- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said Monday that despite facing a Republican supermajority in the chamber, he and his fellow Democrats will press for an increase in Indiana’s minimum wage and other changes to help middle class families during the next legislative session.

The Michigan City Democrat said his caucus wants House Republicans to confront the issue of the state’s minimum wage, which at $7.25 an hour is the same as the federal minimum wage. Pelath said raising Indiana’s minimum wage to a reasonable level would put more money in middle class Hoosiers’ pockets and help the economy by fueling more spending and new jobs.

“We should adjust the minimum wage upward and it should be up to a level that is affordable, that is realistic and helps people get their lives back on track,” he said during a Statehouse briefing on the eve of the Tuesday start of the legislative session.

Pelath said Democrats will seek to eliminate Indiana’s textbook rental fees, which Democratic schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz has proposed, and expand its preschool and full-day kindergarten programs. Democrats also will keep pushing to retool the state’s school-funding formula to make it “fair” for all schools, he said.

He said House Democrats also want changes to Indiana’s ethics laws in the wake of an ethics scandal that led House Speaker Brian Bosma to remove former state Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, from his leadership team.

Turner became the focus of a House ethics investigation last year after he privately lobbied lawmakers to kill legislation that could have cost his family’s nursing home business millions of dollars. Turner won re-election in November, but resigned shortly thereafter to take a job with a Christian mega-church group in Atlanta.

Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said that ethics reform will be a centerpiece of the 2015 session. Pelath said Monday that the General Assembly needs “to better refine what constitutes a conflict of interest.”

“There are lines and they need to become bolder and they need to become clearer and members need to know that if they touch the electric fence what’s going to happen,” Pelath said.

Republican leaders preside over supermajorities in both legislative chambers, and they improved their numbers in November in the House, which they now control to 71-29. Pelath said he hopes House Republicans and Democrats will find issues they can agree on for action but he’s realistic about what his caucus will be able to accomplish.

“It is my job along with my other caucus members to remind Speaker Bosma and the Republican leadership here in Indiana, that even though they may have 71 percent of the seats that does not mean that 71 percent of the people agree with their vision of the future,” Pelath said.

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