Child Safety and Welfare Bills still on the table going into the final week

Bills still on the table going into the final week

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As the Indiana General Assembly moves into the final week of the 2016 legislative session, there are a number of proposals that have been approved and are being sent to the governor, or that are entering into final negotiations in the conference committee process. Find a rundown of major proposals below:

What is a conference committee? Find out here>> 

Education

ISTEP replacement:

After a number of controversies surrounding the administration of the 2015 ISTEP exam, lawmakers fast-tracked two bills this session that would hold schools, teachers, students and communities harmless from falling ISTEP scores. Further, lawmakers have started the conversation to replace the high-stakes test altogether. HB 1395 provides that the ISTEP test program would expire July 1, 2017. The proposal would establish a panel to study alternatives to the ISTEP test program and make recommendations to replace the program. The measure also would require that scores under the ISTEP testing program must be reported to the State Board of Education no later than July 1 of the year the test is administered. Additionally, the proposal would require the Indiana Department of Education to release sample essay responses to highlight the accomplishments of students. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 38-10, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 86-11. Since the proposal was amended in the Senate, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.

Voucher eligibility expansion:

Viewed as an expansion of voucher school funding, SB 334 gives the ability of some students to receive scholarships from vouchers that they otherwise would not have access to. The measure provides that the Indiana Department of Education shall accept applications for the voucher program from September 2 through January 15 for the spring semester. The bill also removes the provision that if a student receives a voucher and transfers to another eligible voucher school, the student is responsible for the tuition required for the remainder of the school year. Additionally, the proposal would require the Department of Education to make random visits to at least five percent of eligible schools, as well as five percent of charter schools, during the school year. Current law excludes charter schools from Department of Education visits. SB 334 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 40-9, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 60-33.

Gary schools financial advisor:

SB 93 among other provisions, extends the Gary Schools revitalization proposal championed by Sen. Earline Rogers last legislative session. To set Gary Community Schools on a path towards success and economic recovery, the measure approved last session created a plan of action where local officials, school board members, a financial advisor of the board’s choosing and the Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB) work together to create the school’s recovery plan. In July of last year, the Distressed Unit Appeals Board and the Gary School Corporation took the first step and selected Jack Martin to assist Gary schools with becoming financially solvent. SB 93 provides that the financial specialist appointed for the Gary Community School Corporation may continue to perform their duties for 24 months, an extension of the original 12 months. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 49-0, and was approved in the House of Representatives by a vote of 94-0. Since the proposal was amended in the House of Representatives, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.

Student athlete concussions:

Continuing his efforts to decrease incidences of student athlete concussions, Sen. Lanane offered SB 234, which would require coaches of middle and high school student athletes to complete concussion and head injury education courses. In Indiana, most head injuries are only associated with high school football players, however this bill aims to prevent concussions for all student athletes in every sport in grades 5 through 12.  This proposal would require coaches to complete training so they can be aware of symptoms of concussions and how to prevent them in order to avoid dangerous brain injuries. The training would be available online at no cost to the participant. Additionally, a House amendment makes concussion training voluntary for inter-mural sports. The measure also provides legal protections for the coaches that complete the concussion training program should one of their student athletes suffer a concussion. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 41-9, and was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives.

Road funding, infrastructure & transportation

State road funding proposals:

In a game of legislative chicken, House and Senate authors have inserted their chamber’s road funding proposals into the opposing chamber’s bill betting they will be merged in conference committee.

The House’s original proposal, HB 1001, would raise gas and cigarette taxes, divert revenue currently generated from the sales tax to infrastructure projects and lower the income tax paid by Hoosiers beginning in 2019. The bill would provide greater flexibility for local governments to increase taxes for local road projects, establish a local road and bridge matching grant fund and study tolling Indiana’s interstates among other things.

One Senate proposal, SB 333 would allow the state surplus to be used to fund state infrastructure projects. When the state surplus exceeds 11.5 percent of total state revenue, it can be transferred to the State Highway Fund for road and bridge repair. This proposal provides the transfer of excess reserves for road and bridge repair could reoccur every other year going forward and would be limited to state highways and interstates.

Local road funding:

While the governor’s plan for infrastructure funding only focuses on state-owned infrastructure assets, SB 67 was proposed in an effort to assist Indiana cities, towns and counties with their infrastructure repair needs. The proposal helps counties redistribute local option income tax funds to support local transportation projects. The bill mandates that at least 88 percent of distributions made to the county, city or town must be used for transportation or deposited into the rainy day fund. Senate Democrats offered another proposal to provide local units of government with additional flexibility for sustainable infrastructure funding, but the proposal was not granted a committee hearing. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 49-1, and was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives. Since the proposal was amended in the House of Representatives, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.

