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3/1/2012 9:35:00 AM
State Senate approves adding $80 million to fund full-day kindergarten

Eric Bradner, Evansville Courier & Press Indianapolis bureau

—The Indiana state Senate approved a measure on a 44-6 vote Wednesday that would spend an additional $80 million annually on full-day kindergarten, and also add $6 million more to the original $5 million that Indiana paid out to victims of the State Fair stage collapse in August.

The new full-day kindergarten spending will fund grants of $2,400 for each child that enrolls at school corporations that offer the program.

The extra cash for the seven who were killed and dozens more who were injured during the stage collapse before a Sugarland concert will cover the full medical bills for those who were injured, and push compensation for the families of those who died to $700,000 from the current $300,000.

House Bill 1376's sponsor is Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville.

"I'm thankful the state is in good enough fiscal shape to offer these funds," Kenley said. "The money for full-day kindergarten shows our strong commitment to K-12 education. Providing this money for the State Fair stage collapse victims is simply the right thing to do."

The measure now heads to a joint House-Senate conference committee.

License plates

There will be no vote on whether to abolish a host of Indiana's specialty license plates this year, after all.

A measure that would have done away with the plates for organizations that sell fewer than 1,000 of them each year is dead after its sponsor Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, did not call it up for amendments on Wednesday, missing a key deadline.

He said he chose not to do so because the measure has become too political. He said he will try again during the 2013 session.

Organizations use the $25 they get from the $40 plates as a funding stream.

Superintendent contracts

School boards would have to post the full financial details of superintendent contracts, including the often-hidden information on health insurance and pension payments, under a measure the state Senate passed Wednesday.

Now, House Bill 1205 will head to a House-Senate conference committee. It's a measure that lawmakers say was motivated by a situation in Wayne Township where a retiring superintendent received a $1 million payout.

Some Democrats opposed the measure, saying they would prefer to see it include private schools, too, since they receive taxpayer money in the form of vouchers.

Synthetic drugs

A bill that tightens the restrictions on synthetic drugs — such as spice and K2 — passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday.

House Bill 1196 gives the Indiana Board of Pharmacy emergency powers to declare a substance a synthetic drug that is banned from sale.

It also classifies more substances as synthetic drugs and it creates new penalties for retailers that sell or distribute synthetic drugs.

"I believe this will be model legislation" for other states also battling this problem, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis.

Tax credit

A bill that would render the state's historic preservation tax credit useless for at least a decade passed the Senate on Wednesday.

But House Bill 1111 — approved 48-2 — also creates a new local preservation tax credit that could help cities and counties boost historic preservation in their communities.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said the credit is more appropriate for local governments because they are the ones struggling to maintain their downtowns.

"In a large part, this is a local problem that should have local solutions," Kenley said. "So we have created the ability for local cities and local communities to adopt a historic tax credit on their own that would mirror the state credit. They could structure it as a credit against local option income taxes or property taxes."

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