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State Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, wrapped up the Decatur Chamber of Commerce's monthly speaker series for the year on Monday with an overview of the Indiana General Assembly's recent legislative session.
Speaking at Woodcrest retirement community, Lehman said state lawmakers tackled some tough issues this session, "and when all was said and done ... I think we did some things that are very good for the state of Indiana."
Topping that list, Lehman said, was the contentious Right-To-Work legislation that generated the most publicity of the session. Daily protests at the Statehouse kept the issue in the forefront of the public's eyes, the Berne Republican said. In the end, the Right-To-Work debate — which GOP leaders in the House and Senate deemed a top priority — resulted in a bill which made Indiana the 23rd state in the nation to pass a law barring companies and unions from negotiating a contract that requires non-members to pay fees for representation.
Lehman said the bill has already paid dividends, with at least two companies relocating to Indiana specifically because of the Right-To-Work bill, and more inquiries about similar corporate relocations being made almost daily.
Despite the overwhelming amount of attention paid to the Right-To-Work debate, however, Lehman said other "monumental" decisions were made by state lawmakers.
A 10-year phase-out of the state inheritance tax was initiated during the recent session, and by 2022 the tax will be eliminated entirely. Lehman said the bill was long overdue.
He said lawmakers set in place stricter laws dealing with nepotism and conflict of interest matters, adopted stricter guidelines for regulating synthetic marijuana and other man-made drugs, passed a bill allowing counties to adopt local ordinances governing golf cart use, and regulated some of the tactics being employed by overly-agressive regional sewer districts.
Also approved by the General Assembly, over Lehman's objections, was a statewide smoking ban. Lehman said he voted against the measure for two reasons: He believes whether or not to allow smoking should be made by business owners, not the government; and he said the number of exemptions in the final version of the smoking ban — veterans' organizations, casinos and nursing homes, and an 18-month phase-in period for bars and taverns — left the state "with a smoking ban that exempts a whole lot of people."
The Berne lawmaker said one of the personal highlights from the recent session surrounded the South Adams-based Dots in Blue Water group. As part of that endeavor, several students and teachers from South Adams High School took homemade water purification systems to hurricane-ravaged Haiti last summer to provide fresh drinking water to suffering natives.
"We brought those kids down to the Statehouse, and it was really neat to recognize some kids who are truly making a difference."
Lehman faces opposition this fall from Decatur Democrat Mike Snyder.