For two local lawmakers, the past six weeks have been a whirlwind filled with trips on Interstate 69 and countless meetings with constituents.
Fort Wayne will send two freshmen, Republican Sen. Tyler Johnson and Democratic Rep. Kyle Miller, to Indianapolis for the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 9.
However, starting work at the Statehouse isn’t exactly like starting any new job. The Indiana legislature isn’t full-time — each regular session lasts between three and four months — and lawmakers aren’t paid full-time either.
Hoosier lawmakers earn an annual salary of $28,791, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, along with a $196 per diem and mileage reimbursement. That means most legislators are still working out of session to supplement their income.
Miller, operations manager for an asphalt maintenance service, said his job was ‘wonderful’ allowing him to take time off while he traveled to and from Indianapolis for orientation and other meetings. .
“I work at a seasonal business, so this fits perfectly,” Miller said of his plans during the session. “The offseason in the business where not much happens is when I’m in session. It’s kind of a natural fit.
Dr Johnson, an emergency doctor, said it was a difficult balance and you can’t fully plan until you’re elected. Johnson adjusted his practice to devote full attention to his work as a legislator during the session.
“I felt like it was important to be able to do that, so I could hang out in meetings and conversations and be available,” Johnson said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures classifies the Indiana legislature as a “hybrid” model. Legislators in these states do not earn full-time salaries and their staff sizes are relatively small, although elected officials earn more money than those in true part-time legislatures.
Hybrid state lawmakers estimated they spend about three-quarters of a full-time job on legislative work, “including time in session, voter service, interim committee work, and campaigning.” , according to a 2014 survey of all state legislators.
“It’s really a full-time job,” Johnson said.
Miller said it had been an adjustment and he was grateful for the support of his wife and family.
“We knew going into this year that if we won, it would be a big transition for our family,” Miller said. “We are so grateful to have parents and in-laws who are willing to help with the kids and daycare and things like that.”
On the file
The two new lawmakers said they have spent much of their time since Election Day chatting with area voters and organizations.
They’re not asking for anything at this point, Miller said, other than to listen. He mentioned one such meeting with Byron Wellness Community, a long-term care facility in Fort Wayne.
“They were careful to say, ‘We don’t expect anything from you at this point other than just to see what we provide to the community,'” Miller said.
One source of advice during the transition, Johnson said, is his predecessor, recently retired Senator Dennis Kruse. The longtime Republican lawmaker served in the Statehouse for more than 30 years.
It’s “a huge plus for a first-year legislator to have a great retired state senator on speed dial to have conversations with, to help navigate the process,” Johnson said. “He and I are very aligned on the issues, and he speaks very well for our district. Having someone like that with whom we can discuss and on whom we can lean is a good thing.
Miller credited Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, as a mentor during his three campaigns. That relationship has now extended to the legislature, where GiaQuinta leads the House Democratic Caucus Miller is now a new member.
For years, GiaQuinta was Fort Wayne’s only Democratic representative. This meant he was often his party’s only voice at many events featuring lawmakers from northeast Indiana.
“He’s thrilled to have another Democrat in our area,” Miller said. “Not just for the moral support, being in the superminority, but also for sharing the workload that comes with being a state representative: the meetings you have to take and the appearances in front of groups and things. like that.”
Being part of the superminority presents challenges, he said. Republicans have a supermajority in the Indiana Statehouse, which means they can pass legislation without any Democrats supporting it. But the Democratic caucus is a “feisty bunch,” Miller said, a bunch that understands the role it has to play. You need an understanding of strategy, he said, referring to last summer’s special session.
Amendments proposed by Democrats nearly all failed, but Miller said his party was able to get its message across and make lawmakers’ positions known.
Although senior lawmakers have told Johnson it often takes a few years to understand the intricacies of how the Statehouse works — even to understand the building itself — he said it’s a welcoming place.
“On both sides of the aisle, the people there are really open and really good at welcoming new people,” Johnson said. “I think it’s one of those mentalities that they’ve all been there, and they understand that they’re new to the building.”
Johnson plans to use his health care background to inform some of his proposals, though he said no bills have been finalized.
He specifically highlighted conversations about health care costs. He does not plan to propose legislation on the subject, but said he has spoken with other lawmakers about transparency.
“From the questions I’m already receiving, I can tell that the Health Services and Providers Committee (committee) will play an important role in the conversation about what I’m supposed to comment on and review,” he said. declared. “I consider myself a kind of patient advocate. Really, the government should try to stay out when they can, really have a role of arbiter to make sure everything is fair.
Miller has already prepared a few bills, although he admitted that it was difficult for one of them to make it to a hearing given his position as both a member of the superminority party and as a legislator for the first time.
Some will be education-related proposals, Miller said. He also wants to work with the Northeast Indiana delegation on regional issues, including Rep. Dave Heine, R-Fort Wayne, on planned upgrades to US 30.
Miller said he wants to work with Republicans and co-draft bills introduced by members of the majority party.
“So many people see the legislature as contentious and divisive and always fighting. And the truth is that the majority of bills that pass every year are bipartisan bills,” Miller said. “It’s just that those who are controversial, who are divisive, are those who make headlines.”