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Legislative summer study
Meetings scheduled so far include an August session of the regional campus study committee in Fort Wayne
July 18: Commission on Courts
July 22: Health Finance Commission
July 29: Commission on Education
Aug. 1: Regional Campuses Study Committee
Aug. 5: Interim Study Committee on Common Core

A packed summer


Have some thoughts on IPFW’s management under Purdue University? Do you support or oppose the Common Core State Standards? Any thoughts on demanding photo ID of food stamp recipients?

The next legislative session is six months away, but the time to weigh in is now. The General Assembly’s heavy lifting is done in its interim study committee meetings, when hours of testimony and discussion shape legislation before it becomes law.

Work began early this summer, given the crush of topics assigned to study committees. Nearly 150 topics were identified during the last session for further study. Of those, 59 were assigned to 20 different committees in an effort to keep the workload manageable. The Legislative Council authorized four committees, including the Commission on Education, to hold more meetings than the $9,500 committee budget limit will allow.

For northeast Indiana, continued study of the governance and operation of regional campuses is probably most noteworthy. The committee is charged with analyzing IPFW’s “management, growth, needs, and future plans,” with a report due to the full legislature before its organization day in November.

Lawmakers sometimes dodge controversial measures by postponing them for summer study, but more often committee meetings represent an opportunity to study issues in depth, with participation by professionals and officials other than lawmakers. Judge Thomas Felts of Allen County Circuit Court has been a member of the Commission on Courts since 2007. Allen County Commissioner Therese Brown, formerly the county clerk, also is on the commission.

“Traditionally, it’s a screening group that will listen to proposals for the creation of new courts, new judicial officers – anything having to do with the operation of the courts,” Felts said. “Over the years, we’ve considered changes to probation, judicial technology, victims’ rights. I can foresee something to do with city and town courts this year.”

Felts said the time invested – two to as many as five or six Statehouse sessions a year – is worth it, both in representing the perspective of the state’s trial courts and in looking out for Allen County’s interests.

While Indiana has a part-time legislature, interim session work is increasingly pushing it to full-time status. For summer committee meetings, lawmakers earn a daily allowance (called a per diem) tied to the maximum daily amount paid to executive branch employees of the federal government for subsistence expenses assigned to travel in the Indianapolis area, currently $152 a day. Out of session, lawmakers also earn $60.80 in daily pay and are paid mileage to attend legislative meetings.

The increasing workload of the summer study committees demands some attention. As it grows, it becomes more difficult for legislators to balance public and private job responsibilities. If the state wants to maintain a citizen legislature, demands on lawmakers’ time must be kept in check.