The 2017 session of the Indiana General Assembly is in full swing and bills are moving through the legislative process. Here, we will highlight a number of the bills that have progressed through the process after four weeks of legislative action.
Paid family and medical leave program:
The Committee on Pensions and Labor received testimony on legislation to begin the process for a review of establishing a paid family and medical leave program for the state. Employers and employees could buy into a program to receive leave to care for a sick or elderly family member. SB 253 calls for the Commission on Women to share information on a study it’s currently undertaking on this topic that is being financed by federal funds. The bill was amended to request that the commission turn over findings of the study to the Interim Committee on Employment and Labor to examine and discuss if such a program would be good for Indiana. The bill was approved and advances to the full Senate.
Expanding prekindergarten opportunities:
Several bills have been introduced that take different approaches to expand the state’s prekindergarten pilot program currently in place in five Indiana counties. The Senate Committee on Education and Career Development is still considering SB 276, which would expand the current program to five additional counties and appropriate $20 million for the program for each of the next two years. HB 1004, on the other hand, adds language that could create a pipeline from state-funded prekindergarten to voucher programs. Senate Democrats are advocating for a more aggressive approach to pre-K expansion in an effort to make sure that all four and five year olds are Kindergarten-ready.
SB 9 would allow Indiana to opt out of the federal law prohibiting individuals convicted of certain drug offenses from receiving supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) assistance. This bill provides assistance for those who need it most. SB 9 gained committee approval and now awaits final action by the Senate. Upon approval, the bill would proceed to the House for its consideration.
A bill passed in 2015 to provide safety regulations on the e-liquid industry wreaked havoc throughout Indiana as providers attempted and failed to meet the restrictions of the law. Parts of the bill were deemed unconstitutional by the 7th Circuit Court because of the regulations state law placed on out-of-state manufacturing operations. SB 1 seeks to correct the poorly planned law by removing date restrictions in the e-liquids statutes and requirements for an initial e-liquids manufacturing permit. Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) was added as a co-author on the bill to help bring some sense to the legislation and ensure Indiana doesn’t waste taxpayer money on another lawsuit.
Selection of superintendent of public instruction:
The state superintendent of public instruction is currently a state-elected position similar to that of the Governor. SB 179 seeks to have the position as one appointed by the Governor. This bill is problematic because it takes away from an important checks and balances system that prevents the Superintendent and Governor from consistently deriving from the same political party. SB 179 will be considered by the Senate Elections Committee on Monday.
State officer salaries:
The Committee on Civil Law made significant changes to SB 60, a bill that would increase the salaries of state officers. The bill would tie the salaries of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor of State, Treasurer of State, Attorney General, and Superintendent of Public Instruction to the salary paid to Marion County circuit court judges. Currently, circuit court judges earn $141,311 annually. After much debate, the committee amended the bill to request a review of state officer salaries by an appropriate summer study committee. This bill will be heard for the second time on the Senate floor today where amendments may be made and voted upon.
SB 170 has met with a lot of controversy, both in committee and on the Senate floor. The bill seeks to treat minors who are only 16 or 17 years old as adults if they engage in a pharmacy robbery, whether they are coerced or not. The proposal defies the purpose of the juvenile justice system and would send minors straight to jail. SB 170 awaits a final vote on the Senate floor and moves to the House if approved.
SB 309 creates roadblocks for individuals and businesses who wish to install solar panels or small wind turbines in an effort to protect the environment. The bill would also ban all utilities from offering net metering to their customers by 2027. SB 309 offers little hope for Indiana’s energy resources and turns businesses away from investing in our state. The proposal awaits testimony in the Senate Utilities Committee.
Traffic obstruction by protesters:
SB 285 infringes on Hoosiers’ basic right to peacefully assemble and places sanctions on local law enforcement by requiring a public official to dispatch all available law enforcement personnel within 15 minutes of learning of a traffic obstruction to clear the roads of all people obstructing traffic. The proposal was met with negative outcry from the public and has been held in committee without a further hearing date on the committee’s agenda.