Questions to ponder for the new year:
It's an encouraging sign that House Speaker Rick Thompson appointed a bipartisan work group to review recommended changes prior to the start of the 2013 session.
In the recent past, of course, education reform bills -- particularly bills that would change seniority as the primary force in teacher placements and promotions -- have died in the House Education Committee.
That may no longer be possible after the 2012 election changed House dynamics, adding 11 Republicans to account for 46 of the 100 members of the House.
At the committee level, it will only take the absence of a couple or three Democrats on any given day to shift control to the Republicans.
Will this be the year that the Legislature finally addresses critical overcrowding in the state's prisons and regional jails?
Thanks to the work of another outside body, the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, the Legislature has clear evidence that drug or alcohol abuse accounts, directly or indirectly, for the incarceration of some four-fifths of all inmates in state facilities.
Shifting the emphasis from incarceration to community treatment programs won't be easy, particularly when there are legislators who don't want to appear to be soft on crime.
As the precedent with Fred Armstrong established, there's no chance that Jorea Marple's pending lawsuit with the state Board of Education will result in her getting her job back as state superintendent of schools.
Precedent has been that "will and pleasure" employees have little recourse no matter how flimsy the grounds for their dismissals.
Armstrong had an exemplary career as the state archivist, but ultimately could not get his job back even though -- according to sworn testimony -- Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith fired him in 2007 simply for not being a team player and for addressing him in a disrespectful tone in an agency meeting.
It's even less likely Marple could prove that her reputation or ability to secure future employment has been irrevocably harmed by her termination by the state board. Arguably, the whole episode has enhanced her reputation as an education professional.
However, Marple has a "dream team" of attorneys in Tim Barber, former state Democratic Party chairmen Rudy DiTrapano and Pat Maroney and retired circuit judge Andrew McQueen.
I'm sure they're salivating at the opportunity to get members of the Board of Education into depositions to testify under oath why -- and under whose orders -- they chose to abruptly fire Marple.
A nice settlement check from BRIM avoids such unpleasantness for the board members.