Education 2014 session concludes | A look at key issues

2014 session concludes | A look at key issues

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The 2014 session of the Indiana General Assembly ended March 13 with a number of proposals already sent to the governor for his consideration. Read below for highlights of important legislation that came before the Indiana General Assembly.

Education_issues

Pre-K initiative

The Senate Democrats’ highest legislative priority, the General Assembly signed off on Indiana’s first state-funded preschool program. HEA 1004 creates a five-county pre-kindergarten pilot program, enrolling as many as 3,000 4-year-olds. The pilot program will be open to families earning up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 for a family of four and will utilize $10 million in reversions from the state budget and up to another $5 million in contributions. Democrats in final negotiations succeeded in removing a provision linking the preschool pilot to the state’s controversial K12 voucher program. The measure includes a longitudinal study tied to the pilot program.

Senate Democrats argued that a quality preschool option is a critical part of ensuring that Hoosier children get a head start on education and develop the skills to be lifelong learners. Until the bill is signed into law, Indiana is one of only 9 states that do not provide state funding for pre-K programs after Mississippi rolled out a state-funded option earlier this year.

High school athletes and concussions

High school student athletes would be required to be removed from play because of a suspected concussion or head injury for at least 24 hours under SEA 222. Current law stipulates that a student athlete may not return to play until the athlete has been evaluated by, and has received written clearance from, a licensed and properly trained health care provider. Under the act, athletes suffering head injuries will also have to sit out the required 24 hours. Additionally, the legislation would require high school and youth football coaches to take concussion awareness courses at least once every two years beginning July 1, 2014. The act also stipulates, except in cases of gross negligence, that a coach who completes the required coaching certification training would not be held personally liable if an athlete under the coach’s supervision suffers a concussion or head injury. Some concerns about the act center round the cost of the program and who would pay. The National Federation of High School Associations certification program is available on-line for a $10 fee. USA Football also has a certification program consisting of two levels. Level 1 costs $25, which includes membership in USA Football. Level 2 consists of age-specific courses for ages 6 to 14 and the cost is $10 per course. According to a USA Football spokesman who testified on behalf of the bill, the money would be used to build the infrastructure of the online education course. USA Football also includes training for “Heads Up Football,” a national initiative supported by the NFL and more than two dozen other entities to promote safety.

Guns on school property

Controversial legislation gained approval that will now allow individuals who legally possess a firearm to keep it in a motor vehicle parked in a school parking lot as long as the firearm is locked in the vehicle out of plain sight. Under current law, it is a felony to possess a firearm on school property. However, with the passage of SEA 229, this penalty is eliminated as long as the firearm is locked in the trunk, glove box or out of plain sight in the vehicle. If persons in legal possession of a firearm leave the firearm in plain view in the vehicle while on school property, they would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

In addition, SB 229 allows law enforcement agencies to sell confiscated firearms to the general public at auction. Only individuals who are lawfully allowed to own firearms could make purchases. Proceeds from these sales would be used by the agency for the purchase or maintenance of firearms, ammunition, protective vests, and other law enforcement equipment. Another provision provides that a firearm scheduled to be destroyed can be sold to a salvage company where it can be dismantled for parts, scrap metal, recycling, or for resale as parts for other firearms.

Common Core

Indiana would discontinue using Common Core standards adopted in 2010 under SEA 91. Agreed upon by the governors and school superintendents of 45 states as a unified attempt to establish similar standards and requirements for all schools, the standards detail what K-12 students should learn by the end of each grade level. SEA 91 would require the State Board of Education to adopt new standards by July 1, 2014. Supporters believe Indiana should have better standards. Opponents argue that program implementation thus far has cost the state about $24 million and passage of the bill would hurt many schools that have significantly invested in teaching Common Core standards for the past several years. The legislation also authorizes the State Board of Education and Indiana Department of Education to administer the ISTEP assessment or a comparable assessment aligned to the new standards in the 2015-2016 school year. The new assessment must be signed off on by the state budget committee.

Lifeline Law

Legislation providing legal protection for anyone under age 21 who calls 911 to report a medical emergency that involves alcohol, a possible drug overdose or a sexual assault has gained unanimous support in both chambers. Aimed at protecting lives, SEA 227 is an expansion of legislation enacted in 2012 referred to as the Lifeline Law, which provides immunity to those who call 911 to report an alcohol-related medical emergency, such as alcohol poisoning. SEA 227 provides that a person is immune from arrest or prosecution for certain alcohol offenses if the arrest or prosecution is due to the person reporting a medical emergency, being the victim of a sex offense or witnessing and reporting what the person believes to be a crime. The bill includes provisions to allow first responders and other emergency professionals on the scene to administer an overdose intervention drug to a person suffering an overdose. Other portions of the bill provide for several studies and evaluations to be conducted on crimes of sexual and domestic violence. The provisions set forth in SEA 227 become effective July 1, 2014.

