Tuesday marked the halfway point of the 2013 legislative session as lawmakers scrambled to gain final approval of their proposals. Senate bills not making it through the chamber by Tuesday are considered dead for this session. Of the 619 Senate bills introduced this session, 213 are heading to the House for further consideration and 175 House-passed initiatives will be reviewed by the Senate. Bills must pass both chambers before going to the governor for possible signature into law. This brief summary highlights some of the action taken by the Senate thus far.
More flexibility for schools: School corporations would have the flexibility to pay for certain contracted services through their Capital Project Fund under SB 291. The bill, authored by Sen. Lindel Hume, provides that capital funds may be used for security, trash and snow removal, mowing, and lawn and pest control services. Currently, schools use General Fund appropriations to pay for these services, while Capital Project Funds only apply to building maintenance, repair, remodeling and technology. Providing this added flexibility will free up resources from school general funds that could go toward education as well as security measures to provide a safe environment for children.
In-state tuition for certain undocumented students: Co-authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, SB 207 provides that the current law prohibiting the resident tuition rate for individuals living in Indiana who are not U.S. citizens does not apply to those who were enrolled in state universities on or before July 1, 2011. About 200 students were affected, and this will allow them to finish school at in-state tuition rates.
School resource officers: Legislation aiding schools in hiring more police officers gained Senate approval. SB 1 specifies how a school resource officer program may be established and sets forth duties and responsibilities for school resource officers. The measure requires the officers to successfully complete the training requirements for law enforcement officers and receive 40 hours of certified school resource officer training. In addition, the bill allocates $10 million in state funding and will allow public schools to apply for matching grants to hire police officers.
School bus operator seatbelt training: SB 421 requires drivers of school buses equipped with seat belts to instruct students on the proper use of the seat belts and conduct at least one passenger evacuation drill. In addition, the bill provides that failure to provide the instruction and conduct the drill at least once a semester is cause for termination of the driver or cancellation of a school bus contract.
Curbing Absenteeism: Chronic absenteeism in schools is targeted under SB 338. The bill requires the State Department of Education to provide resources and guidance to school corporations concerning evidence-based practices and effective strategies to reduce absenteeism. Additionally, SB 338 further defines absenteeism and habitual truancy as well as requires schools to identify contributing factors to absenteeism and develop chronic absence reduction plans.
Common Core curriculum: Legislation evaluating Indiana’s use of national academic standards before they are implemented in Hoosier schools passed out of the Senate. SB 193 calls for public meetings on Common Core standards and for schools to hold off on any plans for implementation before standards are adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education. The measure to suspend participation in Common Core standards had both adamant supporters and opponents and now moves to the House for consideration.
A-F school grading system: A proposal supported by the state’s superintendent of public instruction that would have done away with Indiana’s contentious A to F school grading system was withdrawn by the bill’s author thus killing the proposal. SB 416 would have required the State Board of Education to establish new designations of school improvement based on the measurement of student growth as compared against established standard criteria. Although the bill is dead, a new school assessment system could still be included in similar legislation still moving through the process.
Crimes against children: Legislation aiming to protect victims of child abuse was unanimously approved by the Senate. The statute of limitations involving child sex crimes would be extended under SB 142. The legislation, authored by Sen. Frank Mrvan, provides that the statute of limitations for a civil action based on child sexual abuse must be commenced within the later of seven years after the cause of action accrues or four years after the victim ceases to be a dependent of the alleged abuser. Regarding criminal prosecution of certain sex offenses involving children from age 5, the bill allows criminal charges to be filed up to 10 years after the abuse ends or four years after the victim ceases to be a dependent of the alleged abuser.
Child fatality reviews: The Senate has approved SB 572, a bill that allows each county to determine whether to establish a Child Fatality Review Committee to investigate unexplained child deaths. Current law permits the organization of child fatality review teams on a regional basis only. Under SB 572, county officials could decide to have their own team, work with another county or continue using their regional team. In addition, the bill requires the State Department of Health to hire a coordinator to assist the Statewide Child Fatality Review Committee and provide oversight and assistance to local teams. The bill now proceeds to the House for further consideration.
Professional reporters of child abuse or neglect: SB 105 requires the Department of Child Services to act on all abuse or neglect reports received from judicial, police, medical or school personnel. The bill unanimously passed the Senate.
Committee on Child Services Oversight: Authored by Sen. John Broden, SB 125 establishes a task force charged with ensuring communication between governmental organizations dealing with child welfare issues, reviewing potential legislation and studying issues concerning vulnerable youth. The proposal was the result of recommendations offered by the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee, which heard extensive testimony on numerous issues concerning child welfare in the summer of 2012.
Child Care Regulation: SB 305 aims to ensure the safety of Hoosier children by requiring child care facilities to meet minimum safety standards in order to be eligible for state funding. Authored by Sen. Greg Taylor, SB 305 requires certain child care providers to obtain national criminal background checks for potential employees and sets forth a disciplinary process for out-of-compliance facilities.
Price preferences for veteran businesses: Providing our veterans with good-paying jobs and paths to successful business ownership is an important way of showing our gratitude for their sacrifices. SB 564, co-authored by Sen. Frank Mrvan, requires each state agency to set a goal of at least 10 percent veteran-owned business participation in state contracts and provides that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation help determine which purchases of supplies or services could be designated for veteran-owned small businesses.
