Environment Week 14 at the Indiana General Assembly

Week 14 at the Indiana General Assembly

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Legislative business resumed in the House of Representatives this week upon the return of House Democrats ending a five week dispute over a legislative agenda they considered harmful to Indiana workers and public schools. As a result of the walkout however, House leaders reached a bi-partisan compromise with concessions made by both sides. A few of the provisions of the compromise included removing from consideration legislation that would have placed unnecessary restrictions on workers’ rights to unionize as well as legislation that would have placed a permanent ban on public employee bargaining agreements. Regarding education proposals, the compromise included tabling legislation that would have allowed for private takeover of public schools, and placing limits on private school vouchers.

Facing a session deadline of April 29, lawmakers are now moving forward on key issues including a new two-year state budget and a redistricting plan of the state’s legislative and congressional boundaries. There is a lot of optimism that session will conclude on time. The following brief summary highlights recent Senate and House action and other Statehouse activities.

Budget update

The House had over 300 amendments introduced for consideration to the state budget proposal, House Bill (HB) 1001. House Democrats offered most of the proposals, some of which called for additional spending for health care and mass transit. Most of the amendments were defeated. Democrats also attempted to protect funding for public schools, many of which will see more than five percent cuts under the plan, largely in urban and rural districts. On Wednesday evening, the House approved the Republican budget plan on a party-line vote of 60-37.

 

While budget negotiations were being conducted in the House, about 400 seniors rallied outside the chamber to protest against proposed cuts to the state’s Community and Home Options to Institutional Care for the Elderly and Disabled program (CHOICE). CHOICE offers in-home health care services that help to keep the state’s aging and disabled population in their homes as opposed to nursing homes. The CHOICE waiting list has grown significantly and includes approximately 5,000 eligible applicants.

In a recent budget hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, members heard from representatives of the State Student Assistance Commission of Indiana (SSACI) who reported that about 30 percent of students funded by the state’s 21st Century Scholars program no longer have financial need at the time of high school graduation. SSACI recommended that the committee consider changes to the program to include allowing a student to be disqualified if they no longer meet income requirements, and increasing the minimum GPA requirement from 2.0 to 2.5. Changes to the program, which helps low and moderate income families afford a college education for their children, would affect new applicants.

Private school vouchers
The House approved HB 1003, which pertains to private school vouchers, and was one of the contentious bills on which House Democrats fought successfully to gain compromises. Vouchers redirect the state funds for a child’s education from a public school to pay for tuition and fees at a private school. As part of negotiations, the current bill limits eligibility to families with reduced incomes, instead of families at any income level as was included in the original bill. Vouchers would be available to families with no more than an income level at 150 percent of the threshold to qualify for free or reduced lunches. For example, a family of four with an income of $61,000 would be eligible for 50 percent of private school tuition. Families at 100 percent of the income threshold would be eligible for 90 percent of the private school tuition. The bill passed the House by a vote of 56-42 and now advances to the Senate for its consideration. 

New law
The governor has signed House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1200 into law. This legislation seeks to protect the owners of brownfields and provides immunity for certain surficial activities. Brownfields are tracts of land that were the previous sites for industrial and commercial facilities and may have been contaminated by low concentrations of hazardous waste or pollution. HEA 1200 will protect new owners of this type of property, no more than one acre in size, who install pavement, another hard surface or landscaping, so that they do not incur any additional liability under environmental management laws. To see a complete list of bills signed into law, visit http://www.in.gov/gov/billwatch.htm

Upcoming deadlines

April 12             Deadline for Senate committee hearings on House bills

April 15             Deadline for Senate to consider House bills

April 29             By law, session must conclude business and adjourn by midnight

To stay informed about bills moving through the General Assembly or to track legislation, log on to www.in.gov/legislative. From this site, you can also watch House and Senate committee hearings and session floor debate.