Industrial hemp

Subject to federal approval, SEA 357 would authorize the State Seed Commissioner at Purdue University to license the cultivation and production of industrial hemp in Indiana. Although related to marijuana, hemp does not contain the intoxicating qualities of its cousin. During World War II, Indiana was a leader in hemp production when it was used for making rope. Today, hemp is used in the manufacturing of various products, including plastics, paper, food, textiles, construction materials, auto manufacturing materials, beauty products and medicines. However, hemp is expensive because it must be imported from other countries, like Canada and China.
The original proposal, authored by Sen. Richard Young, passed the Senate by a unanimous vote. However, the House of Representatives added language during the committee process that would regulate the storage of various domestic transportation fuels, like fuels containing ethanol. That portion of the bill was later removed during the conference committee process. Passage of this bill will allow Indiana to move quickly to promote the growth and marketing of industrial hemp.

Law enforcement cultural diversity and U-Visa training

Authored by Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, SEA 343 requires law enforcement agencies to provide training on cultural diversity and U non-immigrant Visas (U-Visas). The use of the U-Visa will benefit those who do not hold legal status in the United States and are victims of violent crimes. An understanding of the U-Visa process by law enforcement officers is important as certification of a victim’s cooperation by an officer is a prerequisite to a victim’s application for U-Visa status with the federal government. U-Visas would not serve as a shortcut to citizenship, but instead a vehicle for cooperation. Law enforcement agencies would be educated on the purpose of U-Visas and their role as an authorizer. Law enforcement officers would only be liable for indicating whether a victim was cooperative or are likely to be helpful in the future.

Hoosier women veterans program

SEA 354, advocated by Senator Richard Young, will establish the Hoosier Women Veterans Program to provide information and services to Indiana’s growing population of female veterans. The act will require the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) to implement the Hoosier Women Veterans Program and hire a women veterans coordinator under the supervision of the director of IDVA. The costs of the program and the compensation of the state coordinator will be funded using existing funds already allocated to IDVA. To help meet the needs of women veterans at a local level, the act also allows a county executive to appoint a county service officer for a four-year term.

The original proposal was weakened during the House committee process exclude language allocating new funds to IDVA to fund the women veterans coordinator position. The proposal was altered to include the language that states the program and coordinator will be funded only with available resources of the department. Against the wishes of supporters of the initiative, the proposal was weakened in the House when the “shall” requirements were changed to “may”, meaning IDVA will not be required implement the program until funds can be allocated. Additional funds will most likely have to be allocated to the department during the next budget process.

Statewide recycling goal

A proposal championed by Senator Mark Stoops will establish a state goal of recycling at least 50% of all municipal waste in Indiana and require Indiana recycling organizations to post periodic reports on their recycling efforts. HEA 1183 defines municipal waste as any garbage, refuse, industrial restroom waste, office waste or another similar material. The measure would also require all Indiana recycling organizations and businesses to submit an annual recycling activity report to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management beginning in 2015. Those reports would be shared with the public through the department’s website. The Department of Environmental Management would also be required to submit to the Environmental Quality Service Council an annual report summarizing the information contained in the recycling reports.

Sen. Stoops noted the amount of recyclable material that is simply being thrown away with garbage, and the need for Indiana to get on track with the rest of the nation since the state is ranked near the bottom in recycling efforts. The increased recycling efforts would create jobs, prevent environmental degradation and help make Indiana more efficient by capitalizing on the recyclable resources already in the state.

Tanning bed restrictions

A proposal heading to the governor’s desk would prohibit teens younger than 16 from using tanning beds. The International Agency for Research on Cancer had previously designated tanning beds in their highest cancer risk category – carcinogenic to humans. Any teens ages 16 and 17 will now be required to have a written note of permission from their parent or legal guardian in order to use a tanning bed.

