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January 2, 2014

GROOMS: State senator seeks input on legislative topics

— During the upcoming legislative session, Indiana lawmakers will discuss and vote on many important issues affecting Indiana residents and our local communities. This includes efforts to promote job creation, improve education address health care needs and more.

Your input on these topics is vital and helps me better represent you at the Statehouse. That’s why I am sending out a survey requesting your feedback on topics that will likely come before the General Assembly this session.

Early this month, you will receive a newsletter from me sent to your home address. This letter will contain the survey in addition to important contact information and ways you can stay involved in your state government.

Because some of the survey questions address complicated issues, I would like to take this opportunity to provide relevant background information that might be useful.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING

Unlike many other states, Indiana’s finances are in good shape. We’ve passed five consecutive balanced budgets, and currently operate at a surplus rather than a deficit. To further Indiana’s fiscal responsibility and commitment to keeping taxes low for Hoosiers, we reduced the state income tax last year.

If Indiana maintains a surplus, do you favor: A) returning excess funds to taxpayers through further tax cuts, or B) increasing state spending on public services?

EARLY-CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

This year, the General Assembly could consider a proposal to increase funding for early childhood education.

Currently, more than $200 million in government funding each year is available to help low-income Hoosier families afford daycare and preschool. This is a mix of federal and state funds and not directed specifically toward education.

The proposed program goes beyond this funding by helping families place their children in early education programs that will get them started on the path to academic success before kindergarten.

Do you support or oppose increasing state spending to create a state financial-aid program to help low-income families pay for preschool?

EDUCATION FUNDING

Indiana spends about 63 percent of its budget on education. Last year, the General Assembly increased education funding to restore cuts made during the worst of the recession.

Do you think area public schools, universities and community colleges are receiving an appropriate amount of state funding?

 MEDICAID

Currently, one out of six Indiana residents is on Medicaid, or about 1.1 million Hoosiers. Medicaid takes up 14 percent of the state's budget. Under the federal Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), Indiana can expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured Hoosiers at a projected cost to taxpayers of more than $1.4 billion by 2020. This expansion could allow one in four Indiana residents to enroll in the program.

Do you support full Medicaid expansion for Indiana under Obamacare guidelines?

CRIMINAL CODE REFORM

In 2013, the legislature passed an overhaul of the state’s criminal code sentencing policies. The code had not been updated for more than 30 years, and contained outdated and inconsistent policies.

Last year’s sentencing reform effort worked to create fairer, more proportional sentences by dividing felonies into six levels instead of four. The new system also put tighter restrictions on the worst offenders’ ability to get out of prison early.

As part of these reforms, do you think it’s better to require low-level, nonviolent criminals to A) serve prison sentences, or B) participate in locally based rehabilitation programs?

I hope this information was useful to you, and please look out for the complete survey when it arrives in mailboxes in early January.

Up to two people from each household can answer the survey, which can then be mailed back to me at the Statehouse. Because I need to know your opinions on these topics as soon as possible, please complete all surveys by Jan. 31.

The survey can also be accessed online at indianasenaterepublicans.com/senators starting in early January. If you prefer to receive future newsletters and updates over the Internet or by email, please let me know.

You can contact me by email at Senator.Grooms@iga.in.gov or by phone at 800-382-9467 with any thoughts or concerns.

— State Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, is a retired pharmacist who represents Indiana Senate District 46, which includes all of Floyd County and part of Clark County.

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