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11/20/2018 6:10:00 PM
Excitement abounds at Statehouse as 2019 Indiana General Assembly convenes

Dan Carden, Times of Northwest Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Statehouse was abuzz with activity Tuesday as the 121st General Assembly convened for Organization Day.

Within its 130-year-old limestone walls, the 100 representatives and 50 senators chosen by Hoosiers living along Lake Michigan, on the Ohio River and at every point in between Illinois and Ohio gathered for the first time as a single body to begin their two-year task of directing the state's course.

On the horizon are myriad possible points of conflict, including a new state budget, school safety needs, gaming industry changes, a bias crime proposal, education funding, medicinal marijuana, workforce development, redistricting reform and many more to come. 

But on the first day of session, as their friends, families and supporters looked on, Indiana lawmakers were all smiles as the chambers were called to order and they officially claimed the seats they won in the elections held two weeks ago.

At 25 years old, state Rep. Chris Chyung, D-Dyer, is the youngest member of the General Assembly.

He pronounced the ceremonial prelude to the four-month regular legislative session that begins Jan. 3 as "cool."

"I'm happy about being able to represent my district," Chyung said. "It's a privilege. I'm so so honored and humbled by it."

Likewise, new state Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond, said she was excited to be in the House, even though it so far has been a lot to take in.

"I know it's going to be a long session, and I'm looking forward to getting busy, getting things taken care of," Jackson said.

For state Rep. Lisa Beck, D-Hebron, the day was an opportunity to reunite with Chief Justice Loretta Rush — who swore in the newly elected legislators — after Rush told Beck at an event more than a year ago that Indiana needed more women in public office.

"She's excited, as well as I am, that we have a woman lawyer down here," said Beck, an attorney. "I don't have all the answers right now, but I'm definitely excited."

State Rep. Ragen Hatcher, D-Gary, has more political experience than most of Northwest Indiana's new state legislators, having been a member of the Gary City Council between 2007 and 2011, and again from 2015 until this year.

"Serving on the council, I certainly learned a lot about procedure and process which I plan to bring down here and learn even more," Hatcher said.

She admitted it likely will be difficult to advance her soon-to-be-announced legislative agenda in the Republican-dominated chambers.

But Hatcher declared that she's ready to work with anyone in the House "to try to get things done for the state and for my district."

State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, who has served in the Senate since 2007, was not on the ballot this year. He's beginning the third year of a four-year term that he won in 2016.

Nevertheless, Charbonneau said the positive spirit of Organization Day, even with potentially divisive issues looming, still "gets the adrenaline flowing."

"The tone will be different on April 27th, 28th, 29th than it is today," he said, referring to the scheduled final days of the legislative session. "But that's OK. That's the way the process is supposed to work." 

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, similarly quipped about the ceremonial session: "It's all exciting and joy today. You'll ask yourself, 'Why? Why? Why?' at the end of April."

That certainly was the case at the conclusion of the 2018 General Assembly that was required by state law to adjourn with several unfinished matters, only to be called back by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb for a one-day special session in May to finish them up.

Even so, at least one issue from last session is lingering: What to do about Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill, who is accused of groping state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, and three Statehouse staffers at a capital city bar during a legislative party.

Hill held a "crime prevention" event Tuesday in the Statehouse's north atrium just weeks after a special prosecutor announced that he would not be filing criminal charges against Hill for his alleged behavior at A.J.'s Lounge.

During the event, a woman handed out copies of the Indiana inspector general's report detailing how a seemingly intoxicated Hill approached and rubbed the backs or buttocks of the four women without their consent.

Candelaria Reardon also twice shouted "Resign!" at Hill as she watched the attorney general's presentation from a spot overlooking the atrium.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who likewise has called for Hill to resign, said it's unlikely the General Assembly will act to remove Hill from office, since an impeachment case would consume too much time during the legislative session.

Hill maintains he did nothing wrong.

Related Stories:
• Budget, workforce goals set in Indiana House for upcoming 2019 session

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