Late last week, the Indiana General Assembly rushed to wrap-up state business at the close of the 2017 legislative session. At the start of the week, there were over 60 outstanding bills to be considered before the end of the legislative session, including the state’s next two-year budget.
While the state budget was the biggest priority for lawmakers this session, here are a number of other issues that lawmakers debated at the close of the 2017 session.
State budget drafters have been busy preparing the biennial budget for months, starting with the revenue forecast process. On April 12, the State Budget Committee received an update on projected state revenues for the next two years. On December 15, 2016, the Revenue Forecast Technical Committee (RFTC) presented findings to the Budget Committee with their initial revenue forecast for the biennium. This information is the foundation for which the state’s budget was built. The April 2017 meeting’s goal was to update the initial presentation from December with three more months of actual revenue collections.
House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1001, the state’s biennial budget, acts as a list of priorities for Indiana’s budget makers. The state budget appropriates $32.2 billion over two years to fund essential state services including education, health services, economic development, child services, and public safety. This is an increase of $1.4 billion over the course of the budget. The two-year spending measure passed out of the Senate with a vote of 42-8, and was signed into law by the governor on Thursday. Below are just a few items from this year’s budget:
- The state’s K-12 voucher program, which diverts state tax dollars to private schools, receives a $21 million increase in funding.
- This year’s spending bill provides $8 million to fund a Dropout Prevention program.
- Addresses some of the East Chicago School Corporation’s issues related to the lead crisis in the city. The school corporation will be permitted sell a property without going through the charter school preference statute. The bill also does not penalize the corporation for students who left the corporation due to the lead crisis.
- Authorizes bonds or cash funds totaling $432 million dollars for new construction or the rehabilitation & repair of existing structures for higher education campuses.
- $6 million dollars over the biennium for the South Shore double-tracking project in northern Indiana.
- Make an appropriation for the new Business Promotion and Innovation line item for the governor to use for statewide economic development purposes.
- Public mass transit funding increased by $1 million in the second year of the budget.
- State match for Medicaid program is funded over the biennium at a cost of $4 billion.
- Increases funding for child psychiatric services by $1 million per year.
- Provides $5 million to the Governor’s Office to administer and oversee programs to deal with substance abuse treatment and enforcement.
- Increases salaries for state police, gaming officers, motor carrier inspectors, ATC officers, DNR officers.
- Funding for veterans problem-solving courts doubled to $1 million.
- Income tax deduction funded for military retirement and survivor’s benefits of $6,250.
State and Local Transportation funding
After much debate this session, the General Assembly ultimately approved a road and infrastructure funding measure that will focus on repairing state and local roads and bridges throughout Indiana. HEA 1002 will immediately increase the gas tax on all Hoosiers 10 cents per gallon at the pump, institute registration fees at the BMV ($15 for standard vehicles, $50 for hybrid vehicles, $150 for electric vehicles) dedicated to infrastructure funding, and allow the Indiana Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of tolling interstates. While tolling will not be immediately implemented, the governor and his administration would be able to seek permission from the Indiana Finance Authority and the Budget Agency to begin tolling.
With the increase in revenue, HEA 1002 allows lawmakers divert the sales tax on gasoline over a number of years and dedicate it solely to infrastructure improvements. Previously, the sales tax on gasoline was sent directly to the General Fund and was not necessarily spent on infrastructure. When HEA 1002 goes into effect, the split for state roads and local roads will be 60/40; meaning by 2024, $869 million in new funding will be available to be spent on state roads, while $340 million will be distributed to Indiana counties, cities and towns to improve the roads and bridges they are responsible for maintaining.
While Senate Democrats called into question the tax fairness of requiring working Hoosiers to pay for the majority of this funding at the pump while the state is still phasing in tax breaks for big business, the major disagreements with this proposal comes down to priorities. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there were 1,533 deficient bridges in the state. Of those bridges, 246 are owned and maintained by the state, and 1,275 are owned and maintained by local units of government such as counties, cities and towns. Additionally, according to data presented to legislators from the Indiana Association of Counties, our local units of government maintain nearly double the amount of road miles than the state. Senate Democrats who voted in opposition to HEA 1002 cited the issue of tax fairness and the need for more local road funds as reasons for voting against the measure.
