Indiana lawmakers promise to work together in new session, and it all begins with a house

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INDIANAPOLIS – The ceremonial ‘first day of school’ brought lawmakers old and new to the Statehouse Tuesday for the annual Organization Day.

Newly-elected lawmakers were sworn in for the 2017 legislative session.

Republicans, who hold a super majority, want to focus on a long-term transportation plan and the new state budget. Yet they remain cognizant of what brought them to the state capital and the lingering effects of a rough presidential election.

“This place doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” House Minority Leader Scott Pealth (D-Michigan City) said. “I mean it’s part of national politics, too.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said he takes responsibility for the tone inside the building.

“It’s incumbent on those who were elected, and those who weren’t successful, to create an atmosphere of healing,” he said Tuesday in an interview.

Bosma quickly pointed to a morning news conference where Republican and Democratic leaders announced a partnership with Habitat for Humanity. In March lawmakers will help build a home together on the south lawn of the Statehouse that will eventually house a Hoosier family.

“It brings folks from all over Indiana and all over the nation,” Pelath said. “It puts them to work and it puts them to work that is physical, is hard, it’s at times challenging.”

Bosma joked to subside any major political disagreements over how to build the home, lawmakers have agreed to put Habitat for Humanity in the driver’s seat.

The move, lawmakers acknowledge is light-hearted, Bosma said he helps will be symbolic as well.

“One of my hallmarks has been, especially in the super majority, that it even takes more time, more effort to be inclusive,” Bosma said.

And already lobbying and divisive issues have surfaced.

The group Freedom Indiana delivered petitions calling on Republican Governor-elect Eric Holcomb and lawmakers to push for new language in the state’s civil rights code that would add sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We know it is a long shot and it’s a long game and we’ll continue educating Hoosiers,” Chris Paulsen said, Freedom Indiana campaign manager. “We saw in the polls we picked up 8 points in 10 months – Hoosiers that want full protections.”

And in recent days, top Republicans have distanced themselves from a new proposal that would ban all abortions in Indiana.

“We don’t want some of the social issues to become a distraction,” Bosma said Tuesday. “We want to focus on these other issues. Are people going to talk about them, write bills, come out of committee? Of course. It’s not a dictatorship.”

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