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Key Reforms Will Benefit Indy’s Communities

By State Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis)

Indianapolis’ economy is growing. First-class employers are setting up shop here, providing well-paying jobs and attracting skilled professionals to the area. Our downtown community is vibrant and thriving – it was recently ranked one of the best in the nation.

But our city also faces challenges to its bright future. Violent crime rates are far too high, and some neighborhoods are still struggling to bounce back from the recent recession.

This legislative session, lawmakers tackled these tough issues to keep Indiana’s capital city moving forward. One of my primary focuses has been on deterring rising gun crime – a key obstacle for our community.

According to Mayor Greg Ballard’s Office, 82 percent of all homicides committed in Indianapolis in 2013 were shootings, and 42 percent of homicide suspects had a previous criminal weapons arrest.

I authored Senate Enrolled Act 169 this year to lengthen criminal sentences for violent gun offenders, sending a strong message that we will not tolerate gun violence in our backyards.

Once signed by the governor, the new law will allow for a sentence enhancement of between five and 20 years for violent offenders who use a firearm in the commission of a crime.

Too often, dangerous criminals are back on the streets after serving a very limited jail sentence. We’ve got to double down and make sure our criminal penalties match the heartless, destructive nature of these crimes. Pulling the trigger should trigger more time in jail.

This initiative was part of a large-scale push in recent years to reform Indiana’s criminal sentences, and address some of the root causes for our high crime rates.

In Indiana, 80 percent of offenders have some sort of mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction. House Enrolled Act 1268, which also passed the General Assembly this year, creates a fund to pay for mental health and addiction treatment of certain criminal offenders, so they can become rehabilitated instead of repeatedly cycling through the justice system.

I’m confident these reforms will make Indiana’s justice system more effective, and help stop the cycle of crime in our city.

The legislature also worked this session to address another key barrier to growth for Indianapolis: abandoned homes. In Marion County, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 homes are abandoned, ranking Indianapolis among the top 20 metro areas with the highest number of vacant properties.

Abandoned properties invite vandalism and illegal drug use, reduce property values and hinder community growth in the long term.

I authored Senate Enrolled Act 422 this year to reduce the amount of time a purchaser at a tax sale must wait to take possession of a property. For vacant and abandoned homes, possession will now be immediate after a tax sale purchase.

Restructuring the way we handle property transactions will help turn these properties around quicker and rebuild our struggling neighborhoods.

I believe Indianapolis has a lot to gain from these new policies, but the work is certainly not over to secure the strongest future for our city. I welcome your feedback and ideas. Contact me by phone at 800-382-9467 or by email at Senator.Merritt@iga.in.gov.