Ultimately, HEA 1002 was approved by a vote of 37-12 and was signed into law by the governor on Thursday.
South Shore rail transit
The South Shore Rail Line has been operating for over 100 years, and the infrastructure improvements found in HEA 1144 will ensure success for another century. One provision that will have the largest impact on the citizens of North Central and Northwest Indiana will be the “double tracking” project. Currently, there are portions of the rail line where only one train can use the tracks at a time. This bottleneck causes train delays along the South Shore. The $6 million will add another track in heavily used areas, travel time will decrease, making the train a more reliable mode of transportation. The project will be comprised of 50% of the fund coming from the Federal Government, 25% from the State of Indiana, and the other 25% coming from the local units of government who pay into the Regional Development Authority.
The bill passed out of the Senate for the final time with a vote of 49-1, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
HEA 1003 will expire the current statewide ISTEP and replace it with a new standardized test called ILEARN. The implementation date for the new test is 2019, which means that the current ISTEP will still be used for one year. The Department of Education (DOE) and the State Board of Education (SBOE) would be tasked with developing the new test and ensuring that it aligns with state and federal testing standards.
Under the law, there would be a new year-end test for elementary and middle school students, and high schools would give end-of-course exams in 10th grade English, ninth-grade biology, and algebra I. It is unclear whether or not computer-adaptive testing would be used for elementary and middle school students. An optional end-of-course exam would be added for U.S. Government, and the state would be required to test students in social studies once in either fifth grade or eighth grade.
The act creates a new graduation pathway exam, and the SBOE would be tasked with working out the details and overseeing the implementation. Options could include high school taking the SAT, ACT, industry certifications, or the ASVAB military entrance exam. Critics of the legislation believe that this will result in more testing – even though one goal of the ISTEP committee that met last summer was to reduce testing time.
Ultimately, HEA 1003 passed the Senate with a vote of 39-11, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
The original version of HEA 1004 expanded the prekindergarten education pilot program from the current five counties to all 92 counties in Indiana. The proposal that was ultimately approved by the General Assembly expands the current Pre-K Pilot program to an additional 15 counties. This will bring the total number to 20 counties. The General Assembly approved the budget appropriation of $22M per year. Of this money, $1M is dedicated to a new in-home online pre-k program. The current Pre-K annual funding amount is $12M so the total funding increase is $9M.
To qualify for Indiana’s Pre-K program in the newly added counties, a family of four cannot earn more than $30,861. However, the legislation makes an exception for the existing five counties – a family of four can now make up to $44,864 and qualify for the program if all lower-income families who were interested already received grants. The proposal also includes a controversial new voucher pathway that will allow students who receive pre-K services at a private school to continue attending that elementary school with the assistance of the state voucher program.
While Senate Democrats have long been supporters of statewide early childhood education, support for HEA 1004 was split due to the tepid expansion of pre-K, and the controversial pathway into the ballooning voucher program that continues to prioritize funding education at private – often religious – schools over traditional public schools.
HEA 1004 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 31-19, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
Appointment of the Superintendent of Public Education
HEA 1005 will abolish the office of the state superintendent of public instruction on January 10, 2021 and will make it a governor-appointed position.
SB 179 – Selection of superintendent of public instruction – included similar language to the measure, and was the Senate version of HB 1005. However, SB 179 was defeated on third reading with a vote of 23-26.
Opponents of the legislation argued that the language in the House bill should not have been considered by the Senate because of substantially similar language/content to an already defeated SB 179. Democrats and some Republicans cautioned that the bill will take choice away from voters and concentrate power in the governor’s office. Making the state superintendent an appointed position rather than an elected official has been a long term goal for Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb and many of his predecessors.
HEA 1005 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 28-20, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
Failing Charter/Voucher Schools and Voucher Eligibility
HEA 1384 loosens regulations on current and future voucher schools. Under current law, schools have a one-year waiting period before they are eligible to start receiving vouchers – this legislation would remove that one-year waiting period. Also under current law, private schools cannot accept new voucher students for one year after the school is graded a D or F for two straight years. If a school reaches a third year rated a D or F, it is prohibited from receiving vouchers until it raises its grade to a C or higher for two consecutive years. HEA 1384 would allow for the school to petition the SBOE for a waiver so the school could continue to receive vouchers, despite being labeled a failing school.
