State Sen. Dan Demulc, R-Highland, center, is surrounded by family as he takes the oath of office from Chief Justice Loretta Rush on Tuesday in the Senate chamber the Indianapolis Statehouse. Looking on from the rostrum is Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. Provided image
State Sen. Dan Demulc, R-Highland, center, is surrounded by family as he takes the oath of office from Chief Justice Loretta Rush on Tuesday in the Senate chamber the Indianapolis Statehouse. Looking on from the rostrum is Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. Provided image
The marble-walled Indiana Senate chamber in Indianapolis with its bright lights and big leather chairs is miles away, literally and decoratively, from the comparatively simple meeting room in Crown Point that the Lake County Council calls home.

But after taking a moment to savor his new environment during the ceremonial opening ceremonies of the 123rd Indiana General Assembly on Tuesday, new state Sen. Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, immediately turned his focus to the job at hand.

“It’s going to be a different dynamic that’s for sure,” said Dernulc, a Lake County councilman for the past 12 years. “The weight on my shoulders, along with the other 49 senators, is big.”

That burden is certain to become much heavier Jan. 9 when the Legislature begins meeting on a daily basis through late April to craft a new, two-year state budget totaling about $40 billion, along with proposing, revising, debating and approving approximately 200 new laws directly affecting the lives of 6.8 million Hoosiers.

Dernulc said he’s looking forward to playing a small part in that process and doing good for the residents of the 1st Senate District, which includes Highland, Griffith, Dyer, Schererville, St. John, unincorporated Calumet Township and southwestern Merrillville.

He defeated appointed state Sen. Michael Griffin, D-Highland, earlier this month to win a four-year term in the reshaped district represented nearly continuously from 1978 until January by former state Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, the father of Northwest Indiana Congressman Frank J. Mrvan, D-Highland.

“I really want to be a person that brings something home and people will say, ‘Because he was down there, he made a difference,’” Dernulc said.

In the meantime, like everyone else on their first day at a new job, Dernulc had paperwork to fill out and people to meet — only the paperwork was legislation he hopes to enact into law, and the people were, among others, Republican Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, the Senate’s presiding officer, and Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, who swore-in the state senators and representatives elected Nov. 8.

“I’m overwhelmed. There’s a lot of information coming at me. I’m up for the challenge, of course. But I’m overwhelmed. There’s a lot of things to know and I’m getting to know a lot of people,” Dernulc said. “I’ve gotten a lot of advice from a lot of people.”

Dernulc said he’s willing to work with anyone in the upcoming legislative session to ensure Indiana teachers get more pay and more flexibility. He also hopes to advance policies restoring the luster of law enforcement careers, whether that means higher pay, better benefits or upgraded equipment.

“I’m a conservative guy, but I’m also pragmatic,” Dernulc said. “I want to forge a relationship with Democrats as we did on the county council. The Democrats are not my enemies. I hope they feel the same way, and I hope we can work together.”

Republicans control 40 of the 50 seats in the Senate, and the GOP is likely to hold 70 or more seats in the 100-member House once unresolved election outcomes are addressed in coming weeks.

Directing those overwhelming majorities for the next two years once again will be House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, and Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, after each chamber ratified their prior selection by Statehouse Republicans as leader.

Huston pledged in his opening address that the House will focus in 2023 on enacting policies aimed at increasing education funding, expanding school choice options, realigning education to meet the needs of Indiana employers, spending another $500 million for READI quality-of-place grants to local regions, reducing property taxes, bringing down health care costs, punishing “woke” corporations and approving an honestly balanced budget with strong reserves.

“Here we live within our means because that’s what Hoosier taxpayers expect and deserve,” Huston said.

Northwest Indiana’s House delegation is unchanged from the last General Assembly after all 13 incumbents — seven Democrats and six Republicans — were reelected to new two-year terms.

Across the Statehouse rotunda, Dernulc is the only wholly new Region senator. But state Sen. Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton, now is serving a four-year term in his own right after previously being selected last year by Democratic leaders in Senate District 4, which includes northern Porter and LaPorte counties, to finish the term of retired state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes.

“There is a little bit of a different feel being selected by the district as opposed to just the caucus. I feel like there’s a little bit more responsibility that comes as well knowing the people have spoken and they expect results,” Pol said.

To that end, Pol is preparing a package of legislation he hopes will attract the attention and support of enough Senate Republicans to advance the proposals to the House, and perhaps onward to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to be signed into law.

Education funding is at the top of his list. Pol said he wants to ensure public schools get a sufficient funding boost to account for inflation and no longer have their resources drained away by charter schools, vouchers or other attempts to privatize public education.

“That’s one of my big goals to make sure we’re funding education appropriately, and with equity,” Pol said.

His other priorities include enacting workplace pregnancy accommodations in light of Indiana’s near-total abortion ban, taking care of utility-generated coal ash stored adjacent to Lake Michigan in Michigan City, enhancing career opportunities for education paraprofessionals, reducing Lake Michigan drowning deaths, better protecting juveniles caught up in the justice system and bolstering county veterans services.

In addition, Pol remains committed to legalizing marijuana for adult use in Indiana, perhaps with fewer barriers and taxes than those imposed by Illinois and Michigan to spur a more robust marketplace with lower prices.

“It’s one of those things in looking at some of these other states we see that there’s still an illegal market, or an underground market, for cannabis, and most folks will tell you it’s likely due to the fact that it costs more at these dispensaries,” Pol said.
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