Veteran treatment programs

In an effort to address the health needs specific to the growing Hoosier veteran population, SEA 180 establishes the Veterans Disability Clinic Fund and the Indiana Veteran Recovery Program and Fund. The programs are designed to assist veterans that have traumatic brain injuries or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Veterans Disability Clinic Fund will provide grants to qualified law schools that maintain a veteran disability clinic. The Indiana Veteran Recovery Program and Fund will provide certain services, such as medical treatments and counseling, for those veterans suffering from brain injuries or PTSD.

A statewide plan would also be created by the Brain Injury Rehabilitation and Community Living Commission to address the needs of individuals affected by a brain injury. Finally, this proposal will require the State Department of Health (ISDH) to study and report findings to the Legislative Council regarding the implementation of a program for treating Hoosier veterans that have a traumatic brain injury or PTSD.

Road funding

A last minute agreement will see the release of up to $400 million from the Major Moves 2020 Trust Fund created last year. Language contained in HEA 1002 would authorize the State Budget Agency to transfer before July 1, 2014, not more than $200 million from the Major Moves 2020 Trust Fund to the Major Moves Construction Fund. The funding would be used immediately for various road projects including the widening of Interstates 65, 70 and 69 to six lanes in certain areas. The second transfer of $200 million is subject to State Budget Committee review and approval.

Senate Democrats fought to add a provision that would allocate $25 million to fund local road projects. They argued that ensuring local roads and bridges are adequately funded is as important for economic development as widening interstates. Ultimately, local road funding was kept out of the final bill.

Central Indiana mass transit

Under SEA 176, the expansion of mass transit services in Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Madison and Marion counties will be approved through local public questions placed on the ballot this November. The measure authorizes eligible counties to fund approved public transportation projects through raising various tax rates slightly, including income tax rates, while fares will cover 25 percent of the costs associated with expanded mass transit services. As the initiative passed the Senate, the use of light rail in the project was expressly denied. However, the bill was amended in the House of Representatives to reverse the provision banning light rail as a part of the expansion of mass transit.

As the proposal moved through the conference committee process, the light rail provision was, again, blocked from being in the final version of the proposal. The provision requiring the business community from providing 10 percent of the costs associated with expanded mass transit services was also removed in the conference committee process. Instead, the legislation would set up a nonprofit organization whose goal is to raise 10 percent of the cost from the business community. If that goal is not reached, the burden of raising that revenue would fall on local governments. Finally, the conference committee included a provision that would allow local townships to opt-in with respect to establishing or expanding mass transit services in Central Indiana.

Criminal code reform follow up

In the 2013 legislative session lawmakers signed off on a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s criminal code.  This year, in HEA 1006 legislators are back to resolve a handful of remaining issues and provide additional clarity. Some changes are largely technical – like changing nomenclature for felonies from classes to levels – though some modifications are more substantial. The proposal would raise the advisory sentences for Level 3, 4 and 5 felonies, increase the number of crimes that are non-suspendible, and prohibit a credit-restricted felon from obtaining sentence modification. The measure makes minimum sentences for habitual offenders non-suspendible and requires that a person may only be convicted of “possession with intent to sell” if there is evidence in addition to the weight of the drug. Additional changes include allowing persons convicted of a Class A misdemeanor or Level 6 felony to earn one day of credit time for every day served and permits credit time for persons serving home detention. Maximum sentences for Level  1 and Level 3 felonies decreased from 50 to 40 years and from 20 to  16 years respectively.

Controversial_issues

Business tax cuts

The Indiana Senate signed off on a controversial measure that cuts Indiana’s corporate and financial institution tax rates and opens the door for additional cuts to the business personal property tax rate.  Proponents of Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 1 have touted the measure as an economic development tool, however Senate Democrats expressed concern over the job creation performance and cost of previous and future corporate tax cuts – pegged at more than $6 billion between 2013 and 2023.

Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 1 authorizes county governments to fully exempt personal property tax levied on businesses with less than $20,000 in acquisition costs, allows local governments to award up to 20 years of tax abatement on business personal property and permits local governments to exempt taxes collected on any new business personal property.

SEA 1 is a scaled-down version of the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the business personal property tax, which generates about $1 billion a year statewide. Of this $1 billion, two-thirds would be revenue lost to local units of governments and one-third would be higher taxes for other taxpayers, including homeowners.

