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Keith Cooper / https://www.flickr.com/photos/cooperweb/8363160192

With only three days left in session, lawmakers are crafting a final version of the budget, and doing so with less money than they’d planned. 

Senate Leader David Long (R-Fort Wayne) and House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) both say money for K-12 education is safe – the $466 million increase in both House and Senate budgets will remain intact. 

And Long says they’re standing firm on maintaining a strong budget reserve.

“I think it’s important to do that given our recent memories of how tough it was when the recession hit,” Long says.

Gretchen Frazee / Indiana Public Broadcasting

Legislative leaders say they‘re open to expanding an emergency needle-exchange program in Scott County to other parts of the state, as long as it goes beyond needles.

Senate President David Long (R-Fort Wayne) says legislators are working to expand a House-passed needle-exchange bill to incorporate provisions for HIV testing, drug treatment and enforcement. Long says it’d be a step toward combating drug runners who use Indiana as a storefront for their products.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jstephenconn/3051019997
J. Stephen Conn

Crawfordsville officials are preparing for the state to send people to vet the city’s Stellar Communities grant application. The city was named a finalist earlier this month and now Mayor Todd Barton (R) and other leaders are formulating a presentation to make their case in more detail.

Because Crawfordsville is losing younger citizens, Barton plans to use the Stellar money to enhance the city’s downtown. His proposal centers on what he calls a “fusion center” – bringing like-minded people and groups together to enhance collaboration and efficiency.

Online Wine Sales Bill Awaits Gov's Signature

Apr 23, 2015
Quinn Dombrowski / https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinndombrowski/4067656996/

 Restrictions on Internet wine purchases in Indiana may soon be a thing of the past.

The Senate has given final approval to a bill repealing the requirement that buyers make one in-person purchase before ordering wine online or by mail.

The restriction would be lifted July 1 if Gov. Pence signs the measure.

Online and mail-order shoppers would still have to scan or fax an ID.

Jim Butler, owner of  Bloomington’s Butler Winery, says he lost 90-percent of his shipping customers when the legislature added the requirement 10 years ago.

Banks Family Again Trades Seats In Indiana Senate

Apr 22, 2015
Jim Banks / http://www.jimbanks.us/meet-jim/

Sen. Amanda Banks (R-Columbia City) is set to step down from her job after her husband Jim returned home from a National Guard mission in Afghanistan.

Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) served as a Navy supply officer on an eight-month deployment. Banks says he’s been witness to some big changes overseas.

“To see the transfer of the operations from US-led to Afghan-led efforts was a historic moment to be in Afghanistan that I appreciate the opportunity to see firsthand,” Banks says.

Courtesy Eric Turner / http://www.in.gov/legislative/house_republicans/homepages/r32/2085.html

Although other issues have overshadowed them this session, the Indiana legislature entered the 2015 session with two major goals: pass a budget and write new ethics reforms.

Recent ethics scandals at the Statehouse prompted lawmakers this session to strengthen Indiana’s ethics code. 

The bipartisan legislation is the most sweeping ethics package in a decade.

But some critics say the changes don’t go far enough.

WFIU Public Radio / https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfiupublicradio/

Indiana‘s higher education commissioner says Ivy Tech‘s anemic on-time graduation rates are partly a case of growing pains.

Just 4-percent of Ivy Tech students earn their degrees in four years. Even after six years, the figure is just 28-percent -- well below the figures for community colleges in other states.

Teresa Lubbers notes Ivy Tech evolved from a vocational school to a state community college network just 10 years ago. And she says the school receives a higher percentage of students who need remedial work on basic skills.

Senate President Long: RFRA Strife Good For The State

Apr 16, 2015
Stan Jastrzebski / WBAA News

Indiana Senate President David Long (R-Fort Wayne) is trying to find a silver lining to the kerfuffle concerning the state’s so-called “religious freedom” bill. Long says lawmakers are now more sensitive to issues involving the LGBT community.

He says relevant discussions are now, in his words, "on the front burner" and the entire ordeal was, as he puts it "a good thing for our state to go through."

Noah Coffey / https://www.flickr.com/photos/noahwesley/

After public outcry over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and an attempt to satisfy LGBTQ groups didn’t hit the mark for everyone, Indiana will invest in a public relations firm to reshape its image.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation and the Office of Tourism Development hired public relations firm Porter Novelli earlier this week.

Poll: RFRA Sinks Pence Approval Rating

Apr 15, 2015
Gretchen Frazee / Indiana Public Broadcasting

New polling data shows Gov. Mike Pence‘s public opinion took a big blow following controversy over the state’s so-called “religious freedom” bill.

The data shows 75-percent of likely Hoosier voters thought Pence‘s push for RFRA ultimately damaged in the state’s business climate. His job approval also took a big hit -- dropping from 66-percent favorable to just 39-percent.

Almost two-thirds of Republican voters thought the controversy damaged the state’s economy.

Rep. Carson Pens LGBT Anti-Discrimination Resolution

Apr 13, 2015
Katie Harbath / https://www.flickr.com/photos/katieharbath/

In a press call Monday morning, congressional Democrats announced a resolution expressing the need for LGBT anti-discrimination protections. The representatives on the call say legislation is needed on the national level to prevent states such as Indiana and Arkansas from passing religious freedom laws that allow discrimination.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colorado) read a statement on behalf of the resolution’s lead sponsor  Congressman Andre Carson (D-7th).

Conventions Will Return To Indy After RFRA Fix

Apr 13, 2015
David and Ruth S / https://www.flickr.com/photos/existdifferently/

The board of the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, has decided to keep its annual assembly in Indianapolis, two weeks after voting to seek another venue. 

The denomination’s General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins, says the amendments to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act made a difference.

“We were pleasantly surprised by how they did address the concerns that we had with RFRA and that this law cannot be used to open the door to the kind of discrimination that we feared,” Watkins says.

Brandon Smith / IPBS

More than two thousand predominantly union workers and contractors filled the south lawn of the Statehouse, listening to industry leaders and lawmakers oppose a bill repealing the common wage law.

“Enough is enough! Just vote no,” the rallyers chanted.

Frank Marshall is the president of contracting company G. E. Marshall.  He describes himself as a lifelong Republican and says he regrets helping put GOP lawmakers in power at the Statehouse.

“They will not any longer get any financial support from me or my votes in the future,” Marshall says.

Indy Eleven / http://www.indyeleven.com/michael-a-carroll-stadium

The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a 20-million-dollar renovation of IUPUI‘s Carroll Stadium for the Indy Eleven soccer team.

Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon) says the state has a chance to get ahead of the curve as soccer gains in popularity in the US.

The Senate scaled back a House-passed plan to use a tax-recapture mechanism to help the team build a brand-new 80-million-dollar stadium.

Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) says renovating Carroll Stadium is a much better plan.

Noah Coffey / https://www.flickr.com/photos/noahwesley/

It‘s the Senate‘s turn next week to take up an ethics reform bill. Senate leaders tweaked some wording in the ethics bill before sending it to the floor.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), who authored the bill, says the changes plug one potentially significant loophole, extending a ban on former executive-branch employees doing business with their old agencies to cover them even if they‘re independent contractors.

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