HEA 1384 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 38-12, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
SEA 475, authored by freshman Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Gary), would require the State Board of Education to amend its rule stating that developmental delay is a disability only identifiable for students between the ages of three and five years. It would change the statute, extending the upward age cap to nine years of age.
The first bill authored by Sen. Melton to pass the legislature, Sen. Melton said this measure will help to identify students with a developmental delay in an effort to ensure they receive the state education resources they need to succeed in school. A 2015 Interim Study Committee studied the issue of developmental delay and passed their final report (by consent) recommending that Indiana expand the age limit to 9 years of age. Individuals testified at the committee stating that there is a crucial age gap from 5-8 years old that children do not receive necessary services and this bill would close that gap.
This bill would provide a continuum of services for children and their families, reduce inaccurate labeling of children with disabilities, and would be more cost effective in the long term.
SEA 475 was approved unanimously by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and was signed into law by the governor earlier this month.
Gary and Muncie Schools Emergency Managers
The Senate unanimously approved SEA 567 to bring stability to the Gary Community School Corporation. Although, State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Merrillville), a co-author of the bill, disagreed with the academic takeover language added into the bill in the House, he understood the need for state involvement in the school corporation’s financial crisis. Sen. Lanane also disagreed with rushed language added in the House to have a state takeover of the Muncie Community School Corporation. The Muncie Senator voted for the bill stating that he hopes the state still allows Muncie the chance to figure out their own finances before stepping in completely.
SEA 567 was approved unanimously by the Senate, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
Study of school district financial condition analysis and monitoring
On Wednesday, State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Merrillville) offered Senate Resolution (SR) 56 urging the General Assembly to study how school district financial conditions are analyzed and monitored. After school takeovers had been widely discussed in both chambers, Sen. Melton offered the resolution to study the role the state should play in instances of school financial crises.
Cannbidiol (CBD oil) for the treatment of epilepsy
HEA 1148 would make it easier for parents whose children have medical conditions like epilepsy to get access to cannabidiol. CBD contains about 0.3 percent THC, the chemical that delivers the “high” in marijuana, and is legal under federal law. However, under Indiana law even a small amount of THC makes it illegal.
The Prosecuting Attorneys Council testified in opposition of the bill, arguing that CBD should remain illegal because THC can accumulate in the body over time. Supporters of the bill point to the potential benefits for families struggling with treating epilepsy with traditional methods, including prescription medications.
HEA 1148 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 36-13, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
Needle Exchange Programs
HEA 1438 would allow local governments to approve needle exchange programs without state approval. Currently, local governments must petition the state health department to start a needle exchange in their county.
Dr. Jerome Adams (ISDH Commissioner) testified at the committee and said that this legislation is timely, given the current need by locals to implement the needle exchanges. He also stated that there are studies showing that needle exchanges do not lead to increased drug use. The Indiana State Medical Association testified in favor of the bill for similar reasons given by Dr. Adams. The Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council testified in opposition to the bill stating concerns over individuals referring to the needle exchanges as “treatment” – alluding to the need for more wraparound services.
Legislation passed last session allowed for needle exchange programs to combat the HIV epidemic in Scott County.
HEA 1438 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 32-16, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
Parental Notification of Abortion
SEA 404 changes the way judges grant girls permission to seek an abortion. The act would require unemancipated minors to obtain parental consent when pursuing the “judicial bypass” procedure for an abortion. This effectively changes the way judges grant permission for girls to seek an abortion because they would not be able to rule on a petition to get an abortion without parental consent.
Current Indiana law requires those younger than 18 to get permission from at least one parent before obtaining an abortion. However, if they cannot get permission or do not want to seek permission, they can petition a judge to have this requirement waived. The judge then considers whether or not the girl is mature enough to get an abortion. Committee testimony indicated that there are about 20 cases of judicial bypass every year in Indiana.
SEA 404 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 31-10, and was signed into law by the governor earlier this week.
