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What are your state legislators doing on your behalf? The Indiana House Republicans host a podcast each week to answer this  question and talk about what’s happening in your state government. The podcast features one-on-one interviews with lawmakers who highlight new laws, events and other issues impacting Hoosiers.

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Memorial Day is a time to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting our country and the freedoms we enjoy today. Our appreciation for those who died defending the blessings of liberty is boundless.

To help protect war memorials around the state, the General Assembly enacted a new law this year allowing local governments to transfer ownership of these memorials and monuments to non-profit organizations who will see to their maintenance and upkeep, such as veterans groups or the Boys Scouts. By allowing these collaborative arrangements, we can prevent memorials dedicated to fallen Hoosier heroes from slipping into disrepair.

Another new law will allow the surviving spouses of veterans to indicate their status on their driver’s licenses or identification cards. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles will share this information with the Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs in order to ensure these families are connected with their county veteran service officers, who have specialized training and can offer resources and assistance.

The recently enacted two-year state budget also provides $1.82 million in funding for veteran service organizations, such as the American Legion and AMVETS, to improve assistance for veteran families seeking benefits and doubles funding for veteran problem-solving courts to $2 million.

As you enjoy Memorial Day weekend, please join House Republicans in remembering our fallen service members and those who are serving overseas today.

This session, House Republicans remained focused on strengthening our commitment to education in Indiana, which is why the new biennial budget increases base funding for each K-12 student statewide. Several new laws provide more tools and resources to Hoosier students and teachers:

Increasing Course Options: A new law providing access to specialty classes and programs not provided at certain schools will help all students regardless of where they are enrolled. Whether small, rural or urban, some schools may lack the necessary resources to provide advanced classes or trade programs in high-demand areas.

Retaining New Teachers: A new law establishing a mentorship program for new Hoosier teachers and administrators will encourage those in their first and second year to remain in the classroom. Studies suggest that most new teachers believe having access to a mentor has the largest impact on developing their effectiveness as an educator.

Reforming School Funding: A new measure creating two funding categories for schools, an education fund and an operations fund, will provide greater financial flexibility. Indiana invests over half of the state’s budget in K-12 education, but only 57 percent of school funding reaches classrooms. By allowing transfers between these two funds, schools will be able to direct more dollars where needed.

Our students hold the keys to our state’s bright future and House Republicans are dedicated to supporting commonsense policies like these that help them grow and succeed.

Follow #NewIndianaLaws on social media and our blog series for more highlights of laws enacted this legislative session.

Starting July 1, Hoosier children under age 18 will be required to wear a helmet when riding or operating an off-road vehicle, unless it is for an agricultural purpose.

The number of deaths related to off-road vehicles is on the rise in Indiana. Last year, 21 Hoosiers died as a result of ATV wrecks. In 2015, an 11-year-old girl named Kate Bruggenschmidt was riding an ATV with a friend on private property in Spencer County. While going up a hill, the ATV rolled and Kate was trapped underneath. She was not wearing a helmet and suffered severe head trauma. Tragically, Kate did not survive the accident. This legislative session, her mother and close friends made touching and courageous testimonies at the Statehouse in support of this law.

Other laws passed this session to help keep Indiana residents safe include:

HEA 1010: A new law aims to keep those who repeatedly violate their probation or community supervision off the streets. Low-level offenders receiving services like addiction treatment can now be committed to the Department of Correction if they don’t adhere to their probation, parole or community corrections.

HEA 1001: As part of the biennial budget, salaries for all state law enforcement officers in Indiana will increase by 24 percent. This includes Indiana State Police and Conservation Officers. This will ensure that those who serve and protect their fellow Hoosiers are compensated at a rate competitive with other states and municipalities.

SEA 322: A new law allowing law enforcement to expand the use of DNA to solve crimes will help identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent. A cheek swab can now be taken upon felony arrest and, after a court finds probable cause, the DNA sample would be run through a national database to pinpoint and stop criminals. Thirty other states already have similar legislation on the books.

