Most words associated with Washington, D.C., these days aren’t positive: pessimism, gridlock, vitriol.
Voters are tired of Washington’s inability to find solutions for the American people. The party in power seems to respond to every crisis, real or manufactured, with a new spending proposal. When Democrats do pass spending bills, it’s often without any Republican support. President Joe Biden has only been in office since January, and already he has proposed $6 trillion in new spending.
This 2021 Indiana General Assembly session, January through April, had a tall order: to apply lessons learned from COVID-19 and pass a balanced two-year budget. We did all that and more.
Washington could learn a few things from the Indiana General Assembly as we came to the table to find solutions and common ground. We came away with a victory for taxpayers.
Our balanced budget passed with what one newspaper called “unprecedented bipartisan support.” In the Indiana Senate, only three Democrats opposed the budget.
Our budget included huge strides for education, with increased funding for K-12 schools of $1.9 billion. It gives school districts sufficient money to give teachers raises and addresses learning loss as a result of COVID-19.
Listening to our constituents, we supported both public schools and school choice for families.
Here’s another lesson for Washington: our budget pays off $1 billion in debt. We don’t believe in saddling future generations with our fiscal missteps. Further, the budget pays $1 billion up front for capital projects to avoid future debt.
Overall, we aimed to make Indiana a better place to live, from funding public safety and law enforcement to expanding broadband. The budget supports mental health services and funds the OB Navigator and Real Alternatives programs, which encourage healthy pregnancies and families.
Locally, this budget awards almost $5 million for new, urgently needed, majors at Purdue University Fort Wayne as well as up to $3 million for gate expansion at the Fort Wayne International Airport.
While we all want to put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror (and that airport expansion will certainly help as we get traveling again), as a General Assembly we made it a priority to apply lessons learned. Government overreach and intrusion must not happen here.
Local elected officials need a seat at the table and to have a greater voice than unelected health officials. That is why we passed Senate Enrolled Act 5 and overrode Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto on the matter.
Our priority legislation that we passed early in the session was Senate Enrolled Act 1. I co-authored this bill to protect businesses, schools, churches, nonprofits and individuals from frivolous COVID-19 liability lawsuits.
Another lesson applied was in Senate Enrolled Act 263, to protect religious freedom during public emergencies. This bill bans state and local governments from placing rules on religious organizations and religious services that are more restrictive than those imposed on entities deemed “essential” during a disaster. If you can go to a big box store, you can go to church.
COVID-19 gave Hoosiers the opportunity to use telehealth appointments when appropriate. Response was positive and the General Assembly acted to guarantee that telehealth services may continue into the future.
Our goal with pandemic-related legislation was to make government work better for Hoosiers if another public health crisis emerges. Leaders must consider public safety, health and the economy while protecting religious liberty and individual freedom.
As I reflect back on the recent session, words like solutions, sensible and accountable come to mind. I am grateful to serve in a legislature where we can find bipartisan outcomes and apply conservative common sense to some of the most pressing issues of our day.