Matt Lehman speaking at Saturday meeting. (Photo by J Swygart)
Taxes, jobs and health care are expected to be among the predominate topics during the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly.
A constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, however, may take a back seat this time around.
Those were the views expressed by State Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, during a town hall-type meeting held Saturday morning at Adams Central High School. Only a handful of area residents attended the event.
Lehman said he hopes the legislature puts much of its time and energy into economic development-related issues, including a renewed emphasis on vocational training and increased flexibility that would grant local units of government a broader range of choices in their use of Local Option Income Tax (LOIT) and County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT) funds.
"We need to take the handcuffs off what local government can do with those funds," Lehman said.
Taxes could also play a key role in the legislative session, the Berne Republican said, from Gov.-elect Mike Pence's desire to cut personal income taxes to the state's collection of sales tax from online retailers.
Lehman said he is not opposed to tax cuts, "but I am opposed to anything that puts the state in a deficit situation. Yes, we have a budget surplus, but it's a very tenuous surplus. Maybe now is not the best time to look at tax cuts."
State lawmakers are expected to look closely at a measure to implement the collection of sales tax on online retail sales. Lehman said lawmakers will look specifically at the so-called "Amazon tax," so named because the national retailer negotiated an agreement to start collecting Indiana sales tax on all sales starting in 2014. "We got the best deal they (Amazon) were offering, but since that time they made better offers to two other states" pertaining to sales tax collections, said Lehman. "We will ask them — and other online retailers — to start collecting sales tax in July of this year. Without those assurances, we're hurting our brick and mortar retailers."
The affect of the national Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, on Indiana and other states is also expected to be a topic for legislators, Lehman said. Pence has said Indiana will not set up its own health care exchange program to regulate the program, but instead will defer to the federal government to oversee the new legislation. But Lehman said that the bill has created "more questions than answers" and predicted that state lawmakers will examine aspects of the law that most greatly affect Hoosiers.
Less likely, he said, is a push to pass for the second consecutive session a proposal to let Indiana voters decide the fate of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Indiana. Lehman said a pair of cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court could greatly affect the state's direction on that issue. Decisions are not expected by the high court until this summer.
"Personally, I am opposed to gay marriage," said Lehman. "I voted for it (a constitutional ban) last year. But we have to see what the Supreme Court does. I support the constitutional amendment, but I'm not sure this session is the time to take it up," he said.
Other topics which Lehman expects to be considered by lawmakers during the upcoming session include the Sunday sale of alcohol, the decriminalization of marijuana, sentencing reform that could return low-level felons to the jurisdiction of the counties in which they were sentenced, and options necessary to direct more state funding to road and bridge projects and other infrastructure needs.