Monroe County mass transit:

A proposal by State Senator Mark Stoops that would give Monroe County more options for funding public transit has stalled in the House of Representatives. SB 128 would enable Monroe County to implement an additional local income tax in order to fund city and county transit projects. The proposal encourages the Monroe County Council to consider the benefits of expanding as well as upgrading the city and county transit programs with a tax increase. Tax increases would be limited between 0.1 percent and 0.25 percent. Additional funding would help transit programs improve routes in order to service the growing population utilizing public transportation as well as the rural population and through local agreements, expand access to neighboring counties and Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center. SB 128 was approved in the Senate by a vote of 40-10, but was not given a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee. Sen. Stoops noted that he will attempt to have this measure considered during conference committee negotiations.

Methamphetamine & drug issues

Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine purchases:

In order to end illegal methamphetamine production, lawmakers approved SB 80 this session. The proposal would allow pharmacists to make judgment calls on those buying pseudoephedrine at pharmacies. Arkansas passed similar legislation last year that lead to a 95% decrease in the state’s methamphetamine production. This measure would help deter meth producers while still allowing sick Hoosiers to buy cold medicine without a prescription when they need it. The bill was amended by the Senate to go into effect July 1st this year, and compels the Indiana Board of Pharmacy to give the right of professional determinations to pharmacists and to keep track of those decisions regarding pseudoephedrine sales. SB 80 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 41-8, and was approved by the House of Representative by a vote of 86-10. Since the proposal was amended in the House of Representatives, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.

Methamphetamine crime reporting:

Continuing with efforts to address the state’s illegal methamphetamine production, SB 161 and HB 1157 address inadequacy with statewide tracking. Both bills would require courts to report drug related felonies to the State Police Department, who would then send the reports to the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx). NPLEx keeps track of pseudoephedrine sales and corresponding methamphetamine production. NPLEx has the authority to generate stop alerts when trafficking of suspicious pseudoephedrine sales increase. The House amended the SB 161 to specify that each felony would be reported to NPLEx to maintain thorough regulation and tracking. SB 161 was approved unanimously by the Senate, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 95-2. HB 1157 was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 94-3, and was approved by the Senate by a vote of 49-1. Since both proposals were amended in the opposite chambers, both bills have been sent to conference committee where the changes will be considered and both bills possibly combined.

Drug enforcement, treatment and prevention:

Authored by Senator Jim Arnold, SEA 271 would establish the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse (ICCDA). In reaction to Indiana’s record high methamphetamine related crimes in the last few years, as well as the rise of opioid and heroin abuse, the commission will work to coordinate the efforts of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute and aid in the implementation of drug free community plans and grant programs. The proposal was unanimously approved by the Senate, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 92-2. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

 Child Welfare

Release of adoption records:

Identifying information regarding birth parents for adopted individuals would be accessible as of July 2018 when a non-release form is not on file. SEA 91 would provide access to information for adoptions that occurred before 1994. The product of an interim study committee last summer, SB 91 was drafted in response to those who are seeking additional information regarding their medical history and medical issues that may arise due to genetic history. Medical history that may not have been valued as necessary in adoption records when the adoption occurred would now be made available. However, the proposal also aims to provide protections for those who wish to shield their identity from adoption records by allowing them to submit a non-release form. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 43-5, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 72-24. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

DCS “near fatality” reporting:

A Department of Child Services (DCS) report from 2013 revealed that 49 children in Indiana died from either abuse or neglect. In an effort to protect the most vulnerable in the state, Sen. John Broden championed SEA 131 that would change the definition of “near fatality” to apply to a child that has sustained a life threatening or sever injury. Additionally the proposal requires DCS to report cases where children are in life threatening conditions. This act aims to raise awareness regarding children in at-risk situations that are under the protection and care of the state. The proposal was unanimously approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Support for Hoosier servicemembers & veterans

Unclaimed remains of veterans:

SEA 145 seeks to ensure that all Hoosier veterans receive proper military burials. The measure requires the Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) to establish standards for approval of veterans’ service organizations, maintain a list of veterans’ service organizations and publish the list on the IDVA website. The proposal also allows a licensed funeral director to release information pertaining to the deceased veterans’ eligibility for burial in a state or national cemetery, as well as release cremated remains to a veterans’ service organization if certain conditions are met. Veterans’ service organizations would be required to transport the remains to a state or national cemetery and provide written information concerning the location of the cremated remains to the funeral director. This measure was unanimously approved by the Senate and House of Representatives. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Additionally, SEA 154 would increase the current funeral allowance of $4,000 to $8,000 for members of the Indiana National Guard who die in active duty service. This measure was unanimously approved by the Senate and House of Representatives. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Military Family Relief Fund:

