The State Senate continues to move forward with legislative business while the House of Representatives is still at an impasse. As the House Democrats’ protest over anti-worker and anti-public school legislation continues to stall House legislative action due to their absence, rallies at the Statehouse draw hundreds of workers and teachers to voice their opposition to those measures. Much still depends on whether a compromise can be reached in the House that will bring House Democrats back. The following brief summary highlights recent action taken on legislation by the Senate and other Statehouse activities.
State budget now under Senate consideration:
The Senate Appropriations Committee has begun its review of the state budget, which will provide funding for state government services for July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013. As a starting point, members began the week considering the version of House Bill (HB) 1001 that passed the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this session, which has yet to be approved by the full House. In a second meeting, the Superintendent of Public Instruction provided testimony on the major components of his and the governor’s education reform agenda. The largest percentage of the state budget goes toward K-12 school funding. The committee also heard presentations from the Commission for Higher Education, State Student Assistance Commission and the Horse Racing Commission. Budget hearings will continue next week.
In addition, the committee received testimony and approved HB 1002, which would allow for the creation of additional charter schools around the state. Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that operate outside the jurisdiction of a school corporation and under different state regulations. Several changes already made to the bill include one that would allow for the conversion of a public school to a charter school if either the school board votes in favor of the conversion or if 51 percent of the parents as well as 51 percent of the teachers sign a petition requesting the conversion. Another change removed language that would allow the mayors of second class cities to sponsor charter schools. The bill now advances to the full Senate for its consideration.
The Senate Education and Career Development Committee considered several bills including HB 1341. Another form of school vouchers, this legislation includes a plan to use public funds for tuition at private schools for special education students. HB 1369 was also reviewed which pertains to merit pay for school administrators and would eliminate the requirement that superintendents hold a teacher’s or superintendent’s license. In addition, the bill would repeal a requirement that a county superintendent of schools must have five years of successful teaching experience and hold a superintendent’s license. Both bills are still under consideration by the committee.
Legislation which includes a proposed statewide smoking ban received a hearing in the Senate Public Policy Committee. Specifically HB 1018 would ban smoking in public places and in enclosed areas at work. As amended by the House, casinos, bars, nursing homes and fraternal clubs would be exempt from the smoking prohibition. Testimony revealed that Indiana is the only Midwest state that has yet to enact some sort of statewide smoke-free legislation. The committee will continue its review of the bill.
The governor announced that he will veto a bill aimed at reforming Indiana’s criminal sentencing laws if approved in its current form. The original proposal is a result of a year-long study conducted by the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments, in response to the fact that over the past eight years Indiana’s prison population grew at a rate three times faster than neighboring states, due in part to lengthy prison sentences. SB 561 in its original form would have saved money and lessened the need for new prisons by reducing sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. However, the bill now includes an amendment pushed by prosecutors to require those convicted of more severe crimes to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence behind bars. These prisoners are the most expensive for the state to maintain. According to the Indiana Department of Correction, the maximum-security inmate population today is 8,493. Under the amended bill, by 2045, that population would increase by 15,227 prisoners and require new prisons to be built.
The governor recently signed several more bills into law including HEA 1133, which provides that an agritourism provider is not liable for the injury or death of a participant if the cause is an inherent risk of the activity. The new law requires warning signs to be posted and a warning notice be included in any contracts signed by participants. Another new law, HEA 1251, requires the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to establish a young entrepreneurs program to promote the business proposals of students in entrepreneurial programs at state universities. In addition, the program must include at least one auction per year in which communities bid for the opportunity to locate a young entrepreneur’s start-up business in a particular community.
April 8 Deadline for Senate committee hearings on House bills
April 15 Deadline for Senate to consider House bills
April 29 By law, session must conclude business and adjourn by midnight
To stay informed about bills moving through the General Assembly or to track legislation, log on to www.in.gov/legislative. From this site, you can also watch House and Senate committee hearings and session floor debate.