Child Safety and Welfare New laws go into effect this weekend

New laws go into effect this weekend

The Indiana General Assembly approved 271 bills to become law during the 2017 legislative session. One of those bills was vetoed by the governor, but many of the remaining acts will become law on July 1, 2017. Click here for a complete, downloadable session summary of all acts that were approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Below is a small sample of key pieces of legislation that will become law on Saturday.

HEA 1002 – Long-Term Infrastructure 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. The plan crafted by Statehouse Republicans 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 solely 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. If tolling is ever under consideration to be implemented, Senate Democrats will advocate a system that reimburses Hoosiers for most or all of toll fees while still capturing revenue from through-state drivers and large trucks.

With the increase in revenue, the plan allows lawmakers to 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 this plan 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; $529 million of that new revenue will 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 came down to priorities. According to data from the Federal Highway Administration, there were 1,533 deficient bridges in the state of Indiana in 2016. Of those, 1,275 are owned and maintained by our counties, cities and towns. Not to mention the flaw that our counties maintain nearly double the amount of road miles than the state does. Senate Republicans refused to accept Senate Democrats’ moratorium on corporate tax cuts, to provide more funding to local units of government, and to accept Buy American provisions.

HEA 1004 – Pre-Kindergarten Pilot Program Expansion

This year, lawmakers expanded Indiana’s first state-funded preschool program to an additional 15 counties, making the pilot program available in a total of 20 Indiana counties.

The new counties added to the On My Way Pre-K program are Bartholomew, DeKalb, Delaware, Elkhart, Floyd, Grant, Harrison, Howard, Kosciusko, Madison, Marshall, Monroe, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, and Vigo. Participating local providers in these counties will be expected to enroll children in On My Way Pre-K for the 2018/2019 school year, with the possibility of a limited program beginning in January of 2018.

These additional counties will join Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties, which have provided early education via the On My Way Pre-K program since 2015 when first authorized by the General Assembly.

The state budget allocated an additional $9 million to fund the expansion which will allow nearly 1,500 more 4-year-olds to participate, however, Senate Democrats pursued further funding and a more ambitious expansion statewide without success.

HEA 1003 – ISTEP and Student Assessments

The Indiana Statewide Testing for Education Progress Plus (ISTEP+) was launched in 1987. The test is intended to measure student achievement of the subject material. The test is administered annually to third through eighth graders in English and mathematics. Fourth and sixth graders also take a science ISTEP exam and fifth and seventh graders are tested in social science or the standardized testing used for Hoosier schools.

In 1999, the Indiana General Assembly established a performance-based accountability system based on student performance on statewide annual assessments (ISTEP) and progress made toward improvement. Schools were placed into categories: exemplary progress; commendable progress; academic progress; academic watch; and academic probation. In 2011, the Indiana State Board of Education approved changes to the state’s accountability system including a transition to “A-F” categories. Participation, performance, and growth of high and low performing students determined middle and elementary schools’ grades. High schools’ grades also include graduation rate and college and career readiness factors.

The use of ISTEP has been a contentious topic in the General Assembly for the past few years. After multiple issues with the delivery, grading, and use of the test, HB 1003 was drafted to replace the ISTEP exam with a new one called I-LEARN (Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network) until a new test can be developed.

HEA 1005 – Appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction

After much debate and controversy, HEA 1005 will abolish the election of the office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction on January 10, 2021, and will make it a governor-appointed position.

SEA 337 – Ethnic Studies Course Offering In High Schools             

Senate Enrolled Law (SEA) 337 will require the study of ethnic and racial groups to be included in Indiana’s high school U.S. history curricula. The Law does not specify an ethnic or racial group to be studied but leaves that decision to local school corporations. Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) has authored similar legislation in previous years and championed this issue during the legislative session.

SEA 309 – Net Metering & Distributed Generation

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.

HEA 1148 – Cannabidiol to Treat Epilepsy

A new law will allow parents whose children have medical conditions like epilepsy to get access to cannabidiol (CBD). 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 to 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.

SEA 154 – Asset Limits for SNAP Eligibility

A long-time priority for Senate Democrats, this law eliminates the current asset limit of $2,250 for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Law 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. The limits currently in place force people to liquidate assets to receive food stamps and prevents 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. With the passage of this bill, these obstacles will no longer be in place.

