Legislative session underway, Democrats ask for moratorium on social issues

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Indiana’s General Assembly is back on the job.

Lawmakers convened this year’s legislative session Monday afternoon, with brief sessions in both the House and Senate. Republicans now hold a super majority, though party leaders said they were looking forward to working with state Democrats.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, addressed the House in his traditional opening day address, calling for a two-year moratorium on social issues, like same-sex marriage.

“Above all we must make sure the power of government does not shift far from the center,” said Pelath.

But afterwards, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, expressed surprise over the attention given to same-sex marriage, since the item is not officially on the legislative agenda.

“Why is everybody focusing on this issue?” Bosma asked reporters. “We’re here to talk about jobs, and the budget.”

And as for Pelath’s request for a moratorium, Bosma said it wasn’t in the works.

“We aren’t declaring a moratorium on anything,” Bosma said. “That’s not been my normal custom to make those kind of decisions on behalf of the body.”

One of the biggest issues this year could be tax cuts, and how the state should handle its budget surplus. This is a budget-writing session, and some lawmakers, like Bosma, have already expressed their concerns about the proposed 10 percent tax cut Governor-elect Mike Pence wants to put in place.

“I’ve expressed my reservation about the sustainability of the cut, and he’s expressed his desire to convince us otherwise,” said Bosma of his talks with Pence.

“We’ll just have to wait and see on the tax cut,” said Senator David Long, President Pro Tempore. “We haven’t said yes, we haven’t said no, but obviously there will be differences of opinion.”

With the super majority, Republicans don’t need Democrats to achieve a quorum, so the walk outs of the last two years should be a thing of the past. And at least on day one, there was talk of bipartisanship.

“I’m sincerely looking forward to working with them,” said Bosma.

“I think it’s incumbent on each and every one of us to take an attitude of cooperation and inclusion,” said Rep. Bill Friend, Majority Floor Leader.

“Stay away from the divisive social issues,” implored Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. “That’s not what people want us to be working on, by and large.”

Chris Douglas agrees with that sentiment. The founder of the Indy Rainbow Chamber, Chris and his partner have been together 10 years.

“What I think we find offensive is the attempt to impose government in our family life,” said Douglas, a life-long Republican.

What’s still uncertain is if the same-sex marriage ban will come before the legislature this year. The ban cleared the House last session. It would have to clear both houses this year to get put on the statewide ballot in 2014.

“There’s obviously a major Supreme Court decision that will have an impact on Indiana law,” said Long. “So both the House and Senate will have to kick that around and decide whether (it’s) this year or next year.”