Guns on school property

Controversial legislation gained approval that will now allow individuals who legally possess a firearm to keep it in a motor vehicle parked in a school parking lot as long as the firearm is locked in the vehicle out of plain sight. Under current law, it is a felony to possess a firearm on school property. However, with the passage of SEA 229, this penalty is eliminated as long as the firearm is locked in the trunk, glove box or out of plain sight in the vehicle. If persons in legal possession of a firearm leave the firearm in plain view in the vehicle while on school property, they would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

In addition, SB 229 allows law enforcement agencies to sell confiscated firearms to the general public at auction. Only individuals who are lawfully allowed to own firearms could make purchases. Proceeds from these sales would be used by the agency for the purchase or maintenance of firearms, ammunition, protective vests, and other law enforcement equipment. Another provision provides that a firearm scheduled to be destroyed can be sold to a salvage company where it can be dismantled for parts, scrap metal, recycling, or for resale as parts for other firearms.

Common Core

Indiana would discontinue using Common Core standards adopted in 2010 under SEA 91. Agreed upon by the governors and school superintendents of 45 states as a unified attempt to establish similar standards and requirements for all schools, the standards detail what K-12 students should learn by the end of each grade level. SEA 91 would require the State Board of Education to adopt new standards by July 1, 2014. Supporters believe Indiana should have better standards. Opponents argue that program implementation thus far has cost the state about $24 million and passage of the bill would hurt many schools that have significantly invested in teaching Common Core standards for the past several years. The legislation also authorizes the State Board of Education and Indiana Department of Education to administer the ISTEP assessment or a comparable assessment aligned to the new standards in the 2015-2016 school year. The new assessment must be signed off on by the state budget committee.

Measures that were defeated

Raising Hoosier incomes

In some areas of the state, Hoosiers earn incomes equal to the United States’ national average in the 1960s. Senate Democrats proposed increasing the minimum wage to $10 to arrest this trend and begin putting more money in the pockets of Hoosier families. The amendment offered by Senator Mark Stoops would have pegged an incremental increase in the minimum wage to a measure lowering corporate and business personal property taxes. In 2021, Indiana’s minimum wage would have reached $10. The measure was defeated on a near party line vote.

Expanding health care coverage to more Hoosiers

Expanding Medicaid in Indiana could create as many as 30,000 new jobs and help turn around one of nation’s lowest health rankings. Senate Democrats offered a pair of amendments to expand Medicaid, including a solution outside of the traditional method that would allow Medicaid dollars to be used to purchase private insurance. This common sense approach would still provide health insurance coverage to as many as 300,000 Hoosiers, inject as much as $3 billion dollars into local communities and lower health insurance premiums paid by families by $677 annually. The amendment expanding coverage using private insurance was blocked on a party line vote.

Same sex marriage amendment

House Joint Resolution (HJR) 3  gained final approval in the Indiana Senate, largely along party lines. While the bill passed by a vote of 32-17, the issue will not go before voters this November. The earliest a resolution could appear on a ballot would be November 2016, as the new language must be approved by a newly elected General Assembly.

A number of Senate Democrats delivered floor remarks, condemning the placement of what they characterized as discrimination into the state’s constitution.

HJR 3 is a controversial proposed amendment to the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage in Indiana. A ban on same-sex marriage is already in state law. Originally passed in 2011 as HJR-6, the resolution needs to pass a second General Assembly in the same wording before it becomes a ballot issue to be voted on in November.

Opponents of the ban, including Eli Lilly, Cummins, IU Health and many universities around the state called on lawmakers to defeat the legislation as it would make recruiting and retaining top employees more difficult.  Opponents pointed to the second sentence of the resolution, which banned “any legal status identical or substantially similar to marriage,” as particularly troubling as it may call the legality of domestic partnerships benefits offered by some universities and cities into question. 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.

Drug testing welfare recipients

A measure requiring Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients to undergo controlled substance testing was controversially altered behind closed doors. HB 1351 would have required adult recipients to undergo an exam to determine whether they may have the propensity to engage in the use of controlled substances. Recipients who failed the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory test or who had been convicted of a drug offense any time in the past year would have been placed into a pool of which at least 50 percent would be drug tested.

No data was provided on how many of the roughly 4,000 adult recipients would have met those criteria. The proposal would have required drug treatment before reinstatement of benefits, but did not provide any funding for such treatment. Opponents argued the program could be more effectively implemented if it were tied to substance abuse rehabilitation programs and the cost – now estimated at nearly $2.5 million – would be better allocated toward supportive programs rather than punitive measures. For comparison, the program’s original price tag, $1.4 million, could fill more than 55,000 potholes or hire more than 40 new teachers at Indiana’s average starting salary.

The proposal was defeated in the final hour of the legislative session due to not receiving a constitutional majority of 26 votes.