Education Senate hits committee report deadline

Senate hits committee report deadline

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The Indiana Senate has reached the deadline for legislation to be heard by various standing committees. By next week, all proposals must be considered by the full Senate and sent to the House of Representatives for additional consideration. Bills approved in the House of Representatives will then move to the Senate.

Corporate income, business personal property tax cuts

Legislation that would further reduce Indiana’s corporate income tax rate and provide an exemption from business personal property tax for taxpayers with less than $25,000 in assessed value passed the Senate. Senate Bill (SB) 1 would further reduce the corporate income tax rate from 6.5% in 2015 to 4.9% by 2019 at a cost of $370 million through state revenue losses by 2020. The proposal provides that if the assessed value of a taxpayer’s business personal property is less than $25,000, they would be exempt from paying the tax. At this point, there is nothing in the bill that replaces the $54 million in property tax revenue that local governments, schools and other taxpayers will lose. In addition, the bill would eliminate the college contribution tax credit, along with several other credits. SB 1 was approved by the Senate with a vote of 35-11. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Differing priorities

Senate Democrats proposed a number of amendments to the measure, including language reducing the fiscal impact the tax cut would inflict on local governments and schools and stripping the tax cut from the bill, instead using the resources to provide access to early childhood education for every Hoosier child. In offering the preschool amendment, Sen. Skinner argued it would be as beneficial an investment in Indiana’s long term future and pay higher dividends in the form of higher graduation rates, lower incarceration rates and a more educated future workforce. The amendments were defeated along party lines.

Trespassing on agricultural property

The Senate approved legislation dealing with criminal trespassing on agricultural operations after removing controversial language in the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law. Also referred to as the “ag-gag” bill, SB 101 in its original form would have banned secret photography and videotaping of farming operations. After lengthy testimony in the committee, and opposition from the media, free speech advocates, and safe workplace concerns, the proposal was amended to make it a crime to trespass on agricultural property or farming operations and cause property damages of $750 – $50,000. The bill makes the crime a Level 6 felony, which is the same for offenses on school properties, churches and other institutions. The final version of SB 101 was approved by the Senate with a vote of 41-5. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Decriminalization of marijuana update

An initiative championed by State Senator Karen Tallian would decriminalize marijuana in Indiana by lessening the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. After sustained public interest in seeing the bill receive a hearing to start a public debate on the issue, SB 314 was assigned to the Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law and did not receive a hearing this session.

Following extensive testimony and review during a 2011 study committee, the proposal’s goal is to reduce criminal penalties for personal possession of small amounts of marijuana. The impact could also mean less state and local criminal justice resources being spent on marijuana-related arrests, prosecution and sentences.

School funding flexibility

A number of bills dealing with school debt restructuring have gained Senate approval. The bills target SB 143 specifies that a school corporation may adopt a resolution before January 1, 2019, to use certain debt restructuring statutes if the property tax circuit breaker credit impact for the school corporation is at least 20 percent of the tax levies it collects. Under current law, schools were able to adopt a resolution by December 31, 2013, to refinance up to 50 percent of their existing bonds for a period not to exceed 10 years. SB 143 would extend the deadline to December 31, 2018. Bonds that could be refinanced would be limited to those issued before January 1, 2009. Additional school corporations could decide to refinance bonds under this proposal. While the annual property tax levy would not be any higher during the original term of the bond, the levy could be extended by up to 10 years. SB 143 was approved unanimously by the Senate. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Under the passage of SB 163, school corporations would receive further spending flexibility when needed. Schools across the state are suffering under the caps placed on property taxes. This proposal would provide these school districts some flexibility they need to fund vital areas of operation such as transportation. As amended in committee, SB 163 would allow a school corporation that experiences at least a 20 percent loss to its transportation fund due to property tax caps in 2014, 2015, or 2016 to allocate those losses among all funds for that year. SB 163 was approved unanimously by the Senate. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Tanning beds

SB 50 was passed by the Senate, 30-17, prohibiting any person 16 years of age or younger from using a tanning device in a tanning facility. The International Agency for Research on Cancer moved tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category, “carcinogenic to humans” and increased the risk of melanoma by 75% when using tanning devices before the age of 30. This proposal eliminates the previous provision that allowed a person 16 years of age or younger to use a tanning device when accompanied by a parent or guardian. Tanning devices outside of a tanning facility, such as in a home, will not be monitored. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Cursive writing

SB 113, a bill mandating cursive writing, made its way back to the Senate Chamber and was approved with a vote of 39-9. This proposal requires all school corporations and accredited nonpublic elementary schools to include cursive writing in the curriculum. A bill similar to SB 113 made its way through the Senate last session, but was shut down when put before the House of Representatives. This year’s proposal has again been referred to the House of Representatives for their approval.

HJR 3

By a vote of 57-40, the House of Representatives approved a modified version of House Joint Resolution (HJR) 3, a controversial proposed amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage in Indiana. In earlier action, House members deleted a sentence in HJR 3 that would have banned civil unions and domestic partnerships. The resolution now only contains language to ban gay marriage in the state. The resolution advances to the State Senate where it could be changed again. By altering the amendment’s language, the approval process from two separately elected general assemblies would likely have to start over, which would delay the initiative from going to voters in November. With recent shifts in attitudes regarding gay marriage, opponents of the ban, including Eli Lilly, Cummins, IU Health and many universities around the state, are calling on lawmakers to defeat the legislation. According to a poll conducted last October by nonpartisan Ball State University and WISH-TV, 58 percent of Hoosiers oppose an amendment to the constitution banning same sex marriage. A ban on gay marriage is already in state law.

Gun buyback program

The Senate approved SB 229 by a close vote of 28-21, which would prohibit the destruction of any firearms in the possession of a law enforcement agency, unless the serial numbers of the firearms have been eliminated. Moreover, SB 229 would also bar local governments and police departments from holding gun buyback events. Instead, the initiative establishes a procedure to permit certain individuals whose firearms have been retained by law enforcement to have the firearms sold at auction and the proceeds returned to the individual. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.