Child Safety and Welfare 2012 Session concludes: Smoking Ban, Funding for Full-day Kindergarten, other key issues...

2012 Session concludes: Smoking Ban, Funding for Full-day Kindergarten, other key issues pass

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The 2012 session of the Indiana General Assembly ended early Saturday morning. With 27 bills already delivered to the governor and signed into law, many more measures were approved on Friday and are now on their way to his office. Read below for highlights of important legislation that came before the 2012 General Assembly:

New Enrolled Acts

RIGHT TO WORK:
House Enrolled Act 1001, the so-called “Right to Work” bill, was approved by the General Assembly early in the 2012 legislative session and signed immediately by the governor. In the Senate, an unorthodox schedule was employed to get the House bill through the chamber. The law bans unions from requiring any employees to pay union fees. Questions were raised regarding the substance and impact of the bill as well as the shortcuts and limited debate by which the legislation was moved through the process. Democrats also contend “Right to Work” states generally pay lower wages and include fewer benefits, affecting all employees in the state and local economies.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING:
Senate Enrolled Act 4 strengthens the state’s human trafficking laws by eliminating loopholes and making it easier to prosecute offenders with the removal of a requirement to prove force or fraud. The legislation also includes a clause that blocks offenders from citing consent as a defense. Penalties are increased with new language geared to protect children specifically, stating that any person who recruits, harbors, or transports a child less than 16 years of age with the intent of engaging the child in forced labor, involuntary servitude, prostitution or sexual conduct commits promotion of human trafficking of a minor, a Class B felony punishable by six to 20 years in prison. Further, the new law makes it illegal for any adult to sell or transfer custody of a child for sexual activity, expanding old law that only applied to a child’s parent, guardian or custodian.
INVESTMENTS WITH IRAN:
The governor signed into law Senate Enrolled Act 231, which limits state dollars from investment activities with Iran. The bill restricts agencies of state government, state educational institutions and political subdivisions from investing with persons or financial institutions that invest in Iran. This legislation also requires the Indiana Department of Administration to make public a list of people who engage in such investment activities. Those companies that find themselves on Indiana’s list will be prohibited from renewing or starting new contracts with any state department.

Enrolled acts; Sent to governor

SMOKING BAN:
House Enrolled Act 1149, the statewide smoking ban, is on its way to the governor for final consideration. The ban would cover most public places, including restaurants, and would permit cities, towns and counties to pass stricter standards. The final version of Indiana’s first statewide smoking ban would exempt bars and taverns, private and fraternal clubs, established cigar and hookah bars and gaming facilities.
NEPOTISM:
House Enrolled Act 1005, legislation aimed at deterring nepotism and conflicts of interest in local government, is heading for the governor’s desk. The act will prohibit public workers from hiring family members. In addition, the proposal will prevent firefighters, police officers, park officials and other municipal employees from serving in an elected position on a county council or board of commissioners that sets agency budgets and salaries. The legislation stipulates that upon election, public officers will have to resign their employed position to serve in the elected office.
SCHOOL FUNDING OF TRANSPORTATION:
House Enrolled Act 1134 would prevent school corporations from charging a fee to parents or students for transportation to and from school. However, a fee may be charged for transportation to and from an athletic, social or other school sponsored function.
HOME ENERGY COSTS:
Home energy costs would be more affordable for low income families under House Enrolled Act 1141, which gained approval in the Indiana General Assembly in the final week of the legislative session. The legislation repeals the sales tax exemption for home energy acquired through the federal low income home energy assistance block grant program (LIHEAP). The exemption would be offset with funding from the federal mortgage robo-signing settlement reached earlier this year.
RIGHT TO RESIST UNLAWFUL POLICE ENTRY:
Senate Enrolled Act 1 would establish guidelines under which a person may defend against unlawful police entry in rare circumstances. This legislation is in response to Barnes v. Indiana, a state Supreme Court decision handed down in 2011.  In Barnes, the Court ruled 3-2 that Indiana will not recognize the ‘Castle Doctrine,’ which is the common-law right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by a public servant into a citizen’s residence. Public outcry over the ruling prompted lawmakers to review current law regarding this issue. Concerns have been expressed on how the law may be interpreted by citizens that could lead to dangerous scenarios for both the citizens and law enforcement officers.