Study of Medicaid coverage
This session, Sen. Eddie Melton offered Senate Resolution 36 urging the General Assembly to study Medicaid coverage for patients with rare diseases that was approved unanimously by the Senate. This resolution came in response to an outreach by a family in Sen. Melton’s district whose 26-year-old son, Derrian Baker, suffered from a rare condition known as Prader-Willi Syndrome and was denied coverage by many institutions in Indiana because of the severity of his disease. A few short weeks after the resolution passed, Derrian Baker unfortunately lost his life because he was barred access to the health treatments he desperately needed.
Removal of asset limits on SNAP benefits
A long-time priority for Senate Democrats, SEA 154 eliminates the current SNAP asset limit of $2,250.
It provides an expanded eligibility category of no more than $5,000 in countable assets. The Senate approved an asset limit of $10,000, but the House amended the bill to include no more than $5,000 in countable assets.
It also provides that the assets shall not include: A certificate of deposit; funeral and burial resources; and a savings account in the name of a dependent child. Supporters of the bill believe the limits force people to liquidate assets to receive food stamps and prevent them from saving money and becoming more self-sufficient. For example, families who have multiple vehicles might be turned down unless they sell one of the vehicles.
SEA 154 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 28-17, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
Use of Criminal History Information in Hiring – “Ban the Box”
SEA 312 provides that a political subdivision may not prohibit an employer from obtaining or using criminal history information during the hiring process to the extent allowed by federal or state law, rules, or regulations.
Some states require employers to wait until late in the selection process to ask about convictions.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance on this policy and recommended that employers not ask about convictions on job applications. In addition, if and when they make such inquiries, they keep it limited to convictions that would directly impact the specific job position.
Indianapolis/Marion County adopted a “Ban-the-Box” ordinance in 2014. The ordinance makes it unlawful for city and county agencies and their contractors (with 10 or more full-time employees) to inquire on employment applications about an applicant’s prior criminal history. In addition, covered employers cannot inquire into or require disclosure of any criminal convictions during the application process through the conclusion of a first interview. Covered employers who do not conduct any interviews are prohibited from making any inquiries or gathering any information regarding an applicant’s criminal convictions.
SEA 312 will preempt local “Ban-the-Box” ordinances in Indiana, and was approved by the Senate by a vote of 38-10. SEA 312 is currently awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
DNA Collection for Felony Arrestees
SEA 322 requires that every person arrested for a felony after June 30, 2017 to submit a DNA sample via mouth swab. These DNA samples would be uploaded to a registry and the bill provides for expungement of the DNA sample if the person is acquitted of all felony charges. Currently, Indiana collects DNA from individuals convicted of felonies, but this bill would change the law to require DNA collection upon arrest.
SEA 322 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 36-13, and was signed into law by the governor on the same day the General Assembly adjourned for 2017.
Handguns and General Assembly employees
SEA 43 was amended to permit certain employees of the General Assembly to carry a handgun within the State Capitol Building and on the State Capitol Complex if the employee possesses a valid Indiana license to carry a handgun.
SEA 43 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 39-7, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
Miscellaneous and Controversial Proposals
HEA 1496 is a result of the controversial issue of allowing gas stations to sell cold beer. The original bill was amended to address what some lawmakers referred to as the “cold beer loophole” after Ricker’s Gas Station found a way to comply with ATC requirements to allow them to sell cold beer at their Sheridan and Columbus locations.
The legislation mandates that 60 percent of all alcohol sales must be for on-site drinking at businesses such as Ricker’s in order to hold a valid permit after November 2016. Republican lawmakers indicated that they will potentially be studying the state’s alcohol laws this summer in preparation for an overhaul of these laws in the upcoming legislative sessions.
HEA 1496 was approved in the Senate by a vote of 43-6, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
Another controversial proposal, SEA 309, prohibits investor owned utilities from offering net metering tariffs to customers in 5 years. By 2022, all investor-owned utilities will be prohibited from offering net metering to any customers who seek to install their system after 2022. This does not apply to customers who are net metered before then.
In these instances, there are two types of treatment: if you have net metering prior to July 1, 2017, you’re grandfathered for 30 years when it comes to net metering (affects less than 1,000 Hoosiers); if you install between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2022, you’re grandfathered only until 2032; and if you are a solar customer after July 1, 2022, you are ineligible for net metering.
