Legislation to note as General Assembly wraps up first half of session

Indiana Statehouse (file photo)
TheStatehouseFile.com
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INDIANAPOLIS (Statehouse File) — While the spotlight has mainly been on bills involving hate crimes and teacher pay, the Indiana General Assembly worked on a number of other bills, including:

Medical Marijuana

House Bill 1384, authored by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, would have legalized the study and use of medical marijuana in Indiana. The bill did not receive a hearing in the House Public Health Committee.

"To have just a handful of people stand in the way of something that has brought relief to millions of people across the nation, to me that's just not good government," Lucas said.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, asked about the issue Wednesday, said he does not want Indiana to consider legalization until more research is done and action is taken at the federal level.

Asked by a reporter if he’d ever tried marijuana, Holcomb said he had, in college.

Gambling

Sens. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, and Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, authored Senate Bill 552 to legalize sports wagering across the state in most circumstances, allow the city of Terre Haute to build its first casino and permit the city of Gary to relocate an existing casino.

This bill is expected to expand the state’s gaming industry and boost economic development. It passed out of the Senate in a 38-11 vote. It may have a tougher route in the House, though, where Speaker Brian Bosma said he considers it a major expansion of gambling. Holcomb said he will "need to take deep dive into all the details" of the legislation as several changes were made to the original bill last week.

Education

State Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis
State Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis (official photo)

House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, introduced two bills this session to alter Indiana’s education system on multiple fronts. In House Bill 1629, Indiana students would be required to apply to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to graduation. The measure would also widen the definition of elementary schools and protect school emails from public records searches.

“We definitely want to conserve more money for the resources for serving students as opposed to searching through data,” Behning said about the public records provision. That section was removed in committee.

For the third year in a row, a bill giving student journalists full First Amendment rights hit a roadblock. Last year, it died on the House floor. This year, it didn't even get a committee hearing. House Bill 1213 would have granted student journalists in grades 7-12 the same freedoms and protections as professionals under the First Amendment. Under current law, based on a Supreme Court case decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, student news organizations cannot freely publish materials without being subject to censorship from the school administration.

Author Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said he decided to not push the bill any further this year because there was still too much backlash from opponents last year, but he plans to bring it back next year.

“We can turn it around, but I’ve come to realize it’s going to take time,” Clere said.

School Safety

Both chambers put forth multiple bills to improve school safety, but most of those new programs are all tied to the same limited funding.

In the House, Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, authored a bill to create a handgun training program for teachers and allow schools to pay for the $1,500 training with the state Secure School Safety Fund.

Asked if the training program would drain too much from the funding, Lucas said that he hopes schools deplete the fund because it will show how much they need it and the state can put more money in. The bill passed in the House after much debate over the subject of schools arming teachers, which is already legal in Indiana.

The House and Senate passed catch-all safety bills, House Bill 1004 and Senate Bill 266, which also take from the same funds. HB 1004 provides more flexibility to school districts when applying for school safety grants from the state. The bill also adds other items that further protect schools, including a required threat assessment, at least one active shooter drill per year and an optional youth risk behavior survey. SB 266 focuses on creating more mental health services for students, and other school safety measures were rolled up into the bill by the time it reached the Senate floor.

Jennifer McCormick, state superintendent of public instruction, said she and the Board of Education are worried lawmakers are pulling too much funding from one bucket, which is around $14 million per year.

Guns

Legislators decided to not vote on a bill to allow licensed gun holders the right to carry their weapons inside churches located on school grounds. The measure, House Bill 1643, did not clearly outline the definition of a school property, according to author Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn. Smaltz said he plans to revisit the proposal later this session.

State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus
State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus (official photo)
Election Security and Reform

Senate Bill 105, authored by Senate Elections Committee Chair Greg Walker, R-Columbus, passed to the House in a close 26-23 vote. The bill provides guidelines for redistricting, but allows the General Assembly to continue to draw district maps.

Several groups advocating for redistricting reform, including the Indiana Coalition for Independent Redistricting, say SB 105 fails to end partisan gerrymandering and echoed support for a separate measure, Senate Bill 91, to establish an independent, citizen-led redistricting commission. SB 91 died after never getting a committee hearing.

Walker also introduced Senate Bill 571 to make it easier for independent parties to get onto ballots. While the Senator said he believed the bill would help minority parties find representation in government, critics said this would confuse voters. The bill died on the Senate floor, 16-31.

In the House, Rep. Thomas Saunders, R-Lewisville, introduced House Bill 1311 to move up the deadline for absentee ballots from eight to 12 days before an election. Saunders and advocates from clerks offices said this would help prevent a backlog of ballots during election season.

Public Health/Safety

Senate Bill 425 would have increased the legal age of buying tobacco and vaping products from 18 to age 21, and prevented anyone under 18 from entering smoking areas in clubs and cigar stores. It died in committee.

The House and Senate each unanimously passed bills – House Bill 1333 and Senate Bill 192– that would make the distribution of any intimate or nude image of a person without their consent, often called "revenge porn," as a Class A misdemeanor and a Level 6 Felony for a second offense.

Abortion and Women’s Health

The House passed an abortion bill that would prevent a dilation and extraction procedure on a live fetus during a second trimester pregnancy. The procedure was described in the bill as extracting a fetus from a woman “piece by piece,” leading critics to refer to it as a "dismemberment abortion." The legislation passed on the House floor.

Meanwhile, the House unanimously passed a bill that would allow a minor who is at least 16 years of age to consent to health care concerning the pregnancy, delivery and postpartum care. A similar bill, Senate Bill 352, died by a close vote on the Senate floor after long debate on whether the bill took away parental rights. Unlike the bill in the Senate, the House bill included a provision requiring medical providers to make a reasonable attempt to contact parents or guardians.

Consumer Credit

Senate Bills 104 and 613 battled each other in the Senate. SB 104, a bill to put limits on payday-type loans that was authored by Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, was defeated. SB 613, authored by Sen. Andy Zay, R- Huntington, narrowly passed the Senate. It creates two short term loan options with interest rates critics say would be on a felony level of loan sharking. SB 613 passed 26-23 and now goes to the House. Gov. Eric Holcomb said this bill gave him “heartburn.” He said he’d like to learn more about the perspectives of lawmakers who backed it, but said that from what he knows so far, “it just didn’t wear well.”

Department of Child Services

Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, led the charge to decrease caseloads and provide more state-backed resources to children served by the Department of Child Services. In Senate Bill 1, the DCS would be required to spend at least 12 months in search of an adult relative or sibling to help a child find a path out of foster care, among other provisions. Its counterpart, House Bill 1198, passed unanimously.

Electric Scooters

House Bill 1649, authored by Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, regulates the use of electric foot scooters, specifying that they are not motor vehicles and that users must follow all the rules that apply to bicyclists. It unanimously passed the House and now goes to the Senate.

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