INHERITANCE TAX PHASE-OUT:
Senate Enrolled Act 293 would provide for a 10 year phase-out of the state inheritance tax beginning in 2013. It would also reclassify a number of beneficiaries and increase the inheritance tax exemption amounts.
EXCESS RESERVE FUND USAGE:
House Enrolled Act 1376 would change how the state handles surplus revenue.  The act would increase the trigger for use of excess reserves to 12.5 percent (rather than 10 percent under current law) of general revenue appropriations for the state fiscal year. The proposal also specifies that if the amount of the excess reserves is less than $100 million, all of the excess reserves shall be transferred to the Pension Stabilization Fund; and if the amount of the excess reserves is $100 million or more, 50 percent of the excess reserves shall be transferred to the Pension Stabilization Fund and 50 percent of the excess reserves shall be used for the purposes of providing an automatic taxpayer refund. In addition, this legislation includes $6 million in additional compensation for victims of the 2011 Indiana State Fair tragedy, and additional funding for full-day kindergarten.
CHILD SUPPORT:
Senate Enrolled Act 18  would provide that the duty to support a child, which does not include support for educational needs, would cease when the child reaches 19 years of age. Under current statute, child support payments must be paid until children reach the age of 21. The legislation would not affect parents currently providing child support and it would become effective July 1, 2012.
ABSENTEE BALLOTS:
Senate Enrolled Act 175 would require the Election Commission to modify the absentee ballot application form to request that a voter provide the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number or state that the voter does not have a Social Security number. Further, the act provides that a voter’s failure to provide the requested information would not affect the voter’s ability to receive an absentee ballot. This legislation also urges the Legislative Council to assign to a study committee during the 2012 legislative interim the topics of ballot security for an absentee ballot transmitted to and from a voter by mail and connection of the statewide voter registration list and files maintained by the Department of State Revenue.
PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTIONS FOR HIGH-TECH DISTRICTS:
Senate Enrolled Act 302 would assist companies by providing property tax exemptions for data storage centers. DATA Realty recently broke ground in South Bend on a $14 million data center. This legislation would permit entities who lease space in a high technology district area to take advantage of the personal property tax exemption. Because data centers often locate in close proximity to each other, it is anticipated that this legislation would encourage more private sector investment and therefore create more high paying jobs in places like St. Joseph County.
STAGE EQUIPMENT REGULATION:
Senate Enrolled Act 273 addresses the Indiana State Fair tragedy that occurred when a concert stage collapsed, killing seven people and seriously injuring dozens of others. This legislation  would require that outdoor stage structures be treated, for safety regulation purposes, as other public buildings or structures, and new rules for this regulation be enacted by the Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission. The legislation would establish minimum state standards for construction and inspection of these types of temporary stage structures. Local officials would be able to maintain their own inspection procedures so long as they comply with the minimum standards set forth by the state. The act would also establish an interim study committee to review two related reports on the State Fair tragedy expected in coming months.

LITTLE CALUMET RIVER LEVEE FUNDING: House Enrolled Act 1264 addresses the flooding issues on the Little Calumet River and would establish a funding mechanism for needed repairs along the river basin.  Repairs would be overseen by a new Little Calumet River Basin Project Advisory Board. Under the act property owners in the boundary area would contribute to the repair and maintenance funding through an annual special assessment based on the property classification for all parcels of land within the Little Calumet River and Burns Waterway watershed in Lake County. For residential properties, the assessment would be $45 per year. The repairs and improvements would help curtail rising flood insurance costs for property owners and spur economic development in the area by minimizing risk of future flooding, damage and costs.

