The busiest week to date of the 2017 Indiana General Assembly just wrapped up, and with it came a great deal of controversy and debate. Learn what happened to the biennial budget and the road funding bill, among other hot topics that were considered during the last week of major deadlines before the end of the legislative session.
SR 36 – Urging the study of Medicaid for patients in need of specialty care
Senate Resolution 36 urging the study of Medicaid for patients in need of specialty care was approved by the full Senate on Monday. The resolution came in response to a constituent in Sen. Melton’s district with a rare disorder who had difficulty navigating Medicaid restraints regarding out of state services. In May, the Legislative Council will determine if this issue will receive a study committee and which interim study committee will consider potential solutions for Hoosiers to receive care for rare disorders.
HB 1001 – State biennial budget
Senate Democrats offered 18 amendments to the budget on Wednesday in an attempt to include caucus priorities into the Indiana legislature’s largest bill. All but one of those amendments were rejected, including proposals that would have risen the minimum wage in conjunction with potential gas tax increases, created the state’s first bias crimes law, appropriated more funding towards prekindergarten education, among others. After a marathon debate Thursday, the budget was approved by the Senate by a vote of 39-9.
HB 1002 – Transportation infrastructure funding
HB 1002, Indiana’s road funding bill, was approved by the Senate by a vote of 34-13 Tuesday. While hardworking Hoosiers are having to pay more at the pump, on yearly vehicle registration fees and wheel fees, Senate Republicans refused to accept Senate Democrats’ moratorium on corporate tax cuts, to provide more funding to local units of government, and to accept Buy American provisions. According to data from the Federal Highway Administration, there were 1,533 deficient bridges in the state of Indiana in 2016. Of those, 1,275 are owned and maintained by our counties, cities and towns. Not to mention the fact that our counties maintain nearly double the amount of road miles than the state does. The supermajority refused to accept Senate Democrats amendments, and now low-income and middle-class Hoosiers are the ones who have to pay to fund all of Indiana’s crumbling infrastructure repairs.
HB 1003 – Student assessments
The Indiana Statewide Testing for Education Progress Plus (ISTEP+) was launched in 1987. The test is intended to measure student achievement of subject material. The test is administered annually to third through eighth graders in English and mathematics. Fourth and sixth graders also take a science ISTEP exam and fifth and seventh graders are tested on social science, or the standardized testing used for Hoosier schools.
In 1999, the Indiana General Assembly established a performance-based accountability system based on student performance on statewide annual assessments (ISTEP) and progress made toward improvement. Schools were placed into categories: exemplary progress; commendable progress; academic progress; academic watch; and academic probation. In 2011, the Indiana State Board of Education approved changes to the state’s accountability system including a transition to “A-F” categories. Participation, performance and growth of high and low performing students determined middle and elementary schools’ grades. High schools’ grades also include graduation rate and college and career readiness factors.
The use of ISTEP has been a contentious topic in the General Assembly for the past few years. After multiple issues with the delivery, grading and use of the test, HB 1003 was drafted to replace the ISTEP exam with a new one called I-LEARN (Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network) until a new test can be developed. The Senate ultimately approved the measure with a vote of 32-16 on Tuesday.
HB 1009 – School financial management
Sen. Tallian sponsored HB 1009 which would eliminate the school General Fund and create an Education Fund to be used exclusively for the funding of student instruction and learning. The proposal would create a second fund, an Operations Fund, to replace various school funding organizations providing a more organized and straightforward school funding plan. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote 47-1 on Tuesday.
HB 1085 – Immunity for rescuing an animal from a motor vehicle
HB 1085, sponsored by Senator Randolph, would provide that a person who forcibly enters a vehicle to remove a domestic animal is immune from civil or criminal liability. The individual would still, however, be responsible for all motor vehicle repair costs caused by the break in. This bill would decriminalize those who save the lives of helpless pets trapped in cars, especially in the summer when temperatures are high. HB 1085 passed the Senate in a vote of 39-9 on Thursday.
