As the 2018 legislative session reaches its halfway point, the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus takes a moment to reflect on what the General Assembly has accomplished, and more importantly, not accomplished, so far.
The beginning of the session led with hope for the Senate Democrats’ agenda which laid out a plan for legislation to pass by 2020. InVision 2020 is a collective identity for our mission to listen to your voice and ensure your vote is counted.
The Department of Child Services (DCS) faces allegations of budget reductions, inadequate staffing and services, antiquated technology and a dramatic increase in caseloads due in large part to the opioid epidemic. Matters of child safety require an immediate response. This session, Senate Democrats are offering legislation that would give loan forgiveness to Family Case Managers that work at DCS for at least three years in order to better recruit and retain much needed staff. The Democrats are also offering Senate Resolution (SR) 14 to establish a DCS oversight committee to ensure ongoing legislative awareness of DCS operations.
The Indiana Senate Democrats are pleased to see that the U.S. Congress listened to the calls of state legislators across the country to reinstate funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Enrollment in this program increased 29 percent over the last three years, showing how much Indiana families depend on it to keep their children healthy. 100,000 Hoosier children were at risk of losing health care if Congress didn’t act. Senator Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) offered SR 6 urging Congress to take this action.
The Senate Democrats’ Senate Bill (SB) 250 to allow no-excuse absentee voting received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. Indiana requires voters wishing to vote by mail to meet at least one of 11 requirements, such as having a disability, lacking transportation to the polls or working during the entire 12 hours that the polls are open. Senate Democrats believe voting should be as easy as possible, and Hoosiers should have access to this convenient way of voting just like Americans in 27 other states and Washington, D.C.
SB 52, legalizing CBD oil, passed the Senate and now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. Every Senate Democrat voted in favor of the bill. SB 52 allows the retail sale of CBD oil without the need for anyone to be on a registry. The Senate Democrats are glad the legislature listened to Hoosiers who testified on the health benefits of CBD oil and continue to move this common sense bill through the legislature to ultimately become law.
The Republican Supermajority halted many of our agenda items by simply not allowing them a committee hearing. A total of 80 out of 85 Senate Democratic bills failed to receive a committee hearing by the Chairman of their respective committees. Some of those bills included Senate Bill (SB) 271, which would have made Indiana the 46th state to enact a bias crimes law, SB 77 which would have created an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission to redraw legislative maps, SB 309 which would have implemented an opt-in family leave insurance program for employers and their employees, and SB 121 which would have incrementally increased the state’s minimum wage which hasn’t seen an increase since 2009.
While Republicans put a cork in many of these important issues, they were able to pass a bill to finally allow Hoosiers to buy alcohol on Sundays, a feat 38 other states have already accomplished. Even then, they rejected an amendment by a Senate Democrat that would have changed the hours of sale permitted in the bill, which is 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., to the same hours as you can currently buy alcohol any other day of the week which is 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.
This session has truly shown where members of the majority place their priorities. They have neglected to ensure the safety of our children in the DCS by ignoring the alarming red flags outlined by former DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura in her resignation letter. They have ignored pleas from Senate Democrats to ensure fair and equal pay for all Hoosiers regardless of gender, race or national origin. And they have failed to increase access to voting for all Hoosiers by not expanding polling hours or allowing for same-day voter registration.
The Senate will be receiving bills approved by the House of Representatives next week and the legislature will have just over a month to ensure the well being and safety of Hoosier families.