INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mitch Daniels asked Indiana lawmakers on Tuesday to approve a statewide smoking ban and dedicate more money toward victims from last summer's state fair stage collapse during his final State of the State speech.
Daniels used part of his 30-minute televised speech to push the right-to-work bill that has prompted boycotts by Indiana House Democrats, while spending more time touting actions from his first seven years in office.
Daniels presented lawmakers with a more modest agenda than a year ago, when he pushed for a major revamp of Indiana's education system that the Republican-led Legislature largely approved.
About two dozen of the 40 House Democrats were in the chamber for the Republican governor's speech, including House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer and a few who escorted Daniels to the rostrum.
A crowd of labor union protesters chanting "No right to work" and other slogans from a Statehouse hallway could be heard inside the House chamber but did not disrupt the governor.
Bauer faulted Daniels afterward for not presenting a united agenda to improve the state's economy rather than pushing the right-to-work bill.
In contrast to last year's promotion of charter schools and private school vouchers, Daniels didn't give specifics of what type of statewide smoking ban he wants enacted or how much money should go to the families of those killed or injured from the August stage collapse beyond the state's current $5 million liability cap that has already been paid out.
"A catastrophe so singular merits unique treatment, and I hope you will augment the amounts already provided the victims and their families by the state and private donors," Daniels said.
The governor also renewed a call he's made for several years for an "overdue modernization" of township government, but gave it only a brief mention in his speech after giving the subject much more attention last year, after which legislators took little action.
Daniels vowed that his administration "will not loaf" during his last year in office.
He said the state would spend a record $1.2 billion on highway projects this year, including progress on the Hoosier Heartland Corridor between Lafayette and Fort Wayne and the U.S. 31 upgrade between South Bend and Kokomo.
Daniels touted what he said had been his administration's success in making Indiana one of the top states for economic growth in the country — even as its unemployment rate remains at 9 percent.
"It was our ironic bad luck to create a top economic climate just as the nation plunged into its worst modern recession and business investment slowed to a crawl," he said. "We became the prettiest girl in school the year they called off the prom."
The top Democrats in the Legislature, however, pointed out Indiana's jobless rate was at 5.5 percent when Daniels took office in 2005.
"I think this job touting needs a little more introspection," Bauer said. "He could have come here with a more bipartisan view to say we want to work together to create real jobs with real opportunity and not a proven failure like right to work."
Daniels announced the creation of new Bicentennial Nature Trust with $20 million in state money to be led by Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton in connection with Indiana's 200th anniversary as a state in 2016.
"The trust is intended to inspire others and to match their donations of land or dollars in a continuing statewide surge of conservation," he said.