Breaking News
More () »

Payday lending and school funding among top issues awaiting action in General Assembly

As the Indiana legislature approaches the end of the 2019 session, bills covering everything from student safety, school funding and payday lending have yet to be resolved.
This August 2018 file photo shows the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (TheStatehouseFile.com Photo/Eddie Drews)

INDIANAPOLIS (Statehouse File) — As the Indiana legislature approaches the end of the 2019 session, bills covering everything from student safety, school funding and payday lending have yet to be resolved.

The state budget, which will touch on virtually every aspect of public life and could address growing tensions among educators regarding teacher pay, still awaits a hearing—and potential changes—in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

House Republicans unveiled House Bill 1001 on Feb. 19 with a focus on devoting additional dollars to schools, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) and Medicaid.

More than half of the $34.6 billion two-year budget will contribute to K-12 education, which includes a direct appropriation for school budgets and a $1 billion payment to the teacher retirement fund designed to free up additional dollars for school districts. How this will translate into a final budget, however, is still unknown.

And leaders in the General Assembly said they hope to finish ahead of schedule. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, told reporters Thursday the House could complete its work by April 24, two days ahead of legislators’ self-imposed deadline.

Lawmakers did make substantial progress on other issues, however. Here’s a sample of what became law, what died and what’s still advancing through the chambers:

Hate crimes law approved

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed hate crimes legislation into law in a private ceremony. A former Indiana Supreme Court justice says it covers all groups of people, even those not directly mentioned in the list the law references, but the Anti-Defamation League says it wasn't enough to get Indiana off their list of states without a hate crimes law.

Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 198 Wednesday with no press conference or fanfare. A joint news release with House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray was sent after the signing. The legislation was originally a drug sentencing bill, but the House placed hate crimes language into that bill on the floor instead of continuing with the Senate's original hate crimes bill, SB 12. That meant they avoided any public debate on the matter. They also approved the amendment in a voice vote, meaning there's no record of how each representative voted.

After Holcomb signed the bill into law, Jessica Gall, co-interim regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Midwest, sent a statement saying that SEA 198 will not remove Indiana from the list.

“As we have consistently stated, ADL does not consider SB 198 to be an adequate hate crimes law,” she said. “The failure to explicitly list gender identity, gender, or sex is unacceptable.”

The ADL keeps an ongoing list of all 50 states and the District of Columbia regarding how each protects race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity. They list five - including Indiana - that do not have a hate crimes law. Of the 46 (45 states plus the District of Columbia) they say do have a hate crimes law, 27 do not protect gender identity and 14 don't protect gender. Sixteen don't protect sexual orientation and/or disability, which Indiana's new law does expressly include in its list of protected classes.

SEA 198 will allow a judge to consider in sentencing whether the crime was committed based on a victim’s “perceived characteristic, trait, belief, association or other attribute the court choose.” And it refers to a list already in Indiana law which lists “color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation” as forms of bias, but does not mention age, gender and gender identity.

Bosma said this law will include everyone and will be upheld by judges. He told reporters Thursday that he does not care that Indiana will not get off the ADL’s list, and there are other groups that will take the state off the list of five, he said, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, which keeps a database on legislation regarding sentencing and corrections.

“I think they’re [the ADL] politically motivated to try to get certain words on a list,” Bosma said. “If they’re going to act with integrity, then they will take Indiana off the list, and if not, we’ll ignore that list and look at the NCSL list.”

Indiana elections: Gerrymandering, absentee ballots and more

The Indiana Coalition for Independent Redistricting spent weeks urging lawmakers to set up an independent citizens’ commission to redraw legislative districts instead of the General Assembly. Leaders in the coalition, including Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, said a commission will help curb partisan gerrymandering across the state by acting as a “check and balance on legislative maps.”

Coalition members pointed to Senate Bill 91 as the solution because of its proposed nine-member commission, which would have consisted of members from the general public and appointees selected by lawmakers. SB 91 died after it wasn’t heard in committee.

The bill that did progress in the coalition’s favor— Senate Bill 105, authored by Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, and approved by the Senate in a close 26-23 vote — is now nearing expiration as it awaits a hearing in the House Elections and Apportionment Committee. SB 105 offers standards for redistricting that denounce partisan gerrymandering, but still leaves district drawing up to elected lawmakers.

Lawmakers also weighed new procedures for elections, including:

  • A bill to change the deadline to receive absentee ballots from eight days before an election to 12. The measure, House Bill 1311, passed out of the House in a 63-28 vote and the Senate 37-9 and is now headed back to the House with amendments to be discussed.
  • Bills designed to address cybersecurity and election integrity, including Senate Bill 558 by Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, continue to be discussed. SB 558, which addresses everything from two-factor verification and long waiting times at polling places, is awaiting action in the Senate after it unanimously passed the House.

