Education Senate Democrats unveil 2017 legislative priorities

Senate Democrats unveil 2017 legislative priorities

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The Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus’ priorities for the 2017 session align legislative action with the needs of real Hoosiers. While the main focus will be crafting the state’s budget for the next two years, Senate Democrats will work towards more common-sense initiatives that put real Hoosiers first.

After years of the General Assembly positioning Indiana as a business-friendly state in an effort to create new jobs, Senate Democrats aim to raise Hoosier incomes by ensuring that these new jobs pay a living wage. While education funding will be a hot topic this year, the caucus will focus on providing all schools the resources needed for our children to embrace a philosophy of lifelong learning, beginning with pre-kindergarten education. Finally, after Indiana was once again ranked in the bottom 20 percent of the nation for health, Senate Democrats will work to improve Hoosier health outcomes by addressing health care provider shortages around the state and expanding mental health services.

Civil Rights Protections and Bias Crimes

Expansion of civil rights protections:

Currently, 18 states provide statewide civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. In Indiana, most protections for the LGBT community exist at the local level in a handful of counties and cities with ordinances. A proposal authored by Sen. Lanane would establish statewide protections for the LGBT community in Indiana’s Civil Rights statutes.

Bias Crimes legislation:

Indiana is one of only five states that does not have a bias crimes law on the books. In order to combat the increasing rate of bias crimes in the state and around the country, Sen. Taylor has authored a proposal to enhance criminal penalties for crimes motivated by bias. This proposal serves to protect people targeted because of their race, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, ancestry, national origin and sexual orientation.

Roads and Infrastructure

Road funding:

Indiana lawmakers are debating a number of road funding proposals, including increasing the gas tax to 28 cents per gallon – a 10 cent increase – on all Indiana drivers, as well as a registration fee of $15 per vehicle and $150 registration fee for electric vehicles.

A closer look: How Indiana’s roads and bridges are funded

Senate Democrats led the charge on the need for infrastructure improvements last legislative session, and while the caucus agrees bold investment is needed, Senate Democrats believe the investment should not be built solely on the backs of working Hoosiers.

Moratorium on tax breaks for big business:

As an alternative to generating revenues from increases in gas taxes and registration fees, Senate Democrats will be advocating for a proposal that would place a moratorium on tax breaks given to corporations and financial institutions. Approved a number of years ago, tax breaks for big business are still being phased in and will continue to decrease for the next four to six years. While state revenues continue to fall short, Senate Democrats believe this is a necessary step to ensure everyone has skin in the game when it comes to funding our infrastructure.

Education

Pre-K Expansion:

To build on previous legislation, the Senate Democrats are offering a proposal to expand the current pre-K pilot program to counties all across the state in an effort to better serve all Hoosiers. Indiana is just one of 10 states that does not invest in fully-funded Pre-K, an investment that has a $4 return for every public dollar invested.

A closer look: 5 eye-opening stats about preschool and the Hoosier state

While the governor-elect has announced a plan to double the investment in pre-k from $10 million to $20 million, his plan does not expand the program to any additional counties outside of the initial five counties currently receiving funding for their pre-K pilot programs. Senate Democrats will advocate for a more robust expansion of pre-kindergarten in order to reward the growing number of counties working to establish pre-K and to incentivize other counties to establish meaningful early childhood education.

Limiting the Expansion of CHOICE vouchers:

Sen. Tallian is authoring a proposal that would place a cap on the number of vouchers available each year in order to ensure funding for this ballooning program does not continue to take state funding from our traditional public schools. Sen. Tallian has also authored a proposal that would create a line item in the budget for the voucher program in order to ensure state lawmakers know from year to year how much is being spent on vouchers.

Independent Redistricting & Improving Voter Access

Redistricting Reform:

Currently, state lawmakers are charged with drawing legislative districts after the Census every 10 years. The Senate Democrats will support legislation that will put that duty in the hands of an independent redistricting committee to preserve the integrity of legislative elections and to ensure fairness and competitiveness.

A closer look: Redistricting and the science of drawing legislative maps

Improving Voter Access:

As in previous years, Senate Democrats are also offering legislation to improve voter access by extending polling hours, allowing for more satellite voting locations and same-day voter registration as well as no-excuse absentee voting. States with some or all of these election policies consistently see higher voter turnout and better voter participation.

Addressing Drug Abuse and Addiction:

Enabling counties to enact needle exchange programs to combat the heroin epidemic was a good first step but we must ensure that the necessary wrap-around services are available to those in need of them. Senate Democrats will introduce legislation aimed to curb drug abuse and addiction in Indiana by allowing the Mental Health and Addiction Forensic Treatment Services Grant to be used for juvenile patients, creating an appropriation to fund the Behavioral Health Professionals Loan Forgiveness Program, expanding HIP 2.0 coverage for telemedicine services and by using a per diem rate instead of a capped rate for coverage of inpatient detox services.

Support for Working Families:

A priority for the Senate Democrats is to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.62, a wage which would ensure each and every Hoosier can attain self-sufficiency in all Indiana counties. The caucus is also proposing a moderate increase in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, expanding the eligibility requirements of the Child Care Development Fund voucher program, and that the General Assembly should conduct an in-depth study of paid family leave programs in order to determine the best policy option for Indiana.