Indiana House Democratic Caucus Leader Phil GiaQuinta outlines priorities for 2020 legislative session
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana House Democratic Caucus Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) outlined the key legislative priorities of the caucus during his speech on the House floor this afternoon, marking the first day of the 2020 legislative session for the Indiana General Assembly.
Here is a copy of GiaQuinta’s remarks as prepared:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And good afternoon, everyone.
Before beginning my remarks summarizing the House Democrats’ 2020 agenda, there is a matter I am privileged to address on behalf of our caucus.
Mr. Speaker, we thank you for your 34 years of service to our beloved Hoosier State.
You leave on a high note, having lobbied your caucus to choose a speaker-elect who is an avid IU sports fan. Our Big Red bond may just get us through some long nights!
You know I had to sneak that in there.
On a more personal level, I thank you, sir, for your respect and willingness to work through tough conversations and debates. We were always able to put our differences behind us for the good of the State of Indiana.
I said it last year, and we should always remember: Working to better the lives of those who sent us here is always the best politics.
For many years, we have talked a lot about the need to serve Hoosiers first by investing in communities across our state and giving everyone a fair shake.
With these values in mind, the Indiana House Democrats have a clear vision as we embark upon the new decade; and how appropriate that we mark the start of the year 2020 with a clear focus to use this first session of the new decade to serve Hoosiers first.
And with a nearly 15% surplus, we certainly have the means to strategically invest in the people of our state. I believe Speaker Bosma said it best: “a surplus of more than 12% isn’t responsible, that’s holding taxpayer money that should be expended.”
House Democrats agree and we have a few ideas about how we can responsibly invest those dollars on things like education and health care, which I will flesh out in a minute.
The diversity of our caucus is a source of strength and creativity. I was both honored and proud to lead them over the past year. Their work for Hoosiers resulted in significant successes. Allow me to remind you of but a few:
- We ensured that all Indiana health insurance plans cover Hoosiers with pre-existing conditions, even if Republican attacks on the national Affordable Care Act are successful in denying this same life-saving benefit.
- We protected Hoosiers from predatory short-term loans with interest rates of up to 167%. These “loan shark” lenders were targeting veterans, seniors and low-income families. They used fine print agreements to lock those down on their luck or simply unable to understand the complexity of the forms into an ever increasing cycle of debt.
- We preserved the State’s ability to pursue renewable, clean energy options as opposed to the Republican plan which would have mandated coal burning power plants, to the detriment of our public health and Hoosier air quality.
- We passed legislation to help identify new ways to lower prices for prescription drugs, which is a life and death issue for some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. House Democrats will continue to make lowering drug prices a top priority this session.
In November, we heard a lot of talk about Indiana’s supposed rosy economic position. The fact is, Hoosiers are falling further and further behind economically. Hoosiers are taking home almost $5,000 less than they were 10 years ago. [ii]
Republicans have claimed that cutting corporate tax rates is working to make our state better for business. But simply cutting corporate tax rates is not creating good paying jobs for Hoosiers and it’s certainly not going to set our state up to attract the jobs of tomorrow.
House Democrats believe that if Indiana’s economy is going to thrive in the future, we need to start investing in the human capital of our state.
We can do that by making fiscally responsible investments in education from an early age, delivering more in K through 12 traditional public education, and making health care more affordable and accessible for the people of our state.
Using kindness, compassion and common sense, we can work together for the common good.
We should show strong leadership and increase teacher pay to help the educators in our districts who just started teaching but feel overwhelmed, overworked and underpaid—so much so that they are seriously considering leaving the profession.
We should cap insulin prices to help the mom who is rationing insulin for her diabetic child because she can’t afford to pay the rent and the prescription for insulin every month.
We should help make school feel safer for the 7th grader who asked his mom if he can take a self-defense class because he wants to be able to stop an active shooter in his classroom, if necessary.
And we should invest in Hoosier families to make early childhood education more accessible and affordable for the young parents who are crunching numbers so they can find a place they feel comfortable with to care for their child while they work.
Here’s our “20/20 vision”:
- Students, teachers and public schools deserve more from the state legislature. House Democrats will continue to remind the majority that their policies are responsible for creating a crisis in public education.
- It should be a source of embarrassment to everyone sittin in this chamber that Indiana ranks dead last in salary growth for public school teachers. DEAD LAST!
