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Schools, broadband internet dominate Third House session

Schools, broadband internet dominate Third House session
Schools, broadband internet dominate Third House session
Matt Schickel laughs at a comment made by Gary Geswein, who was attending Saturday morning’s Legislative Update via Zoom. Schickel served as moderator with State Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, seated almost directly behind Schickel, providing updates about the 2021 legislative session. Seated with Engleman is Lisa Long, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County, a sponsor, along with Harrison County Farm Bureau Inc., of the update. Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

The 2021 Indiana House Legislative update was hosted Saturday at the Harrison County Government Center by the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County and the Harrison County Farm Bureau Inc. for the Third House session.

Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, was the only state official of the three who represent any portion of Harrison County able to attend the update.

Matthew Schickel, moderator of the event, notified the public that he had received approval from Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, to tell those attending he unfortunately had to miss the update due to undergoing his first round of chemotherapy after recently learning he has cancer. Davisson passed on the message that he hopes to update the public more as his family learns more as well.

Schickel also noted that Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, was unable to attend the Third House session.

Engleman began the update by noting all the goals and bills the House worked on during this past session. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of the top priorities were focused on stimulating the Indiana economy. She said the main focus this session was to figure out the best strategies to pass a fiscally responsible budget, with intent to keep the state’s AAA credit score rating.

Also in regard to COVID, Engleman said that the House, in the most recent session, has provided civil liability protections for businesses, schools, health care entities and others. She also explained the passing of a bill put into legislation that extends and strengthens an existing small business grant program, which gives priority to the hospitality industry.

Also, the state fully funded all K-12 virtual and in-person students for the 2021 school year, Engleman said.

Engleman briefly discussed a bill, HB 1005, currently making its way through state government. The bill, which has been strongly opposed by all three Harrison County school superintendents, would extend eligibility to receive state-funded scholarships to students who want to attend private or charter schools, none of which are in Harrison County.

“I know that this bill is controversial among the schools, but, as many letters as I get against it, I get for it, too,” Engleman said. “The money does follow the child, so wherever the child is, is where the money should go.”

Dr. Mark Eastridge, superintendent of the South Harrison Community School Corp., was in attendance at the meeting. He said he has made his opposing opinion on HB 1005 very clear and didn’t want to spend too much time on that, but he did have concerns on other bills that could make their way through the legislature soon.

Senate Bill 358, which would allow a charter school to use an unused school property building before the governing school board body had time to sell or lease it, is one he is worried about. The other is HB 1266, which he believes has wording in it that would take away some authority from schools’ governing bodies.

“I just hate to see bills being passed that could erode local leadership,” Eastridge said. “The voters of Harrison County elected these people to make decisions for them, and I’d hate to see that taken away.”

Engleman said she would take some time to look more into these bills and hopefully be in contact with Eastridge about them.

Another conversation topic was regarding broadband internet, something Engleman said the state is still working on expanding to more residents throughout the state.

Lisa Long, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County, said that, while she believes the state has made huge strides in regard to broadband access, there is still a ways to go for many rural areas in Indiana.

She also explained to Engleman that the Chamber of Commerce and the Harrison County Community Foundation in the next few weeks will be releasing a request for proposals to write a broadband deployment plan.

“The plan will allow the county to establish a road map to show where our investments will bring us the largest ROI,” Long said. “Our goal would be that anyone who wants 25 megabytes of broadband service could get it, but we need to start where we can get our biggest bang for our buck. This road map could help us figure that out.”

In order to help with social distancing, only 20 people could attend the update in person; others could register to watch it virtually via Zoom.

Engleman ended the update by expressing her sincere gratitude to the members of the community. She also noted she welcomes any and all feedback, suggestions or questions, good or bad, as she believes both are extreme learning opportunities.

Engleman said she strives to listen to each call she receives and can be reached at 1-800-382-9841 for all concerns.