INDIANAPOLIS — The caucus leaders of the Indiana Legislature said the same-sex marriage amendment shouldn’t be what lawmakers focus on this session.
But they also realize it is a very personal and contentious issue.
“It is not the most important issue we will be facing,” state Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said. “But it is the most divisive.”
Lanane, the Senate minority leader, was joined Monday at the Indiana Chamber legislative preview by Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.
The four caucus leaders discussed some of the biggest issues the General Assembly will be facing for the 2014 session including the marriage amendment, early childhood education, work force development and energy.
They were all eager to point to other issues besides the marriage amendment.
“The people I’ve talked to about this are telling me they want us to work on other issues,” Lanane said. “We have more important issues to deal with.”
Long and Bosma both said deciding how to proceed on the amendment should be a collaborative effort to finally try and solve the same-sex marriage issue in Indiana. Long said he will let his caucus debate the issue and form its own opinion.
“I won’t dictate how that discussion goes,” Long said. “And I won’t bottle it up.”
Although no one was willing to predict a House or Senate vote tally on the proposal, Republican leaders seemed to indicate a vote would likely take place.
“We need to finally end this 12-year discussion,” Bosma said.
Lanane said the Democratic caucus has not taken a specific stand on the issue and that every senator will have specific feedback from their districts.
“We’re not, in any way, telling our members how they should vote on this,” Lanane said.
He said the amendment as written is flawed since it would make same-sex marriage and civil unions permanently illegal in Indiana. He thinks the ban on civil unions, which can be between a man and a woman, would have unintended consequences.
One of the issues Lanane will be championing in the Senate this year will be early childhood education, which would allow for parents to enroll their child in pre-kindergarten classes if they want. Lanane said the positives of early education are numerous.
“Studies have shown if you have a very vigorous early childhood education program the kids engaged in that are more likely to complete high school, have higher earnings and are less likely to end up in the penal system,” Lanane said. “Those kids contribute so much more back to society.”
He pointed out that Indiana is one of only 10 states in the nation without a pre-kindergarten program. Long said all the leaders believe that preschool is good for kids. But he said the issue will be how to implement it and how much to spend.
Lanane said it won’t make any sense to create a mandate forcing schools provide some type of early education without funding it. He said he was in favor of letting schools come up with a system that would work for them.
The funding for the program can’t be provided during this session because it isn’t a budget year, but Lanane said it will be the perfect session to take some time and look hard at several ideas.
“The mandate wouldn’t require every child to go, so I don’t think the cost will be quite that high,” Lanane said. “I think we need to look at this as an investment.”
Follow Zach Osowski on Twitter @Osowski_THB or call him at 640-4847.