- There is a growing teacher shortage — according to Dr. Jennifer McCormick, 35% of Indiana’s teachers leave the state or the profession in their first five years of teaching.
- My colleagues on the other side of the aisle paid $45 million for a failed ILEARN test and spent $133 million on dubious standardized tests over the past two years.
- Republicans tout the amount in their budget for education but avoid the uncomfortable and tragic truth. The budget shortchanges traditional public schools, while diverting millions of dollars to failed for-profit and out-of-state charter and virtual charter schools along with private voucher programs. THOSE were the schools that received the “historic” increase in public funding my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are fond of talking about. The schools with a lack of transparency and accountability.
House Democrats will focus on:
- Fixing our standardized testing system for students and teachers.
- Giving Hoosier teachers the pay raise they deserve.
- Investing more state dollars in traditional public schools.
- Holding charter, virtual charter and voucher programs to the same accountability and transparency standards as traditional public schools.
2. Our vision does not stop there. House Democrats will continue to focus on the quality of life for Hoosiers, beginning with one of the most basic human rights extended to people in every other developed nation: access to affordable, quality health care.
Consider these disturbing facts:
- In Indiana, prescription drug treatment increased 58% from 2012 to 2017. [iii]
- 8.3% of Hoosiers do not have health insurance, which is the highest rate among surrounding states. [iv]
- We have the nation’s third highest number of children with unaffordable medical bills. [v]
- We’re 49th in public health funding. [vi]
Is it any wonder, then, that Indiana’s families have some of the most troubling statistics when it comes to the health of their children?
- Indiana has the 3rd highest mortality rate for mothers in the nation. [vii]
- And we have the 7th highest infant mortality rate in the nation. [viii]
Let that sink in for a moment. We used to smirk at states in the Deep South when statistics like that were discussed. Now, we often find ourselves ranked among them.
House Democrats will focus on:
- Lowering prescription drug prices.
- Expanding access to the Healthy Indiana Plan.
- Investing in paid family medical leave.
Why? Because we believe that a state that promotes access to affordable health care will ultimately reap the benefits of better health and a more productive workforce.
3. Our vision will also ensure that students can learn in a safe environment.
There have been more than a handful of instances of students who brought guns onto school property in Indiana since March of last year.
House Democrats will focus on:
- Funding more trained school protection officers in public schools.
- Creating access to mental health services for more students in public schools.
- Ensuring the Common School Fund School Safety Loan Program dollars are available to all school districts across Indiana – including rural and urban schools.
- Enacting responsible firearm storage requirements.4. House Democrats understand the economic pressure placed on parents, especially single-parent households, to balance a budget that includes the expense of high quality early childhood education for their children.
4. House Democrats understand the economic pressure placed on parents, especially single-parent households, to balance a budget that includes the expense of high quality early childhood education for their children.
That is why our 2020 vision must include measures to address this fundamental dilemma facing working families.
Children deserve quality early childhood education at a price their parents can afford. This is about fairness; this is about kindness and compassion.
- There are half a million Hoosier children between the ages of birth to 5 years old. [ix]
- Over 60% of those children require care while their parents work. [x]
- Most of those children receive care in an unstructured setting where the quality of care is unknown.
- The average cost to a family for childcare is $8,818 per child, per year. [xi]
- Employers lost $1.8 billion in 2019 due to unstable early childhood education. [xii]
House Democrats will focus on:
- Expanding access and fully-funding statewide pre-K programs for all 4-year-olds.
- Passing a child and dependent care tax credit.
- And implementing a paid family leave program.
What better time than the start of a new decade to invest in the people of our state, which will serve as the bedrock for future growth.
We must start with increasing teacher pay to help preserve the profession most responsible for the next generation of successful job holders,
Addressing the rising costs of health care,
Making schools safer so children can focus on their classroom education, not active shooter drills,
Making early childhood education more accessible and affordable for the young parents who crunch numbers to find a way to pay the light bill and afford a quality education for their 4-year-old.
These are the issues that comprise the House Democrats 2020 vision.
The House Democratic Caucus is poised to again be the pragmatic problem solvers and ask you to work with us in good faith. If you do, the year 2020 should be the year we see our way to serving Hoosiers first.
We have two-and-a-half months and a lot to do.
Let’s get to work!
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: https://www.journalgazette.net/news/local/20190712/states-reserves-at-highest-level-ever