Representative Bischoff reports on impact of General Assembly session

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As State Representative Bob Bischoff looks back at the recently concluded legislative session, he sees some positive impact on the people of Indiana and Southeastern Indiana – but there are also warning signs ahead that residents need to be aware of.

“As we head towards next year, local riverboat gaming revenue is going to be a topic in the legislature,” Bob Bischoff said. “That will have a huge impact on Southeastern Indiana. I represent three boats here, and all three have really improved our quality of life so much here, with all the projects, programs, infrastructure, schools, endowments, jobs, the list goes on and on.”

Bob Bischoff said that the top priority in this past session, and in the sessions to come, is to protect that money and make sure that it stays here.

“Once again, we escaped any attempt to capture that local riverboat gaming revenue.”

Representative Bischoff had three pieces of legislation this past session:

– House Bill 1064 allows hunters to voluntarily donate wild game to food pantries.

“They can make a voluntary contribution for the processing fees of venison,” Bob Bischoff said. “The bottom line is, it feeds the hungry.”

Representative Bischoff also said that the passage of the legislation is a “win-win-win” situation for the farmers because of the overpopulation of deer in this area of the state; and also a win for the insurance companies, because fewer deer means less chance of a vehicle hitting a deer, cutting down on the accidents.

– House Bill 1119 allows the governing body of a Soil and Water Conservation District to approve payment of certain expenses prior to the next regular meeting.

“What we’re doing here is, if the farmers or whoever serves on that Soil and Water Conservation board cannot get there and have a quorum, then they can designate somebody to pay the bills,” Bob Bischoff said. “That way there wouldn’t be any late fees, like utility bills, rent for their facility, or whatever. It’s been a problem in the past for them to get a quorum there.”

– House Bill 1065 was firearms legislation, and Bob Bischoff said this is the first time that a gun bill has passed the House in many, many years.

“The first part of it was the emergency powers, which provides protection to prevent governments at the local and state levels from declaring firearm ownership illegal during states of emergency,” the Representative said. “That’s what happened in Louisiana when they had the flooding there, and law enforcement came in and confiscated their firearms.”

Bob Bischoff said that there are 26 states that have enacted emergency powers.

The second part of the bill is that a person can now have their gun in their vehicle, called the “parking lot bill”.

The Representative said that, first of all, a person must have a permit; and if the person does have a firearm in their vehicle, it must be in the trunk or glove compartment, and it can’t be visible.

“We are the 13th state to pass legislation relating to parking lot protecting laws,” Bob Bischoff said.

Representative Bischoff said that the bill was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association, and that in his experience of dealing with the people of the 68th district, there is a strong feeling that they want to keep possession of their firearms.

Bob Bischoff said that there were some exemptions in the bill, including colleges, school buses, childcare facilities, emergency childcare shelters, penal institutions, private residences, and wherever federal law requires an exemption.

All three bills have been signed by Governor Mitch Daniels, and will become law on July 1st of this year.

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Looking ahead, Representative Bischoff sees five other issues that could impact area residents.

The first involves local government reform. There was a strong effort to do away with local township trustees and advisory boards in the last legislative session; but nothing happened according to Representative Bischoff.

“They will stay exactly the way they are,’ the Representative said. “The trustees will be running in the primary and general elections, as well as advisory boards for each township. There were bills that passed the Senate and the House, but there was no compromise, so everything is staying as it is.”

Ethics reform was also passed by the legislature. Bob Bischoff said that it includes two concepts: now for a lobbyist to take a legislator out for any type of activity, it has to be reported if the expense involved is more than $50.

The other aspect involves the legislators themselves, as office holders will now have to wait at least one year before they can become lobbyists.

Next is property tax relief, which now sees property tax caps at one-percent for homeowners; two-percent for farmers; and three-percent for businesses and inventory.

“There will be a referendum in the general election in November to see if the people support that,” Representative Bischoff said. “If they do, then it will become part of our Constitution, because it’s passed two consecutive Indiana General Assemblies.”

The cap is related to the assessed valuation of the home, so it involves one-percent based on the assessed valuation – not a strict one-percent cap each year.

“It’s one-percent of the assessed valuation, and those are going to continue to increase just based on the value of the property,” Bob Bischoff said.

Next is education, where House Enrolled Act 1367 provides Education Funding Flexibility.

“It doesn’t restore the $300 million that was cut by the Governor, but it does allow schools to use almost all of their available funds to protect educational programs and prevent teacher layoffs,” Bob Bischoff said. “For example, Switzerland County has seen its school general fund cut $481,952.67. Statewide this will allow about $1 million in transfers from funds such as the transportation fund, into the capital projects fund.”

Under the next plan, if there are no teacher layoffs, schools can transfer up to 10-percent; if a school corporation is laying off teachers, then it will only be allowed to transfer five-percent.

It is hoped that the incentive to be allowed to transfer more money will entice schools to keep teachers.

Finally, Senate Bill 23 is an Unemployment Bill, and increases premiums and delays it for one year until 2011.

“It’s causing a huge debt for taxpayers in the State of Indiana by delaying it,” Bob Bischoff said. “But in tough economic times, small businesses, corporations don’t need another tax burden upon them. It’s something that I’m not particularly happy about, but in tough economic times, when our sales tax and income tax are way down, we had to make sure that those small businesses and companies that employ people are not forced out of business.”

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Other issues involve the creation of new jobs and keeping existing ones; and a smoking bill that would eliminate smoking in all public places in the state passed the House but didn’t get through the Senate.

“I voted against it to protect tobacco growers,” Bob Bischoff said. “In tough economic times, I wanted to protect those tobacco growers who have had that income for years. I was doing it for the farmers. I wanted to make sure that they didn’t get hurt.”

Bob Bischoff says that the hottest topic heading into next year’s legislature will be local riverboat gaming revenue, as expected huge cuts in the state budget will mean that the state taking more riverboat revenue will put local money at more risk than ever before.

“It won’t take much change at all,” Bob Bischoff said. “It will be easy to take some of that money to fill the gaps in the budget.”

On the positive side, Representative Bischoff did receive three awards during the past year, being named “Legislator of the Year” by the Volunteer Firefighters and EMS Personnel, the State Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and was honored as the “Conservation Legislator of the Year” by the Indiana Conservation Alliance.