praise for Henry and Madison county officials for working to make it happen.

“Once again, I’d like to commend the Henry County officials and the Madison County officials who have approached us about regional jail concerns,” Saunders said. “The amount of money that’s been proposed to construct a jail for Henry County alone would be around $40 million. We can’t afford that, folks. We need to start looking outside the box. So I’m proud that the commissioners in both of these counties have come together to at least talk about the possibility of building a regional facility.”

“I’ve got a heart for local government,” Gaskill said. “My wife is a two-term county treasurer for Madison County and currently a commissioner. She and I have both been working with Rep. Saunders on this idea for a regional jail. We have a problem in Madison County with overcrowding as well. It looks like there’s going to be an opportunity for residents in both counties to have economies of scale by joining forces on this. I’ve really been impressed by local leaders in both counties to not be parochial or territorial but look out for what’s best for taxpayers.”

Absentee voting

Saunders emphasized his support of HB 1311 – which would require absentee ballots by mail be delivered 12 days before an election instead of eight – wasn’t an attempt to disenfranchise the voting public.

“I was approached by the County Clerks Association across the state about HB 1311,” Saunders explained. “It had to do with absentee balloting. Right now, it’s eight days and we extended that to 12 that you had to request it to be mailed in. I’ve been accused across the state that I’m trying to take away people’s voting rights. The clerks in Henry County alone said there were 44 ballots put in the mail to be returned to the clerk’s office and the clerk didn’t receive them until after Dec. 17. Those ballots were never counted. There were thousands of ballots across the state that met the same fate.

“So the clerks came to us asking if we could extend the period that allows those ballots to be returned by mail,” Saunders continued. “So, on one end I’m taking four days away but on the other end, I’m adding four days. It might not be the cure, but it’s an attempt to solve that problem.”

Department of Child Services

Sen. Leising said far too many Hoosier children are suffering and a stronger Indiana Department of Child Services is needed. She intends to support more money in the budget for the department.

“They’ve got more kids to deal with, more dysfunctional families, more problems than ever before,” Leising said. “They need hands, they need more staff.”

Leising said a bill she is authoring would require the DCS to update its statistics on a more current basis. According to Leising, a total of 59 Hoosier children died while under DCS care last year, at least according to the data on abuse and neglect the department can provide.