Education 2016 Session Half time: A look at key Senate bills

2016 Session Half time: A look at key Senate bills


Wednesday marked the halfway point in the 2016 legislative session. At this point in the legislative session, bills that have stalled either chamber are considered dead for this session. Of the 411 bills proposed in the Senate this year, 152 have been referred to the House of Representatives for further consideration, while 116 have come over from the House for Senate review. Bills must pass both chambers of the General Assembly before being sent to the governor for him to sign into law, veto, or become law without his signature. This summary highlights a number of Senate-passed bills thus far:

Civil rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers

After the debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) last session exposed glaring deficiencies in the Indiana civil rights statute for LGBT Hoosiers, much of the first half of the 2016 session was dominated by the debate between LGBT civil rights and religious freedom. For background on Indiana’s civil right statutes, click here>>

There were a number of proposals offered this session regarding LGBT civil rights. In October, the Senate Democrats offered their proposal, SB 2, that would simply add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes within the Indiana civil rights statute so that members of the LGBT community would be protected from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation. Senate Democrats have argued since the debate over RFRA that the legislature must send the strongest, simplest message to Hoosiers and the nation that Indiana is not a state that will condone discrimination against members of the LGBT community. Unfortunately, SB 2 was never granted a committee hearing, and any amendments attempting to insert this concept into other proposals were rejected along party lines.

As an alternative to the prevailing proposals in this debate, SB 66 was offered as a rewrite of RFRA and would establish certain provisions of the Indiana Constitution as fundamental rights. Namely, SB 66 would have established the following as fundamental rights within state law: the right to worship, the right to free exercise and conscience, the right to freedom of religion, the right to freedom of thought and speech, the right of assemblage and petition and the right to bear arms. The proposal would have also repealed RFRA altogether and placed these rights in statute. However, SB 66 did not provide any protections for the LGBT community.

The first Senate Republican proposal attempting to balance religious rights with LGBT civil rights was SB 100. Under this proposal, sexual orientation and gender identity would be added as protected classes under the Indiana civil rights statute. However, there are a number of exemptions and carve outs for religious organizations and small businesses with less than four employees. The proposal would have also exempted wedding related businesses with less than four employees from providing services to members of the LGBT community. The proposal would have also required transgender Hoosiers to “prove” their gender over the course of 12 months before gaining civil rights protections. Additionally, SB 100 would have repealed any and all local ordinances that provide more stringent than those provided in the proposal. Again, for a closer look at the various provisions of SB 100, click here>>

After SB 100 encountered significant pushback, Senate Republicans tried again with SB 344 – a proposal largely similar to SB 100 but removed any protections for transgender Hoosiers. That proposal ultimately failed when Republican leadership pulled the bill from being fully vetted for lack of support from their own caucus.

A behind-the-scenes look at just what happened in the debate over SB 344 and Civil Rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers>>

State and local road funding

SB 333 mirrors the infrastructure plan the governor proposed, and would allow the state surplus to be used to fund state infrastructure projects. When the state surplus exceeds 11.5 percent of total state revenue, it can be transferred to the State Highway Fund for road and bridge repair. This proposal provides the transfer of excess reserves for road and bridge repair could reoccur every other year going forward. The governor and Statehouse Republicans offered the proposal in response to the D+ rated infrastructure rating by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the scope of the state’s mounting infrastructure problem. This proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 49-0.

While the governor’s plan for infrastructure funding only focuses on state-owned infrastructure assets, SB 67 was proposed in an effort to assist Indiana cities, towns and counties with their infrastructure repair needs. The proposal helps counties redistribute local option income tax funds to support local transportation projects. The bill mandates that at least 75 percent of distributions made to the county, city or town must be used for transportation or deposited into the rainy day fund. Senate Democrats offered another proposal to provide local units of government with additional flexibility for sustainable infrastructure funding, but the proposal was not granted a committee hearing. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 49-1.

Education issues

After multiple issues surrounding the implementation, administration and scoring of the 2015 ISTEP test, the legislature moved to protect students, teachers and communities from falling ISTEP scores. Sen. Stoops offered a proposal on Organization Day in November to hold students, teachers and schools harmless from falling ISTEP scores, but that proposal was not considered. Under SEA 200, if a school corporation’s grade is lower than their 2013-2014 grades due to flawed ISTEP scores, the corporation does not face consequences regarding their school accountability grades. SB 200 has already passed both chambers and been signed into law by the governor. For a closer look at ISTEP scores, their history and how they could affect your school, click here. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 48-1. SEA 200 was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 97-1, and was signed into law by the governor on January 21, 2016.

The Senate is also looking at options moving forward regarding school evaluations. SB 63 provides the creation of an ISTEP panel to establish alternative recommendations that could replace the current test. The panel will study issues such as the feasibility of using existing tests other than ISTEP, reducing testing time, reducing costs of test administration and test transparency. The panel would consist of 17 members. The governor, the superintendent of public instruction, the Speaker of the House, and the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate would all appoint 4 members each, and those members must consist of a teacher, a principal, a school superintendent, and a member with technical expertise in standardized testing. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 49-0.