Dozens of education bills

Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, told lawmakers this week that he tracked an estimated 190 education bills introduced at the start of session.

But not all measures are poised to benefit schools and the students they serve, he said.

“When we started the session there were 190 bills on K-12 education, and when we crossed over, we were down to 78,” Spradlin said. “Why do we need that many new laws? This is an example of what we really don’t need.”

While many education bills are still under review, Holcomb recently signed a handful into law, including House Bill 1005, which will allow Indiana’s governor to appoint the state’s top education leader for the first time in 2021 instead of 2025.

The following bills are still up for discussion:

  • House Bill 1003, now awaiting a vote in the Senate, asks schools to spend no less than 85 percent of their annual budgets on education expenses, which includes dollars for teacher salaries. The lawmakers behind the bill hope this will encourage schools to reserve more money for teachers. But it’s also faced criticism from Jennifer McCormick, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, who said the rule will benefit some districts and harm “the majority” of others.
  • Seymour Republican Jim Lucas’ bill to permit school corporations to help train teachers to carry firearms in the classroom advanced out of committee this week, with advocates for and against the issue weighing handgun use as an option to protect students from school shootings. The program would accept teachers on a voluntary basis and is one of several bills designed to address school security this session. It awaits Senate action.

Gaming changes imminent

Senate Bill 552, authored by Republican Sens. Mark Messmer of Jasper and Jon Ford of Terre Haute, would alter Indiana’s gambling landscape by legalizing wagering on sporting events. But the provisions in the bill that got the most attention dealt with attempts by Spectacle Entertainment to move one of its two Gary-area casino licenses from the shores of Lake Michigan inland closer to the interstates.

The current version of the bill, which is expected to be heard in the House Ways and Means Committee next week, would require Spectacle to pay $100 million to move its casino inland and would open the second license to a competitive bidding process in order to move it to Terre Haute.

Abortion bill head for approval

The Senate passed a bill 38-10 prohibiting a form of second trimester abortions, with Democrats warning the law is an abuse of power.

House Bill 1211 was authored by Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, and would prohibit second trimester “dismemberment” abortions, which is graphically described in the bill’s language.

This is medically defined as a dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedure and is the most common method for a second trimester abortion. Still, it remains rare. This procedure made up 0.35 percent of the 7,778 abortions performed in Indiana during 2017, according to the state Department of Health.

All other anti-abortion laws the General Assembly passed since 2013 have been blocked by federal judges. The bill heads to the House for final approval. A lawsuit to block the law is expected if it is approved and signed by the governor.

Criminal justice bills

Lawmakers have spent weeks on a series of crime bills that would add stiffer punishments for some offenses and, in some cases, ask the state to correct flaws in the justice system.

Perhaps the biggest victory will be for individuals wrongfully convicted of a crime. Thanks to House Bill 1150, citizens who are found “actually innocent” by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute after serving punishment for a crime could be eligible for monetary compensation. However, the exonerated person must drop any lawsuits against the parties that wrongfully convicted them, and those who already won a lawsuit cannot apply for compensation.

HB 1150 is awaiting action in the Senate. Its author, Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, has championed the issue for several years without success.

Other crime-related proposals include:

  • A bill co-authored by Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, would compensate victims of fertility fraud and heighten punishments for the crime. The measure, Senate Bill 174, would allow victims to collect up to $10,000 in damages. It awaits a final vote in the House.
  • Senate Bill 243, should it become law, could categorize so-called “revenge porn” as a class A misdemeanor offense. This bill follows several reported cases of people distributing intimate images of their partner without their consent in an attempt to intimidate or harass them. It awaits a final vote in the House.

Payday loans get another hearing

When Senate Bill 613 advanced in a contentious 26-23 vote in the Senate with provisions that would reduce caps on payday loan lenders, allowing new types of loans with high annual percentage rates (APRs), Indiana’s religious leaders and activists cried foul.

Retired U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. James Bauerle of the Indiana Military Veterans Coalition, for example, said his organization opposed SB 613 “and its new range of grotesque, usurious loans that trap borrowers in a debt crisis.”

The bill was discussed in the House Financial Institutions in late March , during which Chair Woody Burton, R-Greenwood, said the committee is seeking a compromise that promotes loan products with government oversight without “giving away the store.” Burton introduced the state’s first payday lending law in 2004 and will oversee the bill’s next hearing, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in committee room 156-C.

This content was reproduced from TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College. WTHR.com staff contributed to portions of this article.