In 2014, lawmakers gave priority to qualified service members and their dependents if they have not yet received grants through the Military Family Relief Fund (MFRF). The MFRF provides assistance with food, shelter, medical services, utilities, child care, education, employment, and other essential expenses that are sometimes difficult for service members or their families to afford. This session, SB 295 would allow state income tax forms be modified to enable a taxpayer to donate all or part of the taxpayer’s tax refund to the MFRF. Since the proposal was amended in the House of Representatives, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.

Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act:

Last legislative session, lawmakers created the state’s first Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to compliment the federal SCRA. The law included additional protections for Hoosier service members on active duty and their families from obligations specific to Indiana that may not be covered under the federal SCRA, such as utility disruptions, debt collections, evictions, foreclosures and judicial proceedings. This session, SEA 362 would extend employment protections under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and extends the rights, benefits, and protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to members of the National Guard of another state during state-sponsored activation. This measure was unanimously approved by the Senate and House of Representatives. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Local Veteran Service Officers:

HB 1089 addresses local veteran service officers to better address the needs of veterans in their communities. The bill requires the Indiana Veterans’ Affairs Commission to submit annual reports to the Governor and the Legislative Council on matters concerning the welfare of veterans. It allows mayors to employ a service officer to serve the veterans of the city. The proposal also includes a Governor-appointed county service officer in the membership of the Indiana Veterans’ Affairs Commission. In addition, the bill urges the Legislative Council to assign to a study committee the topic of district service officers. The study committee’s findings and recommendations would be due not later than November 1, 2016. This measure was unanimously approved by the Senate and House of Representatives. Since the proposal was amended in the Senate, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.

Stolen valor:

HEA 1187 seeks to protect Hoosier veterans by making committing stolen valor a Class A misdemeanor. This measure would apply to anyone who knowingly or intentionally, with the intent to obtain money, property, or another benefit, fraudulently represents himself or herself to be an active member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces. The measure also applies to those who use falsified military identification or fraudulently claim to be the recipient of certain military honors. This measure was unanimously approved by the Senate and House of Representatives. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Veteran business enterprises:

HB 1312 defines “veteran” – for the purpose of qualifying as a veteran owned small business by the Indiana Department of Administration (IDOA) – as an individual who previously served on active duty in any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States or their reserves, the National Guard or the Indiana National Guard and received an honorable discharge from service. Additionally, the measure requires that a business seeking to qualify as a small business owned and operated by veterans have current certification as a veteran owned small business by the IDOA. It also removes the requirement that a veteran be a resident of Indiana for at least one year before making an offer to bid on a state contract. It provides that certain information submitted by an applicant for certification as a veteran owned small business is confidential. Since the proposal was amended in the Senate, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.

Public safety opportunities for veterans:

HEA 1359 would waive the maximum hiring age restrictions that apply to the appointment and hiring of police officers and firefighters for an individual who is a veteran of the Armed Forces who meets certain requirements. Under the proposal, veterans who are not more than 40½ years of age who receive the waiver would be eligible to become members of the 1977 Police Officers’ and Firefighters Pension and Disability Fund. The bill also requires a member of the 1977 fund to retire at 70 years of age. This measure was approved by a vote of 47-1 in the Senate, and was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Agriculture & the Environment

Canned hunting:

SEA 109 would place regulations on wild life hunting preserves, which have been previously unregulated. In Indiana, hunting preserves are privately owned areas where captive bred animals are hunted within the perimeters of the hunting facility. Opponents of the measure believe the practice of “canned” hunting is inhumane and should not be condoned. The final proposal includes regulations that would classify farm-raised deer as livestock, minimum acreage requirements and fence height requirements, prohibit computer-assisted hunting, and allow unlimited hunting on animals. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 29-19, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 61-35. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Industrial hemp:

In 2014, lawmakers authorized 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. However, the federal government still classifies hemp as a scheduled drug, limiting the ability of states to grow and cultivate the crop. Today, hemp is used in the manufacturing of various products, including plastics, paper, food, textiles, construction materials, auto manufacturing materials, beauty products and medicines. This session, SEA 291 would allow a farmer, with the permission of the State Seed Commissioner, to retain industrial hemp seed from a previous crop in order to use the seed for future planting. It is expected the federal government will allow the cultivation and production of industrial hemp within the next year. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 49-1, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 94-1. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Regulation of plastic bags:

