Indiana lawmakers sworn in on Organization Day

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Members of the General Assembly took their oaths of office Tuesday as a part of Organization Day formalities and talked about some of their plans for when they return to work full-time in January.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, promised that a rewrite of education funding would be a top priority in the upcoming session, which starts Jan. 6.

Bosma, who delivered his annual speech to start the session Tuesday, said that more dollars must go to teachers and that he would like to see rules for teachers re-written to allow them more freedom. He also broached what is likely to be the biggest fight, over how much each school system gets from the state.

"Progress on money following the child has to be made, now I acknowledge that's not going to be an easy task, and it will be a parochial one, because it will effect each one of our school corporations," Bosma said.

School funding in Indiana has been tight since the recession, when then-Gov. Mitch Daniels cut $300 million in annual education spending from the budget. Democrats and public school supporters have argued they need to see that money again. Republicans and conservatives have recently begun arguing that the state's suburban and rural schools need to see a greater share of that money.

"We do feel pretty strongly that this needs to be an education session where we continue refining the changes that we made to our process and to our evaluation system," Long said. "Most importantly, I think it's important for us to make a statement in support of our teachers."

The crafting of the state's biennial budget will be the centerpiece of next year's session, and some key questions will be answered when budget leaders gather next month to hear the annual forecast of the state's tax collections.

Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, was sworn into office along with the rest of the members, although his seat was moved to the back of the chamber near the House Democrats. Bosma removed Turner from leadership in the wake of an Associated Press investigation detailing Turner's efforts to protect millions of dollars for his family nursing home business.

Turner announced in September that he would resign his seat if re-elected to take a job with a megachurch group in Atlanta. A Bosma spokeswoman said Tuesday she had not yet seen a resignation from Turner.

The Turner scandal and other ethics troubles spurred Bosma to promise that ethics reform would be a top priority in the new session. He announced Tuesday that the House Ethics Committee would meet again in December and that he was working with national experts to craft new rules tailored to a part-time legislature like Indiana's.

Other issues likely to crop up include a push to legalize the sale of alcohol on Sundays — something Bosma and Long have not taken positions on. Meanwhile religious conservatives, coming off a series of losses in their opposition to gay marriage, will be pushing for "religious freedom" legislation designed to protect businesses from being forced to serve gay couples.

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