Child Safety and Welfare Minute-by-minute: Senate Democrats offer 18 amendments to state budget

Minute-by-minute: Senate Democrats offer 18 amendments to state budget

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On Wednesday, the Indiana Senate considered the state’s next two-year budget on second reading, which means that any senator can file an amendment in an attempt to change the bill. Senate Democrats seized the opportunity and attempted to insert a number of caucus priorities into the budget. In all, Senate Democrats offered 18 amendments to the budget and all but one of the amendments were defeated, mostly along party lines.

We will provide you a minute-by-minute update of Senate Democrat amendments after a two-hour marathon debate:

For a minute-by-minute infographic of Senate Democrat amendments, click here>>

2:38 p.m. – Amendment 27, offered by Sen. Eddie Melton, was the only Senate Democrat amendment to be accepted by members across the aisle. After much collaboration with the Senate majority, Sen. Melton has been working to assist Gary Community Schools with their financial difficulties. This particular amendment would disallow the sale of any of Gary Community School Corporation’s school buildings while the school corporation is designated as a distressed unit. Currently, if a school building is listed on the unused school building list, charter schools get first bidding on the building and may purchase for as low as $1. This amendment would prevent the school corporation from falling short on school building assets that may be needed in the future. The amendment was approved by voice vote and will now be included in budget negotiations moving forward.

2:42 p.m. – Lead contamination has been a high-profile environmental and health crisis in a number of Indiana counties, including East Chicago and most recently South Bend. Amendment 32, offered by Sen. David Niezgodski, would have appropriated $28,000 from the state budget to test the blood of children in the city of South Bend for the presence of lead. Although the requested appropriation was low, Senate Republicans rejected the amendment, leaving South Bend responsible for the funding to test at-risk Hoosier children. The amendment was rejected by voice vote, and may be considered in the conference committee process.

2:46 p.m. – The appropriation to help fund food banks around the state currently stands at $300,000 per year in the budget. Amendment 16, offered by Sen. Karen Tallian, would have increased the appropriation for food banks to $500,000 in the second year of the budget. With uncertainty at the federal level regarding food programs like Meals on Wheels, Sen. Tallian attempted to increase state-based funding for food banks around the state to close the potential gaps in funding from the federal government. The amendment was rejected by voice vote.

2:48 p.m. – With a number of school corporations being considered for a state takeover, Amendment 14 offered by Sen. Tallian would add a moratorium on new charter schools in districts that have been taken over by an emergency manager. Gary, Indiana ranks 6th in the nation for the number of charter schools, one of the reasons the public schools have been struggling financially as students are moving out of public schools and into charter school programs. The amendment was rejected by a voice vote.

2:50 p.m. – Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGO) currently cost the state money and help people get into the voucher pipeline which diverts money away from public schools. Amendment 37, offered by Sen. Tallian, would repeal the tax credit given to those who donate to the SGO and would extend the deduction for school expenditures to all students in both public and private schools. However, the amendment would cap the eligibility for the deduction at 400% of the federal poverty level, or $97,200 for a family of four. The amendment would also reduce the reimbursement to virtual charter schools to 80%, down 10% from where it currently stands in the budget, in an effort to limit the amount of state funding supporting virtual schools. The amendment was reject by a vote of 38 – 8.

2:55 p.m. – In a first for Indiana Republicans, a line item was included in the budget appropriating $156,500,000 for voucher schools in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017-2018 and increasing to $167,169,000 in FY 2018-2019. Amendment 10, offered by Sen. Tallian, would cap this appropriation at $150 million per year and would remove language allowing for augmentation. Augmentation essentially would allow private and charter schools to receive more than the appropriated amount of money in the budget by taking dollars reserved for public schools and directing them into the voucher program. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 39 – 9.

3:02 p.m. – The current early childhood education pilot program exists in five Indiana counties and is funded at $10 million per year, essentially supporting 1,500 Hoosier children attend pre-K. Under this budget, the pre-K pilot program would be expanded to all 92 Indiana counties, but allocates only $16 million to fund prekindergarten education. This appropriation will only allow for an additional 500 of the nearly 80,000 four year olds in Indiana to receive early education. Amendment 31, offered by Sen. Tallian, would appropriate $40 million each year from the budget to send more Hoosier children to pre-K while incentivizing providers in counties to establish or improve any existing pre-K programs. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 37 – 9.

3:22 p.m. – After failing to secure $40 million annually to support pre-K in Indiana, Senate Democrats lowered their request from $40 million to $20 million per year with Amendment 33, offered by Senate Democrat Leader Tim Lanane. Although the amendment reflected the amount requested by the governor, and was only an additional $4 million more than the current proposal, Senate Republicans rejected the amendment by a vote of 38 – 9.

3:26 p.m. – Formerly, the amount of money taken from the budget and applied to school funding via the complexity index was based on the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch. Currently, the money in the complexity index is based on the number of students receiving SNAP benefits, or food stamps. As the economy has rebounded, the number of students with SNAP benefits has decreased resulting in a significant decrease in complexity grants for schools. While Senate Democrats acknowledge that more children being moved off of SNAP benefits is a positive indicator for the state, Amendment 36 offered by Sen. Tallian would simply return the calculation of complexity index to its pre-recession calculation and appropriate $75 million more for state tuition support. The amendment was rejected by a voice vote.

