Legislators approved the state’s two-year, $30 billion budget early Saturday morning. The most important initiative debated during the 2013 session, House Bill (HB)1001 contains proposals advocated for by Senate Democrats, including increased local road funding, additional resources to address back-logged maintenance and building projects for the state’s public universities, and an appropriation for statewide programs for community corrections.
However, a number of Senate Democrats were dissatisfied with the budget’s lack of action on combating the state’s unemployment rate and unequal support for the state’s public education system as reasons to not support the budget. The approved budget includes the following:
Throughout the session, Senate Democrats argued that rebuilding the state’s aging infrastructure would inject vital funding into local communities and reduce the cost of doing business for Hoosier companies. The budget diverts 1 percent of the sales tax and use tax for the General Fund to the Motor Vehicle Highway Funds – directing over $100 million in additional funding to local units each year. The proposal also creates the Major Moves 2020 Trust Fund, appropriating $200 million each year to be used for major highway expansion projects.
Cut in the previous two budgets, Senate Democrats pushed to fully restore funding for Indiana schools. While K-12 funding increases 2 percent over 2013 levels for 2014 and 1 percent in 2015, compared to 2011 funding, 183 schools will receive less in 2015 than they received in 2011. That’s means more than half the state’s schools will receive less funding in 2015 than they had four years earlier.
The state’s institutions of higher education receive $215 million to fund new university building projects. The budget also allocates $66 million per year in the form of incentives for universities that meet certain performance metrics set out by the Commission on Higher Education.
After nearly four months, the General Assembly declined to take action on enacting the federal health care reform in a way that works for Hoosiers. Since the onset of the legislative session, Senate Democrats have brought to light the possibility of creating 30,000 new jobs, injecting billions of federal dollars into local communities and providing more than 400,000 uninsured working Hoosiers with medical services through the enactment of health care reform.
Language included in the budget bill, HB 1001, transfers $250M in FY 14 to the Medicaid Contingency and Reserve Account. HB 1001 also provides that FSSA may not implement a waiver or Medicaid state plan until they have developed a sustainable financing plan for a Medicaid state plan amendment or waiver and plan has been reviewed by State Budget Committee. In addition, HB 1001 authorizes the governor, with budget committee review, to negotiate with the federal government to receive Medicaid block grants.
In an unprecedented expansion of the nation’s largest voucher program, lawmakers narrowly approved language loosening the program’s eligibly requirements. Rejected by Senate Democrats, HB 1003 will extend vouchers to any student who lives in an attendance zone with a failing school or has a sibling already participating in the program. In addition, the legislation permanently lifts the cap on the number of vouchers and increases eligibility to those earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Senate Democrats opposed the expansion plan and pointed to the $113 million price tag associated with the current program as reason for a more cautious approach. The state revenue used to pay for the voucher program is diverted directly from the state’s public schools.
Senate Democrats successfully secured a commitment to study the impact of the voucher program including who receives vouchers, the performance of schools accepting vouchers and the appropriate limit for state funded scholarships for private education.
The budget bill requires the State Budget Agency and the Department of Revenue to estimate choice scholarship distributions and caps transfer from state tuition reserve fund per year at $25M. HB 1003 amends the definition of voucher to require an individual or sibling of the individual to receive a scholarship granting organization (SGO) of at least $800 in a prior school year as well as meet 150% of free and reduced lunch program income requirement. (Current definition does not specify the dollar amount of SGO an individual must receive or allow a sibling to be eligible for a voucher). In addition, HB 1003 increases amount of a voucher for grades 1-8 at $4,700 in FY 2014 and $4,800 in FY 2015.
Approved by a narrow vote in the Senate, provisions in HB 1427 will delay the adoption of Common Core standards and tests while the State Board of Education considers a report of a summer legislative study committee charged with reviewing the standards, and a report from the state office of Management and Budget on the costs to the state and school corporations of implementing the standards. Currently, first grade and kindergarten are already administering Common Core.
If Common Core standards are halted, Indiana schools would lose their Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility waiver, and would be placed back under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements. Such requirements dictate that schools must reach adequate yearly progress toward 100% proficiency in testing by 2014. According to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, 444 Indiana schools this year would drop from an “A” or “B” to a “C” grade, and half of the state’s high schools would be capped at a “C” grade as a result of losing the flexibility waiver. Additionally, if Indiana were to lose its NCLB waiver as a result of halting the implementation of Common Core standards, the U.S. Department of Education could begin to withhold funding, including funds used to help schools with a disproportionate number of low-income students.