HEA 1289: A new law preventing sex trafficking in massage parlors will require massage therapists to have proper training and certification. Indiana had a voluntary certification process for these individuals. This licensure requirement will protect legitimate professionals while making sex trafficking more difficult.

HEA 1071: A new law allowing protective orders to temporarily double as handgun permits in domestic violence situations will keep vulnerable Hoosiers safe. Victims can use their protective order as a handgun permit if they have applied for a handgun license, are 18 years of age and have not been convicted of a felony. The protective order is valid for a 60-day period.

SEA 479: A new law strengthening penalties against drivers accused of leaving the scene of a serious accident where there are multiple victims will help keep our roads safe. Now, hit-and-run drivers will be held accountable for every individual they seriously injure or kill in the accident.

Follow #NewIndianaLaws on social media and our blog series for more highlights of laws enacted this legislative session.

Teachers provide our children with the tools and resources they need to be successful. To recognize educators and their vital roles, the country is celebrating National Teacher Appreciation Week throughout May 1-5. This is a great opportunity to make sure our educators know how much we value them and their contributions to our students.

Even the smallest act of kindness can help show your gratitude, like sharing a picture of yourself with an influential teacher, a picture of your child with their teacher or a picture of yourself with a simple thank you message on social media using #TeacherAppreciationWeek.

House Republicans understand that our educators greatly impact the lives of their students and need support to succeed in the classroom. This year, we addressed issues associated with ISTEP and built on legislation from last year to effectively replace the test with a newer, more efficient statewide assessment. Learn more here.

We also passed legislation that helps reward teachers for pursuing higher degrees.

Thank you, State Reps. Tony Cook, Wendy McNamara and Jeff Thompson. As teachers and public servants, you all work tirelessly to make Indiana a great place for our children.

Regardless of how you and your family participate in National Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s make sure our Hoosier educators know they’re valued.

Prescription Drug Take Back Day

The Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force is promoting Prescription Drug Take Back Day. This Saturday, multiple stations throughout the state will provide places for Hoosiers to safely dispose of prescription drugs.

Proper disposal of unused prescription drugs helps protect children and pets from accidental consumption, and also helps curb illegal drug use or theft. Indiana is working hard to combat the opioid epidemic, and with 4 out of 5 new heroin users starting with prescription medications; these take-back programs make a real difference in saving lives.

Unused and expired medicine also harms the environment. It is important to never wash any medicine down the drain or flush it down the toilet. Doing so contaminates Indiana’s rivers and groundwater. By properly disposing of medicine you are protecting yourself, your neighbors and the environment.

Liquid and pill medications can be dropped off anonymously, with no questions asked, between the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at multiple locations throughout the state.

Click here to find a drop off site near you.

Learn about safe disposal and storage methods for prescription drugs here.

Wrapping up the 2017 session

Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed several bills into law, including measures to help our military members, prevent drug abuse and reduce the number of cervical cancer deaths in Indiana. It’s the governor’s job to look over the bills approved by both the House and Senate. He then has seven days to sign or veto these bills. If he does not sign, the bill automatically becomes law on the eighth day. Below are some highlights of the pieces of legislation Holcomb has signed into law.

Nearly one-third of military spouses have careers requiring a professional license, including teachers. Because relocation from state to state is such a common occurrence for military families, the new law will make their transition to Indiana easier. Starting in July, this bill requires the State Board of Education to adopt rules when active-duty military spouse’s move to Indiana. SBOE will expedite the issuance, renewal or reinstatement of their teaching license. Current law allows, but does not require, the State Board to adopt such rules.

In an effort to fight the deadly drug epidemic in Indiana, a new law adds two dangerous drugs to the controlled substances list. These synthetic drugs – Etizolam and U-47700 – both have been linked to multiple deaths. By adding them to the controlled substances list, it will now be illegal to purchase or distribute these drugs in our state.