3:29 p.m. – Wage growth has been slowing in the state as Hoosiers are falling behind the rest of the nation in terms of per-capita income. In fact, Hoosiers earn 88 cents for every dollar Americans earn. This session, Statehouse Republicans have been increasing taxes on hardworking Hoosiers while large corporations are still benefiting from years of tax cuts. Sen. Tallian originally drafted SB 260 to put a moratorium on the phase out of the corporate tax cuts and financial institution tax cuts so working Hoosiers do not have the entire tax burden of funding Indiana road improvements placed on them at the pump. Amendment 11, offered by Sen. Tallian, would have placed this corporate tax cut moratorium in the budget, but it was rejected by a vote of 39 – 9.

3:42 p.m. – The CHOICE (Community and Home Options to Institutional Care for the Elderly and Disabled) Program is a resource that elderly and disabled individuals are using to receive support services in their homes. Services provided may include case management, transportation, attendant care, home delivered meals, homemaker services, various therapies provided in the home, respite care, access to adult day programs in the community, medical supplies and other services necessary to prevent residential placement into nursing homes, group homes, state hospitals and other large group living facilities. Currently, the budget appropriates $48 million from the budget to fund CHOICE services and FSSA is able to transfer $18 million of that appropriation to the Aged and Disabled Medicaid Waiver. Amendment 17, offered by Sen. Jean Breaux, would delete this “transfer” provision in the budget and require the entire $48 million be used for the CHOICE program. The amendment was rejected by a voice vote.

3:48 p.m. – Based on the living wage scale created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the minimum wage in Indiana for a family of four to live in a two-bedroom home should be $10.62 an hour. Currently, Indiana’s minimum wage rests at $7.25 an hour, well below the recommended figure. Indiana ranks 28th in the nation for the number of people living in poverty and the state has not increased the minimum wage in ten years. With the gas tax proposed by Senate Republicans, amendment 38 would reflect the percentage increase being raised from the gas tax as well as meet the recommended wage from the MIT. Amendment 38, offered by Sen. Lanane, would increase the minimum wage to $9.20 in 2017 and to $10.86 in 2018 to offset the burden of gasoline tax increases set to go into effect those same years. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 39 – 9.

3:53 p.m. – On Tuesday, Senator Breaux spoke on the Senate floor about Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day recognizing the gender pay gap in the United States. April 4 is recognized as Equal Pay Day because that is how many days into the year a woman has to work before she earns what her male counterparts earned the year before. Amendment 39, offered by Sen. Breaux, would make it an unlawful employment practice to pay wages that discriminate based on sex, race, or national origin for the same or equivalent jobs. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 39 – 8.

3:58 p.m. – A program that has helped lift millions of Americans out of poverty, Amendment 1 would have increased the amount of the Indiana Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from nine percent to 10 percent. The EITC is tied to the federal tax credit that low-income working people receive. By increasing the percentage, more money will remain in Hoosiers’ pockets and help lift more struggling Hoosier families out of poverty. The amendment, offered by Sen. Breaux, was rejected by a vote of 38 – 10.

4:03 p.m. – Senator Stoops had two bills this session, SB 364 and SB 526, that failed to make it out of their respective committees which addressed the need for child care affordability in the State of Indiana. In an effort to make the ballooning costs of child care more affordable for working Hoosiers, Sen. Stoops offered Amendment 19 that would provide a child care tax credit of up to $500 for those Hoosiers who make less than $37,000 a year and who have children in child care. The amendment was rejected by a voice vote.

4:07 p.m. – Due to the financial crisis facing the Gary Community School Corporation, Amendment 25 was offered by Sen. Melton to allow the Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB) to recommend to the state board of finance that some or all of the corporation’s obligations to repay the common school fund loan should be canceled. This amendment was rejected by a voice vote, but Sen. Melton will continue working on methods to improve the financial status of Gary Community Schools.

4:11 p.m. – Sen. Lanane authored Senate Bill (SB) 278 this session based on the recommendations by a two-year, bipartisan Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, and would have established an independent redistricting commission. A similar version of Sen. Lanane’s proposal was authored in the House of Representatives, but stalled after the measure failed to receive a vote in the House committee. Amendment 5, offered by Sen. Lanane, attempted to insert the interim committee’s recommendations into the budget to ensure more fair and competitive congressional and state legislative elections. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 39 – 9.

4:19 p.m. – Indiana still remains one of five states in the nation without a bias crimes proposal on the books. Sen. Greg Taylor championed this issue for a number of years, and worked with members of the majority to create an aggravating circumstance in a criminal sentence if a crime was committed with an intent to harm or intimidate an individual because of the victim’s race, religion, sexuality, gender, etc. After the bipartisan Senate bill was approved by a committee in the first half of the legislative session, it was not considered on second reading before a deadline and died. Amendment 21, offered by Sen. Taylor, attempted to insert the state’s first hate crimes law into the budget, but was rejected by a vote of 39 – 9.

After 20 total budget amendments were offered on the floor of the Senate on second reading, and after nearly two hours of debate, only three amendments were approved and included in the budget. Two of the three amendments that were approved were offered by members of the Republican supermajority. In some instances, it took the supermajority only two minutes to consider and subsequently reject amendments offered by the minority. Senate Democrats will continue to offer proposals that will move Indiana forward and help support all Hoosiers in the state of Indiana.