SEA 253 – Study of Paid Family Medical Leave

This session, the Indiana General Assembly finally accepted a proactive measure to study paid family leave and its future impact on the Hoosier workforce. However, this May after session adjourned, the Legislative Council, a small group of select legislators, declined the recommendation from the General Assembly. This action has pushed back critical legislation for yet another year. My original language called for a voluntary program where employers could offer a paid leave benefit to employees. Employers and employees could pay into a fund much like a short-term disability policy, and employees could draw benefits when needed. Employees covered by the plan could take the benefit for illness, birth of a child, injury, or time off for the illness of a family member. The State of Indiana would manage the assets paid into the voluntary leave program. I am disappointed that the General Assembly changed the language to provide for only a study, and even more disappointed that the Legislative Council declined to even study paid family medical leave. I will be filing this legislation again next legislative session.

SEA 567 – School Financial Crises

This law, pertaining to distressed and fiscally impaired political subdivisions, was originally intended to assist the Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC) navigate a long-term debt crisis the school corporation has been facing. While the approved Law does address the issues facing GCSC, the proposal has opened doors for other school districts in Indiana to be taken over by the state. This fact was proven true when Muncie Community Schools were included in SEA 567, allowing the state to take over the school corporation. Many expressed concerns the language in this Law could very well allow for a state takeover of schools in financial crises.

HEA 1344 – East Chicago Lead Contamination

East Chicago has been facing a dangerous lead crisis due to soil contamination. A new law will help to address these issues and encourages the Department of Environmental Management to cooperate with and provide assistance to the United States Environmental Protection Agency in the sampling, excavation, and removal of contaminated soil and restoration work in the East Chicago area of special concern. The Law also addresses the relocation of East Chicago residents who have been affected by the lead crisis.

HEA 1036 – Marion County Judicial Selection

This new law revises the way Marion County’s 36 Superior Court judges are selected by establishing a 14-member Marion County Judicial Selection Committee. HEA 1036 requires that when the committee learns of a vacancy on the court, the committee must follow certain procedures that conclude in the committee sending the names of three nominees to the governor. The governor then appoints one of the nominees as a judge to fill any vacancies. I fought against this bill because I believe it disenfranchises voters in largely black and Democratic areas of Marion County, therefore limiting diversity on the bench.

SEA 390 – Employment of Individuals with Disabilities

With coordination from service providers, the Employment First for People with Disabilities created a change in priority for disability services by focusing resources on finding jobs that pay a real wage and provide a real opportunity for people with disabilities in the private sector. The Law received unanimous support in both the Senate and House and was signed into law by the governor. The law updates the Indiana Commission on Rehabilitation Services regarding their overall duties, the number of appointments to the commission, as well as establishing a new state policy with regard to employment opportunities for disabled individuals.

SEA 355 – Child Abuse Education and Policies

This new law will require the Indiana Department of Education to make model educational materials and response policies concerning child abuse and sexual abuse available to schools for students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade. Currently, state law mandates these materials are only required to be provided in grades 2 through 5. This is an extremely important policy update as it provides protections and resources for Hoosier children who may not have access to critical resources elsewhere.

SEA 42 – Pro Bono Legal Services

Pro bono legal services are those in which a lawyer represents an individual for the common good without charging a fee. Certain court fees help to fund a statewide pro bono service. The law initiating this funding is scheduled to expire on July 1, 2017. This law postpones the expiration until July 1, 2022.

HB 1438 – Syringe Exchange Programs

State legislators are working hard to combat the opioid crisis in Indiana. One way in which they are doing so is with this new law. Under the proposal, a county or municipality would be able to operate a syringe exchange program for no longer than two years, monitored by the State Health Commissioner. Previously, counties would have to seek state approval before instating a syringe exchange program. This bill would allow Hoosiers to safely and carefully wean off opioid addiction in a controlled and monitored manner.

SEA 475 – Developmental Delay

A proposal to help identify students with a developmental delay to ensure they receive the state educational resources they need to succeed in school was the first bill offered by Sen. Melton to pass the legislature. SEA 475 will 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, extending the upward age cap to nine years of age based on a recommendation from a 2015 legislative summer study committee. Experts who testified at the committee stated that there is a crucial age gap from five to eight years old where children do not receive necessary services, and this newly enacted law would close that gap. The language will provide a continuum of services for children and their families, reduce inaccurate labeling of children with disabilities, and will be more cost-effective in the long-term.