Work Councils: Co-authored by Sen. John Broden, SB 465, establishes an Indiana Works Council in various regions of the state to assess local technical and vocational job opportunities available to high school graduates. Each council would assess career and educational needs within its region and be responsible for submitting, before November 1, 2013, a comprehensive evaluation of the career, technical and vocational education opportunities available to high school students, particularly in areas that do not require a four-year college degree. The councils would then develop, subject to the approval of the Indiana State Board of Education, an alternative career, technical, or vocational educational curriculum for high school students in each region. The curriculum must offer students opportunities to pursue internships and apprenticeships, learn from qualified instructors, and have a goal of earning an industry certification, earning credits toward an associate degree, or establishing a career pathway to a high-wage, high-demand job available in each region.
Oversight of job creation incentives: Additional transparency and accountability regarding job creation under the Indiana Economic Development Council (IEDC) will be accomplished with the passage of SB 162. The IEDC is responsible for the state’s job creation endeavors, which have been called into question numerous times over the past several years by legislators and the media. The Senate-approved bill requires corporations receiving incentives to submit an annual progress report to the IEDC to include the projected number of employees hired, the amount of jobs actually created and an expected amount of financial investment. In addition, the bill provides that incentive funds would be revoked if the company did not meet conditions specified in the incentive contract.
Health care coverage expansion: Senate Democrats were unsuccessful in their attempts to amend legislation to expand the state’s Medicaid program. The amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 551 would have allowed for the expansion of the program for three years while the federal government pays 100 percent of the cost, which would have provided an additional 400,000 Hoosiers access to health care. The legislation, as currently written, would allow for the expansion only under the condition that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lets the state have a block grant to expand its Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP), a state-sponsored health insurance plan for low-income, uninsured Hoosiers. While the state awaits a response from the federal agency, the legislation was approved by a vote of 34-16. Negotiations on the bill will continue as it moves through the process.
Abortion inducing drugs: Two pieces of legislation affecting women’s reproductive health gained approval, largely along party lines, at the midway point of the legislative session. The main provision in SB 371 mandates certain medical procedures be performed before and after a pill-induced abortion. The bill also expands the definition of abortion clinics to include facilities that provide abortion inducing medications and sets forth the procedure a physician must follow. SB 371 passed the Senate by a mostly party-line vote of 33-15.
Abortion forms: SB 489 requires women undergoing an abortion to be given information on the procedure from the State Department of Health. A provision in the bill also mandates that such information be printed specifically in color. Additionally, the proposal requires women seeking such a procedure to waive the required fetal heart tone and fetal ultrasound imaging set out by law if they do not wish to participate in that step of the process.
Gaming: To better compete with increased gaming in bordering states, Indiana’s racinos would be allowed to expand to include table games and riverboat casinos could become land-based under SB 528. The controversial bill also includes changes in the distribution of gaming revenue to communities throughout the state. Approved by the Senate by a vote of 32-18, the bill is expected to go through additional changes in the House.
Farmland assessment process: Legislation that will freeze the assessment process on farmland at the 2011 level gained unanimous approval of both chambers and awaits final consideration by the governor. SB 319, coauthored by Sen. Richard Young, calls for a one year delay on a new formula used to assess farmland by the state Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) that would have dramatically increased property taxes on all farmland throughout the state. Passage of the legislation will allow DLGF to conduct a one year study on all of the factors considered in determining the formula in an effort to more accurately assess farmland. SB 319 sailed through both chambers and is the first bill to reach the governor.
Rockport synthetic natural gas plant: Legislation gained Senate approval that would require the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to review a contract between the Indiana Finance Authority (IFA) and a producer of synthetic natural gas. Senate Bill 510 requires the IFA to determine on a three year cycle if retail end use customers are provided a guarantee of savings or a savings shortfall under a contract. Supporters of the bill believe it provides fairness to rate-payers who will see benefits in three years instead of possible benefits in 30 years. Opposition claims that this bill could cause the Rockport project to become un-financeable and cites the fact that Rockport citizens support the plant.
Photographing agricultural and industrial operations: Senate Bill 373 makes it unlawful to take photos or videos of agricultural or industrial operations without consent from the owner. The initiative establishes a defense if a person records evidence of illegal activity if the information is passed along to law enforcement within 48 hours. Opponents of the bill expressed concerns that a provision making it a Class B misdemeanor to pass along any evidence to the media may have an impact on First Amendment rights.
Protecting seniors: A proposal designed to protect Hoosiers age 60 and older from financial exploitation is moving through the process. Authored by Sen. Tim Lanane, SB 382 creates the Senior Consumer Protection Act and provides that financial exploitation of senior citizens includes control over properties or illegal misuse of assets through fraud, extortion or intimidation. Individuals caught committing these acts would have their assets frozen, be issued an injunction and have to pay investigation or prosecution costs. In addition, the bill authorizes the Indiana Attorney General to take action to protect seniors from dissipation of assets. The proposal increases civil penalty costs from $50 to up to $5,000 per violation. Violations of trust including spouses, children, and attorneys would result in stiffer penalties.
Combat to College: As many veterans struggle to make the transition from combat to civilian life, lawmakers are considering legislation that will help veterans obtain a college degree. SB 115 will require state universities to establish a “Combat to College Program.” The legislation, coauthored by Sen. Richard Young, requires universities to provide a centralized location for admissions, registration and financial services; reasonable accommodations for disabled veteran students; the development of programs to provide academic guidance specifically for veterans as well as access to counseling services or resources for disabled veteran students and those veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Among other provisions, the bill requires universities to provide postsecondary credit for military training based upon recommendations by the American Council of Education.
Service skills to job training: SB 290 provides that the Emergency Medical Services Commission shall issue a license or certificate to a military service applicant who meets certain requirements. Authored by Sen. Lindel Hume, the bill would allow the commission to issue a temporary practice certificate or provisional license while the military service applicant is satisfying certain requirements as determined by the commission.