The Indiana General Assembly is moving rapidly through the second half of session as senators face a February 23 committee hearing deadline. Legislation that moves through the second house without amendments will proceed to the governor for final consideration. Bills amended by the opposite chamber must return to the house of origin for consideration of changes made. This summary highlights some of the bills now moving through the Senate.
The Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee approved HB 1141, which would restore the state sales tax exemption that expired in 2009 for home energy assistance acquired through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Under the bill, the home energy costs paid through the program would be exempt from June 30, 2012, to July 1, 2020. The state sales tax exemption allows more of the assistance funds to go directly to utility costs and weatherization efforts.
Indiana’s program is divided into two components: the Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program. The program is primarily funded through the federal LIHEAP block grant.
Households earning up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for assistance through LIHEAP. The most vulnerable persons—the disabled, elderly, and households with a child under six years of age—are given top priority. LIHEAP offset the costs of heating for approximately 168,000 low-income households in Indiana last year.
The Senate Committee on Education and Career Development approved several bills including the following:
HB 1134 would prohibit school districts from charging families for the cost of bus services to and from school. The proposal is in response to recent student transportation problems experienced by several school districts including Franklin Township Schools in Marion County. After parents rejected a referendum that would have brought in additional funding last year for the school district, which faces an $8 million budget shortfall, its bus service for the 2012-2013 school year was outsourced to a company that charged parents a transportation fee of $47.50 per month for the first child and $40.50 for each additional child. Other schools around the state are experiencing similar budget shortfalls due in part to the removal of school funding from property taxes under the tax cap plan and referendum requirements approved by the 2008 General Assembly. School transportation budgets and construction projects continue to be funded through property taxes, while operating budgets are now determined by the state. As amended in the committee, the bill does allow a school corporation or educational service center to charge a fee for transportation to an athletic, social, or other school sponsored extracurricular function.
HB 1220 would provide the Indiana Commission for Higher Education with the authority to approve or disapprove existing or new certificate, associate, baccalaureate, or graduate degrees at state universities and colleges. The legislation would require each state educational institution to review its undergraduate degree programs to determine the number of credit hours required for the degree and to report the results to the commission, including a justification for any associate degree program of more than 60 hours or baccalaureate degree program of more than 120 hours.
These education initiatives now advance to the Senate floor for consideration by the full body.
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.