Before the 2018 legislative session began, the Indiana Senate Democrats presented an agenda called ‘INvision 2020,’ a comprehensive plan for our caucus to ensure your voice and your vote remain at the center of our mission for a better Indiana by the year 2020. We promised to fight to defend healthcare, enact bias crimes legislation, implement a paid family leave program, ensure the safety of children and create a sustainable minimum wage. We also made it our mission to expand voter access through an independent redistricting commission, expanded voting hours and locations, excuse free absentee voting and same-day voter registration. All members of the caucus fought tirelessly for each of these items through bills and resolutions this year. Here’s an update on where each of our goals stand at the end of the 2018 session.
At the beginning of session, we set out to defend healthcare for children due to the uncertainty of whether or not Washington would continue to provide funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). State Senator Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) offered Senate Resolution (SR) 6 which urged the Indiana Congressional Delegation to re-authorize funding for CHIP. That proposal was approved in the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee and a few weeks later, the U.S. Congress reauthorized funding for CHIP for six additional years. 100,000 Hoosier children were at risk of losing health care if Congress didn’t act.
Defending healthcare also means ensuring people have access to treatment options. SB 52, legalizing CBD oil, passed the Senate and the House of Representatives and is now in conference committee. 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.
For the 6th continuous year State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) offered a bias crimes proposal, Senate Bill (SB) 271, in an effort to better protect individuals who are victim of crimes because of their race, color, creed, disability, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity. The proposal would have also provided training for police officers in identifying and responding to bias crimes. Our current laws are inadequate when a 15-year-old child is beaten unconscious after multiple race-based threats, and their aggressor is sentenced to only 30 days in juvenile detention. Sen. Taylor’s proposal did not get a hearing, but Senator Sue Glick (R-LaGrange) had a similar proposal that did receive a hearing. On the last day for the committee to amend and vote on the bill, Senate Republicans pulled the bill from the calendar stating the lack of consensus on details of the legislation in their own caucus, causing it to not move forward in the legislative process. The Supermajority continues to ignore the 64% of Hoosiers that want a bias crimes law, and we remain one of only five states in the nation that tolerates this kind of violence.
Expand paid family leave
In Indiana, not all workers have access to paid time off to care for a newborn baby or sick child, spouse or parent. This is an economic and emotional issue our families face too often – do what’s right for their family and not be able to pay bills, or go to work and leave behind a sick family member. To address this, State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) filed SB 309 to allow Hoosiers the option of paid leave to care for their family members. This bill would create a Family Leave Insurance Program, a voluntary program that would allow employers and employees to contribute to a fund that would then pay a percentage of an employee’s salary when they need to take leave. Although the majority didn’t give this bill a hearing, Sen. Tallian also drafted Senate Resolution 25 calling for a study of implementing a voluntary paid leave program. The resolution received bipartisan support and passed out of the committee 7-1 and was approved by the full Senate.
Ensure the safety of children
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 offered Senate Resolution (SR) 14 to establish a summer committee to ensure ongoing legislative review of the DCS. There is currently no legislative body looking at child welfare and making bill recommendations to address concerns. In order for the legislators to do our due diligence to protect children in the child welfare system, we must have thorough and regular information on the operations of DCS. SR 14 passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
Sustainable minimum wage
Hoosiers across the state are working multiple jobs, over 40 hours a week and are still unable to provide for their families because the state’s minimum wage has not increased since it was set at $7.25 in 2009, nearly a decade ago. State Senator Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond) has fought diligently for years to increase Indiana’s minimum wage and this legislative session was no different. His proposal, SB 121, would have gradually increased the state’s bottom wage to $10/hour in 2019, $13/hour in 2020 and to $15/hour by 2021. Knowing the Republican Supermajority’s continued resistance to increasing the minimum wage, Sen. Mrvan called his bill a long shot, but something that must be done. In another unsurprising move from the Senate Republicans, his proposal wasn’t even given a committee hearing in the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee.
Independent redistricting commission
For almost a decade, the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus has pursued an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission to redraw legislative districts. Currently, Politicians draw maps to pick their voters instead of voters electing their representatives. SB 77, authored by State Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson), again called for the establishment of a redistricting commission, and once again the bill was not heard by the Senate’s supermajority. Bipartisan legislation, albeit a watered down bill, SB 326, was approved by the Senate, but died in the House of Representatives when a Republican chairman refused to hear the bill. For the second time in three years, the issue of an independent commission has been assigned to a legislative study committee which will meet in the summer of 2018, costing time and tax dollars for an issue studied just a couple of years ago.
Extended polling hours
Hoosiers are busy people; there is work, kids, school, and many other obligations that may keep us from making it to a polling location between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Election Day. Indiana is just one of two states that closes its polling locations this early. This year Sen. Tallian offered SB 304 which would allow counties to remain open one additional hour on Election Day to expand opportunities for Hoosiers to cast their vote. This bill died in committee when the chairman did not allow a hearing on the measure.
Excuse free absentee voting
Right now in Indiana, certain individuals can request a ballot be mailed to them through the postal service and can mail that ballot back to their county clerk’s office. Those seeking to “vote-by-mail” must meet at least one criteria on a list of 11 in order to request a ballot. SB 250, authored by Sen. Mrvan, would remove the list of 11 items and allow any registered voter in the state to request and cast a ballot through the mail without an excuse. Americans in 27 other states and D.C. can vote this way. SB 250 passed out of the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 39-10 but did not receive a hearing in the House, so it will not advance this year.
Same day voter registration
In an attempt to expand opportunities to vote, Sen. Lanane authored SB 287, which permits eligible voters in Indiana to register to vote, or to change their registration address on Election Day, at their polling location. The legislation establishes safeguards to ensure that those attempting to register to vote are eligible. Similar legislation currently exists in 15 other states and the District of Columbia. SB 287 was assigned to the Senate Committee on Elections, where it was not given a hearing.
Expanded access to early voting
Currently in Indiana, counties may establish satellite voting centers to allow registered voters a chance to cast their ballot before Election Day. Early voting provisions must receive unanimous approval from the bipartisan County Election Board to establish early-satellite locations, and not all Boards have approved these measures. In an attempt to remove partisanship from the expansion of voting opportunities, Sen. Jean Breaux introduced SB 324 which would require a county to offer at least one satellite voting location. This bill was denied a hearing in committee and failed to advance.
While many of our proposals were denied by the Republican Supermajority, the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus will not give up on these issues that are extremely important to Hoosiers. We believe, regardless of your work schedule, you should be able to vote. Regardless of a parent’s illness or a child’s birth, you should be able to take time off from work without missing a paycheck. Regardless of your race, you should be treated fairly. Regardless of your job, if you work 40 hours a week, you should be able to pay your bills. Regardless of where you live, your vote should count. Because of this, these topics will stay at the forefront of our conversations and in all of our work moving forward through the interim and into the future legislative sessions until all Hoosiers’ voices are heard and voting is accessible to everyone in Indiana.