The Common Core standards were initiated in 2008 by the National Governor’s Association and the National Superintendents Association, and have been adopted by 46 other states to align high-quality curriculum nationwide. Opponents of the standards argue that they handcuff the state’s ability to set educational metrics independent of other states.
In an effort to improve student safety, lawmakers approved legislation that will provide state grants to hire and train school resource officers around the state. Senate Bill (SB) 1, co-authored by Sen. Jim Arnold, requires that a school resource officer, often a former or active police officer, to receive 40 hours of special training to work in a school environment. The officers will be charged with keeping the school secure, as well as helping to educate and counsel the students on a daily basis. The state budget provides $20 million over the biennium for Secured School Safety Grants including a maximum grant of $50,000 per school corporation or charter school that has an ADM of at least 1,000 and is not applying jointly; $35,000 per year, in the case of a school corporation or charter school that has an ADM of less than 1,000 and is not applying jointly; and $50,000 per year, in the case of a coalition of schools applying jointly.
Included in the new law is a provision that makes it an option for schools to hire a school resource officer.
Controversial language was removed from the bill that would have mandated at least one properly-trained employee in each school to carry a loaded weapon if the school resource officer was not on campus. Instead, the new law provides for a summer study committee to research other safety measures schools could initiate.
Efforts to increase job opportunities and keep Indiana’s gaming facilities competitive with surrounding states failed to pass this session. The proposal would have permitted existing riverboat gaming facilities to move inland to adjacent property, allowed the state’s horse track racinos to employ live table games, and provided added flexibility for the use of promotional “free play” vouchers, among other provisions. Proponents argued live table games could employ up to 600 new dealers around the state and cited new gaming facilities in Ohio, Illinois and Michigan as good reasons to tweak Indiana’s gaming policies.
Following a number of high-profile child abuse cases around the state, legislators initiated a review of the Department of Child Services (DCS). That review, taken on by members of the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee last summer, received hundreds of hours of testimony over four months, and ultimately a set of recommendations to improve oversight and ensure adequate protections were crafted.
A number of those recommendations were adopted this session. SB 125, coauthored by State Senator John Broden, establishes two oversight committees, the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana and the Child Services Oversight Committee. The commission will serve as an umbrella organization, studying issues concerning vulnerable youth and reviewing future legislation. The oversight committee will review and assess data from DCS and make annual assessments of the department’s performance. The proposal also enables each county to employ local child fatality review teams to investigate, report, and relay data on any child deaths.
Budget drafters largely took a pass on one critical issue raised by the summer study committee under persistent protest from Senate Democrats. Led by Leader Tim Lanane, Senate Democrats pointed to the absence of language allowing mandatory reporters – including teachers, law enforcement officers and medical personnel – to contact and report child abuse and neglect directly to local DCS offices. The ability for mandatory reporters to report locally was part of a bipartisan compromise crafted during the summer study committee to address issues raised about the ineffectiveness of DCS’s centralized hotline.
Five years of study went into crafting comprehensive legislation to reform the state’s sentencing laws. HB 1006 expands the current four-level felony penalty classification system to a six-level system. The proposal requires felons to receive at least 75 percent of their sentences (instead of 50 percent under current law), and will ease sentencing for non-violent offenders by proposing sentences other than incarceration.
The intent of this proposal is to lower the high costs of incarceration in the state by keeping the most violent offenders in prison, while also providing a better system of handling low-level offenders and drug abusers through community corrections and treatment programs.
A number of decisions will be left to a summer study committee that will examine advisory sentences, suspended sentences, criminal justice funding, recidivism, and other issues related to sentencing.
Legislation restricting the ability to take photos or video of farming or manufacturing operations was unexpectedly blocked in the final hours of the legislative session. SB 373, termed the “ag-gag” bill, had been heavily criticized by opponents as a serious restriction to whistleblowers reporting unsafe or hazardous conditions.
A proposal to delay action and deny state assistance on a project to build the Rockport Synthetic Natural Gasification Plant has gained approval during the 2013 legislative session. The proposal aimed to protect ratepayers from incurring increases at the expense of a contract set up between the state and Leucadia, the corporation pushing the project. In the original contract, Indiana would serve as the buyer of 80 percent of the plant’s product at a predetermined rate. If the market failed to meet that rate, the difference would have been made up at the expense of rate-payers.