HEA 1053 would prohibit local governments from regulating reusable or disposable containers, such as plastic bags. Some local governments have considered bans and taxes on the use of plastic bags in grocery stores in order to reduce the amount of plastic bags in landfills. Opponents of the measure argued that this legislation would impede any efforts of local governments to enact environmental reforms that they believe are best for their area. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 38-12, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 61-32. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

“No More Stringent Than” environmental regulations:

As introduced, HEA 1082 would have prohibited the Environmental Rules Board (ERB) from adopting a rule or standard that is more stringent than the corresponding regulation or standard established under federal law, and would have made changes in the law concerning the adoption of environmental rules. The proposal would have allowed a regulation or standard to be enacted only if there is no corresponding federal law does not exist, or if special authority is granted to the ERB. The proposal would have also prohibited the Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) from enforcing a state rule or standard adopted or established after July 1, 2016, that is more stringent than a corresponding regulation or standard established under federal law. In the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee, the measure was amended to require IDEM to report annually to the Legislative Council on any ruled adopted by ERB or proposed by IDEM that are more stringent than federal law, and that the proposed rule would only become effective without the consent of the Indiana General Assembly. The proposal does, however, allow for emergency actions to be taken should and environmental emergency occur in Indiana. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 48-2, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 64-33. The proposal now moves to the governor, who can sign the enrolled act, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Other issues:

Bias motivated crimes:

Indiana is currently one of only five states that do not have a hate crime law. SB 220 would have added aggravating circumstances to crimes that are committed that targeted a victim due to certain characteristics like race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, ancestry, national origin, or sexual orientation. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 34-16, but was not granted a committee hearing in the House of Representatives. After the most recent attack on an exchange student in southern Indiana and racial slurs spray-painted on an Islamic Center in central Indiana, Sen. Greg Taylor, who coauthored the proposal, noted that he will re-introduce the bill next year.

Sales tax exemption on gold bullion:

HB 1046 would provide a sales tax exemption on the purchase of gold coins, gold bullion, or other legal tender for the purpose of investment. Senator Jean Breaux offered an amendment to the proposal to also exempt feminine hygiene products and diapers from the sales tax in an effort to also relieve the financial burden on working families who need these products. Her amendments were defeated by a vote of 36-9. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 46-4, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 74-20. Since the proposal was amended in the Senate, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.

Ethnic studies:

SB 268 would have required students to be taught about ethnic and racial history during their core United States’ History classes. Currently, ethnicity mandates only provide for a study of the Holocaust to be included. This addition to the curriculum would better reflect the state’s population and the country’s ethnic history, according to Sen. Greg Taylor, the proposal’s author. After the proposal was approved in the Senate by a vote of 41-9, the bill did not receive a committee hearing in the House of Representatives and is considered dead for this session.

Lake County blight pilot program:

SB 310 would establish a three year pilot program in Lake County to allow the redevelopment commission to develop and hone tools that address vacant and abandoned properties so public entities can return properties to productive use and get them back on the tax rolls. The proposal would allow a redevelopment commission to create “opportunity areas” in neighborhoods with pervasive tax delinquency in order to sell the property at auction to the highest responsible and responsive bidder. The proposal was unanimously approved by the Senate, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 94-1. Since the proposal was amended in the House of Representatives, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.

Abortion:

A proposal to restrict women from terminating a pregnancy after a fetus has been diagnosed, or could potentially be diagnosed, with a lethal fetal anomaly has passed both chambers and awaits final consideration. Authors of HB 1337 contend the measure is aimed at protecting women’s health while opponents of the bill assert that it only furthers restrictions to safe access to abortion and makes a difficult situation worse by inserting politics and unnecessary record keeping into private medical decision-making. The measure also changes current law and provides that a miscarried or aborted fetus must be interred or cremated by the facility having possession of the remains. The measure goes even further to exclude the final disposition of miscarried or aborted fetuses from laws that outline the treatment of infectious or pathological medical tissue. Indiana law already allows for a woman to choose private considerations for remains (SEA 329, 2015) and opponents of the bill argue the new mandate adds unnecessary shaming to women choosing an abortion while taking away private decision making from very private medical procedures. The proposal was ultimately approved by the Senate by a vote of 37-13, and was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 74-23. Since the proposal was amended in the Senate, those changes will be considered during the conference committee process.