HB 1130 – Protection for student journalists (on thirds today)
Sen. Melton sponsored HB 1130 which would provide protections for high school and public college journalists in Indiana. The proposal would require school corporations and charter schools to adopt a policy in which they protect their student journalists and that they may not suppress school sponsored media unless it constitutes gross negligence, or willful or intentional misconduct. The bill’s main sponsor did not call the proposal down Thursday, essentially killing the bill on the 3rd reading deadline. Since the language in the bill was not decisively defeated by a vote, the proposal can still be included in another bill before the end of session.
HB 1133 – Preemption of local bans on short term rentals
HB 1133 specifies requirements for insurance and for government regulation of short-term rental or residential property, such as Airbnb properties. Under the proposal, the owner of a short-term rental property would have to maintain liability insurance for third party claims for death, bodily injury and property damage insured during the rental period, insuring the safety of renters and legality of property owners. The Senate approved HB 1133 with a vote of 27-20 on Thursday.
HB 1148 – Cannabidiol and treatment resistant epilepsy
Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is an oil extracted from cannabis. It contains little, if any, THC (the psychoactive component that causes a marijuana “high”) and is commonly used to manage rare, treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy, among other debilitating conditions. HB 1148 and Senate Bill (SB) 15 would legalize the use of CBD for purposes of treating epilepsy, especially among children. Testimony provided by parents of children who suffer from epileptic seizures, sometimes 50 to 100 daily, related that with the use of CBD, their children either no longer suffered from seizures or experienced far fewer seizures, and that their quality of life was greatly enhanced. The bill defines “cannabidiol”, and provides an affirmative defense to possession of cannabidiol if the person or the person’s child has been diagnosed with certain medical conditions, requires the cannabidiol contain no more than 0.3% THC and at least 10% cannabidiol, and proposes that other specified conditions are met. HB 1148 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 35-13.
HB 1344 – Lead and arsenic soil contamination in East Chicago
East Chicago is in the early stages of finding homes for displaced families due to the lead crisis. HB 1344, a proposal sponsored by Sen. Randolph, would allow the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to provide assistance to the United States Environmental Protection Agency in their efforts to remove soil contaminated with lead and arsenic in East Chicago. On Tuesday the Senate approved HB 1344 unanimously.
HB 1438 – Syringe exchange programs
State legislators are working hard to combat the opioid crisis in Indiana. One way in which they are doing so is with HB 1438, a syringe exchange program bill sponsored by Sens. Breaux, Mrvan and Randolph. Under the proposal, a county or municipality would be able to operate a syringe exchange program for no longer than two years, monitored by the state health commissioner. This bill would allow Hoosiers to safely and carefully wean off opioid addiction in a controlled and monitored manner. After success in the House, HB 1438 passed the Senate in a vote of 32-16
HB 1642 – Diabetes in Indiana
Keeping Hoosiers healthy is one of the main priorities of the Indiana General Assembly. Because one of the primary health concerns affecting Indiana residents is diabetes, the legislative body, including Sens. Stoops, Taylor and Randolph, are asking for more of a focus to be put on prevention and mitigation. HB 1642 suggests a summer study committee for diabetes in Indiana and its effects. The proposal passed the Senate with a vote of 42-6 and returned to the House of Representatives without amendments on Tuesday.
HB 1005 – Superintendent of public instruction
On Tuesday, Senator Lanane called for a point of order challenging HB 1005 because of its similarity to SB 179. Both bills in their original forms would make the Superintendent of Public Instruction a Governor-appointed rather than an elected position. The Senate took a roll call vote and rejected Sen. Lanane’s point of order by a vote of 39-9. The bill was ultimately approved by the Senate 28-20.
HB 1178 – Voter registration opportunity for all motor vehicle transactions
One of the central reasons Hoosiers do not vote in local or federal elections is because they are unsure how to register to vote. HB 1178 would allow voter registration at license branches, and provide that employees assisting individuals at license branches ask the individual whether he or she wants to register to vote or change his or her registration on record. This would streamlines the voting process and give more people the opportunity to quickly and easily register. HB 1178 was approved unanimously by the Senate on Monday.