The bill also provides that utility companies will procure excess energy produced by net metering consumers at the wholesale rate of solar, rather than the current retail rate consumers currently receive. The wholesale rate of solar is currently about 2.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. The retail rate of solar is currently about 11 cents per kilowatt hour.
Opponents of the bill testified that solar panels are beneficial to the grid by promoting zero-polluting sources and improving grid security. Supporters of the bill argue that this is fair policy because people with solar pay less for use of the energy grid than people without it, so the people using traditional energy sources have to incur the extra cost.
SEA 309 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 37-11, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
SEA 1 is designed to significantly reduce the restrictions on manufacturers who make e-liquids for vaping devices in Indiana. The measure is in response to highly-controversial regulations that went into effect last year. The current law gives seven producers control of Indiana’s e-liquid market, and is said to shut out dozens of other manufacturers. It also requires that one security firm certify the producers of e-liquids.
E-liquids are defined in SEA 1, specifying that an e-liquid may or may not contain nicotine and is a product intended to be vaporized and inhaled using a vapor product. Under the act, e-liquids containing nicotine must be labeled as such. It removes many of the requirements previously put in place by the state, and instead requires manufacturers to comply with federal laws.
Under the act, the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) will approve e-liquids manufacturing permits, and any e-liquids produced by an ATC-approved manufacturer prior to July 1, 2017 may be distributed and sold for retail until the expiration date of the e-liquids. Manufactures are required under SEA 1 to include child-proof caps and identification codes on the e-liquids, as well as comply with federal standards.
SEA 1 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 45-4, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
Marion County Judicial Selection
HEA 1036 revises the way Marion County’s 36 Superior Court judges are selected by establishing a 14 member Marion County judicial selection committee. It requires the governor to appoint one of the nominees as judge to fill the vacancy and provides that, when the committee learns of a vacancy on the court, the committee follows certain procedures that conclude in the committee sending the names of three nominees to the governor.
Those opposed to the bill believe it would disenfranchise voters in largely black and Democratic Marion County, and limit diversity on the bench. Supporters of House Bill 1036 say it’s a well-balanced approach that gives voters, party leaders and members of the legal community some control over the judicial selection process. The previous system for selecting judges in Marion County was so flawed a federal judge threw it out.
Ultimately HEA 1036 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 28-22, and is awaiting the governor’s signature into law.
After significant changes in conference committee, HEA 1350 passed out of the Senate 38-12 and will now move to the governor. HEA 1350 involves gaming law, and specifically tax allocations for municipalities with casinos. In the original version, HEA 1350 included an amendment that would have precluded South Bend from receiving its share of collected state casino taxes. This was because South Bend will be home to a new casino owned by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indian Tribe, making it a private entity. The language barring South Bend from receiving these provisions was removed, however, making the law more palatable to lawmakers and a better fit for northern Indiana.
HB 1014 would have established a redistricting commission to create, hold hearings on, take public comment about, and recommend plans to redraw General Assembly districts and congressional districts. The bill received a committee hearing but no vote was taken and House Republican leadership indicated that the bill would not move forward this session.
Hundreds of interested voters showed up for the committee hearing with only 1 person testifying in opposition to the bill. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), there are currently 12 states that give first and final authority for legislative redistricting to a group other than the legislature. Although the Indiana Constitution states that the General Assembly “shall approve” the legislative maps, it doesn’t prohibit an independent commission from drafting the maps for General Assembly final approval.
Senate Democrats will be prioritizing this issue next legislative session so procedures can be established in state law before the next redistricting process in 2021.
SB 439 would have made it an aggravating circumstance (for purposes of imposing a criminal sentence) that the crime was committed with the intent to harm or intimidate an individual because of certain perceived or actual characteristics of the individual.
The bill did not make it a separate crime, it just made it an aggravating circumstance. Senator Taylor filed similar legislation this session. The bill passed the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee with a vote of 6-3, but Senator Glick said there was not enough support to move her bill forward. She cited amendments sought by Senator Delph that would have gutted the bill had she called the bill down on 2nd Reading. The measure would have allowed judges to impose tougher sentences for crimes motivated by race, religion, sex, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Senate Democrats will also be prioritizing this issue next legislative session.