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Indiana Lawmakers to Consider Budget, Gay Marriage, School Vouchers

By Sean Powers, with additional reporting from The Associated Press

Lawmakers returned to Indianapolis on Monday for the start of their four-month session. The legislature is expected to take up a host of issues during their session, including gun control, a gay marriage ban, and expanding school vouchers.

The state's biennial budget and tax cuts are also among the issues expected to be discussed during the session.

A handful of Republican state senators are pushing to expand access to guns this session. Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) has proposed allowing students to carry firearms on Indiana's public university campuses.

The measures face little chance of success in the General Assembly this year. But Banks said Tuesday that lawmakers should still have an open and ranging discussion about guns.

Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) wants a bill that would exempt guns made exclusively in Indiana from federal rules and regulations.

The proposals go up against a national push for more gun control following the Newtown school shooting. Members of Indiana's Black Legislative Caucus said Tuesday that they would support any national effort to reduce gun violence and are ready to support new federal limits.

There is also a push to ban gay marriage. State Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) said Tuesday he will file a resolution this session to write the state's ban on gay marriage into the Indiana constitution.

Turner was the author of the measure that passed in 2011. It would need to be approved by lawmakers one more time before going before voters for consideration in 2014.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma of Indianapolis and Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long of Fort Wayne haven't said whether they'll allow action on the issue this year. Long says his staff is reviewing possible ramifications from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the topic due next summer.

Indiana lawmakers are expected to consider a measure to expand the state’s school voucher program, but critics worry doing so could shift attention away from strengthening public schools.

Under the voucher program, the state provides assistance to low- and moderate-income families who want to send their children to private school.

Each voucher at the elementary and middle school levels is worth up to $4,500.

Rep. Bob Behning (R- Indianapolis) chairs the House Education Committee.

He plans to introduce legislation to get rid of the $4,500 cap, and lift eligibility requirements for military and foster families, as well as families with children in special education.

“If you philosophically believe that parents should be able to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children,” Behning said. “Then making that choice available to more makes sense in terms of improving education.”

But the Indiana State Teacher's Association’s Teresa Meredith said expanding the voucher program doesn’t fix troubled public schools.

“We should be offering, whatever is needed, support wise, to those students and those families as the best we can through the public school system,” Meredith said. “And if we’re not meeting the needs of those learners in the public school system, then why not?”

Meredith is behind a lawsuit challenging the legality.

Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) said vouchers hurt urban school districts. He wants the General Assembly to wait and see what effect the program is having before making more changes.

More than 9,000 students are receiving vouchers this year.

Meanwhile, the following bills have been assigned by Senate President Pro Tem David Long to the Senate's rules committee, a step typically used to bottle up a proposal and prevent further action toward it becoming law:

  • Prohibit state agencies or public universities from limiting firearms possession except for buildings that house courtrooms.
  • Make any firearms or ammunition made in Indiana and remaining in the state not subject to federal laws or regulation.
  • Allow public school districts to require recitation of the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of each school day.
  • Prohibit abortions being sought based on the gender of the fetus or because the fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome.
  • Prohibit many arrests or searches by federal agents without written permission from the local county sheriff.
  • Ban the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, by law enforcement agencies or others to monitor a person or property without consent.
  • Eliminate the use of grand juries by prosecutors to decide the filing of criminal charges.
  • Prohibit Indiana government entities from implementing any policies relating to the United Nation's 1992 conference on the environment, the subject of the novel titled ``Agenda 21'' by conservative commentator Glenn Beck.
  • Block public school districts from starting the school year until after Labor Day unless the district follows a year-round calendar or takes other steps.