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 House Committee to Hear Home Legislation

February 18, 2009 - Legislation to prevent the closing of the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home was scheduled to be heard by a House of Representatives committee this morning at the statehouse in Indianapolis.

Currently, oversight and administration of the Home is handled by the Indiana State Department of Health and the state health commissioner, Dr. Judith Monroe, who has announced plans to close the facility at the end of this school year. House Bill 1722, set for a 10:30 a.m. hearing before the Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee, however, would shift these responsibilities away from the ISDH and health commissioner to a newly-established 10-member board.

The legislation, authored by Rep. Scott Reske (D-Dist. 37) of Pendleton, would also change the Home’s official name from the ISSCH to Morton Residence Academy and implement a variety of changes in how the Home is operated. As a “state educational academy,” the bill says Morton would implement “an age appropriate military structure in the academy,” which would operate on a year-round schedule and offer programs to promote physical, intellectual, moral, character, team and leadership development.

Under HB 1722, Morton’s mission will be to provide “a premier education by utilizing a military style academy” and “a caring and nurturing residential environment.” Other components of its mission will be to promote the availability of the academy, to preserve the Home’s historic nature and functional capacity, to make Morton financially self-sustaining, and to prepare for increased enrollment due to war, national conflict or man-made disaster.

Reske said the 10-member board overseeing Morton would, in many ways, act like any other school board. HB 1722 would require the state to provide the academy with state tuition support payments like those provided to other public school corporations and would set aside $2 million for Morton from any money Indiana gets from federal economic stimulus laws enacted in 2009.

Initially, Reske said the plan was for the 10-member board created by HB 1722 to oversee the Indiana Veterans Home in Lafayette as well as the ISSCH. However, he said last-minute changes to the bill have removed the Veterans Home from the new board’s oversight.

Reske said he believes the Home is underutilized and that there are easily a couple of thousand children in the state who would benefit from the services it offers. Under HB 1722, the “optimal population” for Morton Residence Academy will be 500 children, with the board charged with establishing “goals to recruit and maintain” that enrollment figure.

While he said was confident that HB 1722 would make it out of this morning’s committee hearing in the House, Reske said was concerned about the legislation’s fate in the Indiana Senate. Unlike the House, where Democrats have a majority, the Senate is controlled by Republicans, the party of Gov. Mitch Daniels.

“What I’m fearful will happen is that it will go to the Senate and ... they’re just going to kill it so that it never gets a hearing,” Reske said. “I think if we make it to the floor in the Senate, it will win overwhelmingly.”

 

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