Black Legislative Caucus members focus on education, health care
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org January 12, 2013 11:14AM
State Rep. Charlie Brown speaks during a press conference celebrating World No Tobacco Day at Gateway Park in downtown Gary, Ind. Thursday May 31, 2012. Indiana's Smoke Free Air Law House Enrolled Act 1149 goes into effect July 1. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 14, 2013 6:45AM
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus will focus on six issues in the 118th General Assembly, which include providing better opportunities for both minorities and the state as a whole, reducing crime and providing for basic economic advancement.
The caucus consists of 12 minority legislative representatives, eight in the House and four in the Senate, who share common interests that affect black and Latino residents of Indiana. Half of its members come from Lake County.
State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, serves as the caucus chairman. At a news conference last week, he stood with members of the caucus to announce their agenda.
“We meet each year before the session to discuss the issues that we want to focus on,” Randolph said. “These are issues that affect not just African-Americans, but everyone in the state. These are common issues that we think both Democrats and Republicans can relate to, and we feel that we can gain support.”
Caucus members form subcommittees for each issue they hope to focus on. This year, six committees will focus on K-12 education, higher education, health care, children’s issues, economic development and criminal justice.
Randolph will focus on criminal justice, as well as higher education.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, hopes the state legislature will hold off on education reforms, like vouchers and turnaround academies, and take the time to evaluate the impact on students and school corporations before making more changes.
“We need to stop adding reforms,” she said, “and evaluate what we currently have.”
She has two bills in the Senate focused on education.
One would slow the number of charter schools appearing in school districts that have more than a quarter of students enrolled in charter schools. If more than 25 percent already are enrolled in charter schools, approval by the school corporation would be required before another charter was allowed.
The second would require more details in contracts when the State Board of Education hires a management team to take over a failing public school.
Also in education and higher education, state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, wants to see the Ways and Means committee help restore funding cut to education, and provide funding for kindergarten and preschool. He also hopes education officials stop focusing on test scores.
“National and state testing should only be one aspect of a teaching indicator,” Smith said. “It shouldn’t be the sole measure of success.”
Children’s issues efforts, lead by state Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, will focus on improving the Department of Child Services, by improving the child neglect and abuse response, creating a standing oversight committee, and law enforcement instruction when children are involved.
State Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago, will focus on economic development, and hopes to support growth in the region by funding the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, and providing state highway funds for developing infrastructure around the Gary airport.
“There will be a lot of emphasis on maintaining the funds for the RDA,” Harris said. “Maintaining the funds for the region will be important to us.”
State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, will also focus on economic development. She’s working on a bill that provides small business tax credits for hiring veterans. She was invited to join the caucus to represent Latino citizens.
“Many of the problems that plague the black community are the same issues with the Latino community,” Reardon said. “It’s a good opportunity to have more people working on your issues.”
In regard to heath care and issues, state Rep. Charlie Brown will focus on implementing the Affordable Care Act, a matter the Republican majority plans to pass on.
“There are thousands of Hoosiers that would appreciate having that health care coverage,” Brown said, “but the majority is saying they don’t want to expand the coverage for those who need it and can qualify for it through Medicaid. If we don’t provide basic care for Hoosiers, it’s much more costly to treat them later.”
Randolph notes that there will be challenges when facing a supermajority in both the House and the Senate.
“In spite of the supermajority, we expect that this session will be one of more cooperation than in the past,” he said. “There’s no dispute on who’s the majority, that’s not an issue. If the attitude of the majority is to do what they want because they can, they’re going to open themselves to criticism.”