INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 17, 2014) - The state’s leading business advocacy organization is recommending a series of proposals for the coming legislative session, including key changes to state education and business policy, unveiled Monday at the Indiana Chamber's annual legislative preview luncheon.
Included among those proposals was a controversial suggestion to make the state superintendent an appointed position starting in 2016, a position the chamber has advocated for in the past.
In a written release, chamber officials said: “The Indiana Chamber has had this position for over 20 years. Our governor – whatever party he or she represents – is the true leader on the state’s education policy; thus, the governance structure should reflect that and allow for a superintendent of the governor’s choosing. In years past, leaders in both parties have agreed this step makes sense.”
Since her election in 2012, state superintendent Glenda Ritz (a Democrat) has often been at odds with the state board of education and Republican Gov. Mike Pence. Ritz has accused the board and Republicans of trying to strip of her power during several heated board meetings in recent months.
Ritz’s press secretary said the idea was politically motivated.
“Taking such an important and personal decision away from voters because of petty bickering is shortsighted and simply wrong,” said INDOE spokesman Daniel Altman in a written statement.
GOP leaders said they supported the idea, but feared making such a move now would be seen as purely political.
“I’m still thinking,” said House speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. "One thing I know is the bickering on the front page of the paper has to stop, or the General Assembly will take action and it'll probably be action nobody will like ."
“Right now in the political environment we're in it'd be a little difficult to do that and I do not want to create a firestorm when we're trying to get people to work together," said Senate president pro tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. "The way the board is operated, who's chair, who's not, if we have to do something, that may be where we step in.”
Chamber officials also listed publicly funded preschool initiatives as one of their key education priorities. Caucus leaders also addressed the business community at Monday’s luncheon, discussing the issue of school funding, another key priority for GOP lawmakers in the coming session.
On the issue of taxes, chamber officials said they would support legislation to eliminate the business personal property tax for small businesses.
Chamber officials also touched on another hot-button issue Monday – the debate over Sunday alcohol sales. Indiana Chamber president Kevin Brinegar said he would support a closer look at Sunday sales issue, and also said he was expecting House Public Policy chair Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, to author a bill on that issue in the coming session. Such a move could help the issue get out of committee and onto the full House for a vote for the very first time.
But the proposal was not met kindly by Patrick Tamm, CEO of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, which represents the state’s package stores.
In a written statement, Tamm said:
"We’re disappointed that the chamber didn’t review or discuss the potential consideration and impact to Indiana businesses – perhaps selecting one category of industry over another – or consider pending litigation that is still winding its way through Indiana courts and federal appellate courts. Generally, a broad change to law is much more considered and tempered. Our association would like to believe that the chamber is focused on the best long-term outcomes for all businesses. Until we know more about this specific agenda and have a meeting to review, it’s difficult to speculate on its origin and ultimate goal.”
Lawmakers will be officially back in session in January, though they also convene on Tuesday for Organization Day.