Continuing his efforts to decrease incidences of student athlete concussions, Sen. Lanane offered SB 234, which would require coaches of middle and high school student athletes to complete concussion and head injury education courses. In Indiana, most head injuries are only associated with high school football players. The bill aims to prevent concussions for all student athletes in every sport in grades 5 through 12. This proposal would require coaches to complete training so they can be aware of symptoms of concussions and how to prevent them in order to avoid dangerous brain injuries. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 41-9.

SB 328 would establish the Teacher Assistance Grant. The proposal was offered in response to the Indiana teacher shortage, and is designed to encourage college students to pursue a career in education. The proposal would create Teacher Assistance Grant to increase the number of licensed teachers specializing in high need subject areas in Indiana. Students studying specific areas of need and who commit to teaching in Indiana can apply for the grant, which is $4,000 plus 50 percent of the resident undergraduate tuition. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 49-0.

SB 93, among other provisions, extends the Gary Schools revitalization proposal championed by Sen. Earline Rogers last legislative session. To set Gary Community Schools on a path towards success and economic recovery, the measure approved last session created a plan of action where local officials, school board members, a financial advisory of the board’s choosing and the Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB) work together to create the school’s recovery plan. SB 93 provides that the financial specialist appointed for the Gary Community School Corporation may continue to perform their duties for 24 months, an extension of the original 12 months. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 49-0.

Curbing methamphetamine production

To deter methamphetamine production, SB 161 would streamline agencies to better track and control ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine sales. Courts would be required to report drug related felonies to the state police department, and then those reports will be passed along to the National Precursor Log Exchange. By sharing it with the NPLEx, a stop alert will be generated that will prevent individuals with drug related felonies from purchasing ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 50-0.

To add to this, SB 80 would allow the Indiana Board of Pharmacy to adopt rules regarding pharmacists’ protocols when it comes to pseudo-ephedrine sales. Also review of pharmacists’ sale decisions would be within the board’s jurisdiction and resulting disciplinary action as necessary. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 41-8.

Firearms in the Statehouse

SB 259 would permit employees of the Indiana General Assembly to carry handguns in the Statehouse. The bill would allow employees to carry their licensed handgun within the state capitol building and on the property of the complex. Opposition to the bill believes it is unnecessary and allowing more guns into building will only put people in more danger. There is also concern with unattended guns in the building, while other people in the Statehouse, such as pages, news outlets, and lobbyists are constantly in and out of the building.

Controversial Proposals

SB 313 would prohibit abortion if the unborn child has been diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly. Supporters of the bill want to limit a woman’s choice to abort a fetus. Whereas, opposition to the bill believes it is another tactic to regulate and limit abortion. Opposition also argues that SB 313 is unconstitutional because it restricts abortions during the non-viable period and the bill complicates a legal right. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 36-13.

Other Proposals

Medical Marijuana

SB 209 would have permitted physicians to prescribe medical marijuana to Indiana patients. Further, the proposal would have created a state agency, the Department of Marijuana Enforcement (DOME), to oversee the program and assemble an advisory committee to review the effectiveness of medical marijuana on certain medical conditions and to consider recommendations made by DOME.

Under this proposal, research facilities located in Indiana would also have the ability to study the efficacy of marijuana as medicine after receiving licenses from DOME. Sen. Tallian points to the lack of state policy as the reason why medical research on marijuana cannot be conducted within Indiana.

This proposal did not receive a committee hearing and is considered dead for this session.

Family Leave Insurance Program 

In an effort to support Hoosier working families without access to paid family medical leave, SB 210 would allow employees to create a fund to cover workers’ pay and benefits while dealing with various family health issues. The proposal would have created the Family Leave Insurance Program (FLIP), which would ensure that employees had an option to contribute to a savings account if they ever need to take family medical leave. FLIP would be a trust fund, with combined optional employer and employee contributions, that would cover employee pay and benefits while on leave. For a closer look at Senate Democrat’s proposals to support working families, click here>>

Bias Crimes

Indiana is currently one of only five states that do not have a hate crime law. SB 220 would add aggravating circumstances to crimes that are committed that targeted a victim due to certain characteristics like race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, ancestry, national origin, or sexual orientation. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 34-16.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

SB 132 would allow individuals with prior drug convictions to qualify for SNAP benefits. Currently, individuals with past and recent drug convictions are ineligible for food stamps. Someone convicted of a drug offense in the last five years and demonstrating sobriety through addiction treatment and drug testing can maintain SNAP eligibility. In Indiana, individuals convicted of other felonies may still maintain eligibility for SNAP benefits, only drug offenders lose eligibility. SB 132 aims to help people who have made mistakes get back on their feet and lead productive lives as recovering addicts. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 43-7.

Daily Fantasy Sports

SB 339 states that paid fantasy sports participation on sites such as Draft Kings and Fan Duel do not constitute gambling. Other facets of the bill provide that rewards for the games must be disclosed before the game begins, and requires users to be above 18 years old. This legislation will establish the Fantasy Sports Regulation and Administration Fund, where fees and civil penalties will be deposited. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 38-11.

High-fenced hunting

SB 109 establishes regulation of high-fenced hunting preserves, which are privately owned areas with captive bred wild animals. Opposition to the bill believe the practice of hunting preserves is inhumane and should not be condoned. Supporters of the bill believe it will bring more hunting preserves to Indiana and therefore help the economy. This proposal was approved by the Senate by vote of 29-19.