Education Senate Democrats announce 2015 legislative priorities

Senate Democrats announce 2015 legislative priorities

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Sen. Lanane turns the mic over to another InSenDem to highlight legislation.

The Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus’ priorities for the 2015 session align legislative action with the needs of real Hoosiers. While the main focus will be crafting the state’s budget for the next two years, Senate Democrats will work towards more common-sense initiatives that put real Hoosiers first.

After years of the General Assembly positioning Indiana as a business-friendly state in an effort to create new jobs, Senate Democrats aim to raise Hoosier incomes by ensuring that these new jobs pay a living wage. While education funding will be a hot topic this year, the caucus will focus on providing all schools the resources needed for our children embrace a philosophy of lifelong learning, beginning with pre-kindergarten education. Finally, after Indiana was once again ranked in the bottom 20 percent of the nation for health, Senate Democrats will work to improve Hoosier health outcomes by addressing health care provider shortages around the state and expanding mental health services.

Giving Hoosier Families a Raise

Hoosiers earn the nation’s 11th lowest incomes on average. Raising Indiana’s minimum wage to $10.10 and boosting tax incentives for working families would lift incomes for hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers and further jumpstart the state’s economy.

Raising the minimum wage:

At Indiana’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, a parent working full-time does not make enough to lift their family out of poverty. It is estimated that a modest increase in the minimum wage would positively impact 637,000 working Hoosiers.  Of those impacted, 56 percent are women while more than 175,000 workers with children would benefit. With just one policy initiative, lawmakers could make the lives of nearly 300,000 Hoosier children more economically-stable. Twenty six states have already taken the lead and increased their minimum wage. Click here for more information on the merits of raising the minimum wage in Indiana. State Senator Karen Tallian will propose this legislation.

Increasing the EITC tax credit:

To promote work over welfare and provide tax relief for working families, Senate Democrats are also proposing an increase in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC program is designed to reduce the tax burden of low and middle-income individuals and families by offsetting payroll and income taxes. The Internal Revenue Service reports that the EITC raises over 6 million people out of poverty – half of them children – each year.

Indiana’s overall poverty rate is 16 percent, and 22 percent of our children live in poverty. While Indiana lawmakers have focused on cutting taxes for corporations and banks in recent years, it’s now time to help working Hoosiers climb into the middle class.

For more on how increases in the minimum wage and the EITC provide a complimentary solution to raising wages for individuals and families, follow this link provided by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Child care affordability:

The average annual cost of child care in Indiana reached more than $8,230 in 2013, slowing the Hoosier economy and forcing families to make tough choices. If we don’t take a step in a different direction, a raise at work could actually be harmful to some families as the steep decline in child care assistance cancels out any increase in salary.

Senator Broden plans to fight the rising cost of child care by expanding eligibility for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) voucher program and smoothing out income requirements. Expanded CCDF eligibility gives more families a hand up on paying for child care and works to reduce the backlog of more than 3,500 children and families waiting for their chance. More proportional income requirements mean parents can pursue a promotion without worrying about how much it may cost families’ bottom line.

Expanding Educational Opportunities 

Expansion of Pre-kindergarten pilot program:

Last year, Senate Democrats spearheaded the development of the state’s first early childhood education program. The preschool pilot program currently targets children from low-income families in four Indiana counties, but we believe the benefits from early childhood education should be made available to all students. A recent survey by Ball State shows that 82 percent of Hoosiers agree. With the governor rejecting $80 million in federal development dollars that would have helped move our program forward, Senate Democrats will advocate for an additional allocation of state funds to expand the pilot program. State Senator Earline Rogers will propose this legislation.

Click here for more on the costs and benefits of quality early childhood education in Indiana.

Education Funding for Textbooks and Transportation:

Additionally, to remove undue burden on Hoosier families, Senate Democrats will offer proposals to increase state education funding to cover the costs of textbook rentals and school transportation. Indiana is one of eight states that charge families for textbook costs, and those costs have increased beyond what local communities can support. Controversial changes in how schools are funded have left a number of school corporations in precarious financial situations, causing them to raise the cost of textbooks and cut school bus transportation.

State Senator Earline Rogers will offer the proposal that would provide additional funding to cover the costs of textbooks, and State Senator Karen Tallian will offer the proposal that would allocate additional funds for school bus transportation.

Improving Hoosier Health Outcomes

Addressing Health Care Provider Shortages:

Improving the health outcomes of Hoosiers is a priority considering the fact that Indiana ranks 9th lowest among states in overall health. One of the most glaring concerns facing Hoosiers is access to primary care physicians and OBGYNs in rural areas. Indiana ranks 39th for its ratio of physicians to population. In a recent report by the Indiana Center for Health Workforce Studies and the Bowen Research Center at Indiana University School of Medicine, only 11 of 92 counties meet the accepted standard of 10 primary care doctors for every 10,000 people. Offering incentives to medical students to serve in rural areas after receiving their degrees will help to attract the best and brightest to rural Indiana. Senate Democrat Leader Tim Lanane is authoring this initiative.

Expansion of Mental Health Pilot Program:

To address the needs of Hoosiers with mental health and substance abuse concerns, Senate Democrats will offer a proposal to expand the mental health pilot project approved last session. According to research conducted by Brown University, only 1 in 3 state prisoners and 1 in 6 jail inmates with a mental health problem receive treatment since being incarcerated, and three quarters of prison and local jail inmates who were diagnosed with a mental health problem also meet the criteria for substance dependence. State Senator Greg Taylor is authoring this proposal.

Study of Adult Protective Services:

Finally, in an effort to protect our most vulnerable adults, Senate Democrats will propose a study to examine how Indiana can improve our statewide adult protective services that investigate allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of our most vulnerable adults. Senate Democrat Leader Tim Lanane will author this proposal.