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Lawmakers return for brief, packed session

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers got a late start Tuesday to a jam-packed 2014 legislative session that they have just 10 weeks to finish.

Following a one-day delay because of the heavy snow and subzero temperatures that hit the state, the House and Senate finally got started Tuesday afternoon.

The House started work with 67 of 100 members present, just enough to achieve the quorum necessary to conduct business. The Senate pushed back its start while it waited for enough senators to appear.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, thanked the lawmakers who were able to make it Tuesday so they could dispatch with some of the machinery of the session, including the formal introduction of legislation.

“It was a miserable day to drive,” Long said. “Thank you to all the members who made an effort – a monumental effort in some cases – to be here today.”

The House and Senate both canceled Wednesday sessions and were not set to return until Thursday.

Two issues appear likely to dominate the session – the elimination of a property tax on business equipment and machinery and an effort to place the state’s gay marriage ban in the constitution.

Gov. Mike Pence and some of the state’s business lobbyists will be squaring off with local officials in an effort to eliminate the business personal property tax. Supporters say it is needed to improve the state’s business climate. Opponents say it could rip open a $1 billion budget hole for cash-starved localities.

The gay marriage battle likely will draw most of the spotlight. Supporters are seeking to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage, civil unions and benefits for same-sex couples. Opponents of the amendment have run a highly visible and coordinated campaign so far, but it’s unclear whether they will succeed in winning enough lawmakers to their side. A bipartisan group of lawmakers overwhelmingly voted for the amendment when it last came up in 2011.

Gov. Mike Pence also will be pushing education measures, including a proposal to expand vouchers to teachers and preschool-aged children. He is seeking additional aid for charter school operators and the creation of a tax credit for parents who adopt.

Lawmakers are set to take up many of their own initiatives through the session. A proposal to crack down on trespassers dubbed by opponents as the “Ag Gag” bill is set for a hearing Tuesday afternoon. A handful of Senate Republicans are seeking new limits on domestic surveillance, following an Indianapolis Star report that state police were using a new cellphone tracking tool.