Indiana lawmakers are now in the second half of the 2013 legislative session. Key initiatives to better this state and our Fort Wayne community are well on their way to becoming law. In the Senate, 98 percent of the bills we've passed garnered bipartisan support. It's encouraging to see such a high level of civility and collaboration in the Indiana General Assembly this year.
Of the bills passed in the Senate thus far, several are worth noting. In fact, a Senate initiative to help Indiana farmers was fast-tracked through the legislative process and recently became the first piece of legislation signed into law by our new governor, Mike Pence.
Senate Enrolled Act 319 took effect on the first of this month, preventing a $57 million property tax increase on Hoosier farmers. The new law delayed, for an additional year, the implementation of a new federal formula for assessing farmland that would have resulted in an average 18-percent property tax hike on our farmers and their families. SEA 319 was an important effort to support the nearly 62,000 farmers in our state.
This session, legislators have continued their focus on improving education in our state and better preparing young Hoosiers for college and the workforce. In particular, we've been dedicated to addressing the "skills gap" between available jobs and available workers, which many employers cite as a major obstacle to stronger job growth. The Senate has passed Senate Bill 465 to establish regional Indiana Works Councils designed to oversee career and vocational education programs in high schools. These councils will help connect employers and industry professionals with educators to make sure our students are graduating with the skills required to fill a 21st-century job. Among the councils' goals will be providing more students with internship opportunities and classes taught by job-certified instructors.
The Senate has also taken significant steps toward improving Indiana's Department of Child Services (DCS) to better protect our children in the awful cases of abuse or neglect. An initiative to improve child abuse reporting procedures unanimously passed the Senate. SB 105 would allow professionals with special expertise, such as law enforcement, judiciary officials, medical professionals and educators, to report suspected child abuse and neglect cases directly to their local DCS office, instead of going through the state's reporting hotline in Indianapolis. It is my hope that increasing collaboration at the local level will help speed up response times and get help to the children that need it as quickly and effectively as possible.
My fellow senators and I have worked with our counterparts in the House of Representatives on this issue, and they have moved some complementary pieces of legislation as well. In their proposed budget bill – House Bill 1001 – they've included a provision to increase funding for DCS by $40 million. This money will allow the agency to hire more than 200 new family case managers to work with children around the state and to reduce caller wait times at the hotline.
The House's budget proposal is now being considered by the Senate. This will certainly be our primary focus during the second half of session. Senate Republicans are committed to passing a fiscally responsible, taxpayer-friendly budget, and I'm confident we will do so with the help of the House and Gov. Pence.