According to the Indiana Cancer Consortium, approximately 250 new cervical cancer cases and 86 cervical cancer-related deaths occur annually among women in Indiana. A new law  is tasking the Indiana State Department of Health with developing a statewide strategic plan to attack this problem. The department must work to identify barriers to cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment, while also developing public and private partnerships to increase cervical cancer awareness and recommend actions to reduce the number of Hoosier deaths associated with the disease.

As we work to wrap up the 2017 session, lawmakers will be coming together to pass the next two-year state budget and a comprehensive, long-term road funding plan, among other new policies. Conference committees are now meeting to agree on the finalized proposals for new laws. Their hearings are streamed live online at iga.in.gov. By law, session must adjourn before midnight on April 29.

Work Zone Safety

Since 2014, an average of 12 people each year in Indiana lost their lives in roadway construction zones, with 80 percent of those killed being motorists or their passengers.

This year, the Indiana Department of Transportation will oversee more than 300 construction projects. These projects total over $1 billion in capital investments to improve traffic mobility and safety and modernize dozens of interchanges across Indiana.

INDOT has several suggestions to keep both motorists and construction workers safe in work zones:

  • Stay alert! Look for reduced speed limits, narrow driving lanes and highway you.
  • Pay attention. Work zone signs will tell drivers exactly what to expect ahead.
  • Merge early. If drivers merge as soon as they see signs, traffic will flow much more smoothly.
  • Slow down! Don’t speed, there could be slowed or stopped vehicles in the construction zone.
  • Keep your distance. Maintain a safe distance on all sides of the vehicle.
  • Minimize distractions. The three Cs – cell phones, CDs and coffee – are the primary cause of driver inattention.
  • Plan ahead. Expect delays during construction season and allow extra travel time, or select an alternate route.

Drivers can stay up-to-date on current construction projects with INDOT’s interactive online map or through TrafficWise, INDOTs Traffic Management Center which gives real-time traffic updates. Updates can also be found through Twitter.

We can work together to make our roads safer. Please don’t drive distracted and keep an eye out for our hardworking road construction workers.

Distracted Driving Dangers

Drivers who send or read text messages are 23 times more likely to be involved in a car crash than other drivers.

Jill Biddle of Kirklin learned firsthand the deadly consequences of distracted driving. Biddle lost her daughter, Maria Droesch, at age 17 in a tragic car crash. Maria veered into oncoming traffic while texting and driving. Biddle now uses her daughter’s wrecked car to send a message about driving while distracted.

“We bring this car all over the state to show people what texting and driving can lead to,” Biddle said. “If we can help save just one life, then we have accomplished our goal.”

State representatives joined Biddle at the Statehouse to show support for her efforts to bring awareness to the issue and urge motorists to use hands-free devices while driving.

“Texting and driving remains a significant problem, and we have to do more to educate our friends and families about its dangers,” said State Rep. Milo Smith of Columbus.

Currently, Indiana has a statewide texting while driving ban for all drivers, and prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using handheld and hands-free cellular devices except to dial 911. Despite these laws, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration found 10 percent of teens involved in fatal crashes were reported as being distracted at the time of the crash.

April marks the start of Distracted Driving Awareness Month dedicated to bringing awareness to the serious issue of distracted driving.

To learn more about the dangers of texting and driving, click here.

Spring is here!

Last weekend welcomed the start of the spring season! Longer days and warmer weather present more opportunities to get outside and explore all that Indiana offers.

From hiking or camping in our breathtaking state parks to exploring Indiana’s culinary past and present, or participating in some of our states great festivals and events, there is always something new and exciting to do in Indiana. No matter where your adventure takes you, you’ll be greeted with Hoosier Hospitality.

To help you on your adventures, download a digital copy of the 2017 Indiana Travel Guide filled with tips on things to do, places to stay, local foods to savor and so much more. You can also find additional trip ideas and information by logging on to VisitIndiana.com.

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