CHILD ABUSE EDUCATION:
Senate Enrolled Act 267, also known as “Erin’s Law,” would require the Department of Education to work with the Department of Child Services and other organizations to provide the public school system with a curriculum to educate teachers, school personnel and children about child sexual abuse and how to report suspected abuse of students. The Department of Education would provide schools with education materials, response policies and reporting procedures for grades two through five.
BATH SALTS AND SYNTHETIC DRUGS:
House Enrolled Act 1196 would help to restrain the local distribution of synthetic drugs–including “bath salts”–by banning more types of compounds that can be used as synthetic substitutes. By expanding the definition of synthetic drugs to include certain chemical compounds that are structurally related to already-listed synthetic drugs, this legislation would close loopholes that have allowed drug producers to find ways around the law.
INDIANA “LIFELINE BILL”:
Senate Enrolled Act 274 would provide immunity to callers seeking emergency assistance for another person in an alcohol-related emergency, alleviating fear of penalties for alcohol-related offenses for the caller. The legislation specifies that immunity would be provided to callers in instances of public intoxication or underage possession, consumption or transportation of an alcoholic beverage. People that drive under the influence of alcohol, are in possession of drugs or who act disorderly with emergency personnel would not be immune from penalties.
SENTENCING AND CRIMINAL HISTORY:
Under House Enrolled Act 1033, persons with a class D felony, after serving three years, could appeal to the court to have the crime reduced to class A misdemeanor. The felony reduction would only occur if the person in question was not a sex or violent offender, the crime was a non-violent offense, the person had not been convicted of perjury or misconduct or  the person has not been convicted of a new felony. Additionally, this legislation would provide that if the person is convicted of a felony within five years after the appeal, the prosecutor could petition to have the misdemeanor converted back to a felony.
MOTOR BOAT OPERATION:
Indiana currently has no law to address operating a motorboat under the influence of illegal drugs. Senate Enrolled Act 154 would make operating a boat under the influence of a schedule I or II controlled substance a Class C misdemeanor, bringing the penalty in line with automobile laws.
HEALTH CARE COMPACT:
House Enrolled Act 1269 would allow states to join together to create a health care compact in an effort to shift Medicaid and Medicare from federal to state control. The act has been very controversial this session with opponents having expressed numerous concerns, including the potential cost of $10-15 billion to implement the legislation. If approved by the governor, the act would require the consent of the U.S. Congress before the state legislature of each member state could have the primary responsibility to regulate health care in the member states’ jurisdiction. The legislation would allow member states of the compact to supersede all federal laws, regulations and orders concerning health care that are inconsistent with the laws and regulations adopted by the member state under the compact.

Recommended interim study committees

LAND BANKS:
House Enrolled Act 1249 would establish a summer study committee on the topic of land banks, which are groupings of abandoned or foreclosed properties owned by municipalities. The objective of the summer study committee would be to make improvements to how the state handles land banks so that it can move properties out of tax sales in a timelier manner. State Senator Jean Breaux sponsored the legislation in hopes of expediting the process in order to return these properties to the marketplace, increase the quality of neighborhoods and provide people with more options for safe and affordable housing.
EARLY EDUCATION:
Senate Enrolled Act 268 would require the Indiana Education Roundtable to establish an advisory committee on early education comprised of experts and advocates from around the state to provide input as to the necessary steps that need to be taken to improve educational outcomes for the children in Indiana. Under this legislation, members of the committee would provide professional and technical assistance to the Indiana Education Roundtable, a state board of key education, business, community and government leaders charged with ensuring that the state has world class academic standards for student learning.

Defeated Legislation

CHILD CARE SAFETY:
An amendment introduced in the Senate to House Bill 1136 would have standardized basic health and safety requirements for all child care facilities in the state, including those privately run by a church or other organization, such as child care ministries. This amendment would have required that all facilities comply with state standards, such as a minimum age for supervisors and fire code requirements, in order to receive funding under the federal Child Care and Development Fund voucher program. Currently, ministries that provide day care for children are not required to operate under state requirements already in place for licensed day care facilities.
SCHOOL FUNDING:
An amendment to House Bill 1376 that would have placed $150 million back into the school funding formula was rejected along party lines in the Senate.  The amendment, proposed by State Senator John Broden, was offered as a response to the governor’s recent cuts to education funding and the administration’s discovery of $320 million in misplaced state tax revenue. The measure would have used just part of the lost money to put funds back into schools like those in the South Bend School Corporation, which have experienced cuts of $11 million on top of cuts of $8 million last year.