Compiled by Randy Hudgins
Each week we will take a look at what’s happening in the Indiana legislature with insights from social studies educator Randy Hudgins. This is his report on the highlights of bills from the past week.
Bills Passing or Going Through the House and Senate
House Bill 1334—Absentee Voting (author: Timothy Wesco-R). Tighter Vote by Mail restrictions that we are seeing all around the country, particularly in red states, have arrived at the Indiana statehouse. The House version of this bill—passing on party lines with no Democratic co-authors—has already been amended. The bill represented a big push to substantially curb mail-in absentee voting. Many elections officials who testified against the bill said that forcing people to include last 4 digits of their Social Security or driver’s license number was redundant and is already taken care of at local county elections offices, along with the signature match needed to verify the ballot. Proponents argue it will make mail-in absentee balloting more secure from fraud, while opponents argue that portions of the law will disenfranchise elderly and disabled voters. The Senate Elections Committee has held up the bill until further amendments can be submitted by the author. The ICC report indicated that this is a priority bill from the office of Diego Morales, the newly elected Secretary of State. Concerns were also raised that the increased requirements would make more work for already overworked and underappreciated local elections workers, which would slow down the count of the vote and, most likely, cast more doubt on the accuracy of the vote count. (Read the Indiana Capital Chronicle’s coverage.)
Senate Bill 1—Behavioral Health Matters (author: Michael Crider-R). Mental health matters are a popular talking point during this session, but allocating the actual funds needed to provide that mental health support for Hoosiers and their communities is lacking. The original Senate Bill 1 allocated $30 million for supporting initiatives like the infrastructure of the 988 Hotline in the state, as well as setting up various mental health community resources for citizens and law enforcement. The funding was stripped out of the bill before it was sent to the House, and the proposed House budget is unclear on whether the funding will even be at the $30 million level. A group of faith leaders from around the state rallied this week at the statehouse, asking for $130 million in funding to individuals and communities. Given the price tags on other Republican priority items like Private School Vouchers and anti-ESG pension investments, $30 million does not seem like a big ask. (Read the WFYI coverage.)
House Bill 1186—Encroachment on an Investigation (author: Wendy McNamara-R). In the wake of the social justice protests that accompanied the murder of George Floyd and similar incidents, a number of states have begun introducing bills to limit protesters and the ability to protest when a law enforcement presence is required. This bill demands a 25-foot distance between protesters and law enforcement when an investigation is underway. Proponents of the bill argue it will protect law enforcement officials from out-of-control protesters or bystanders. Opponents argue that it would prevent bystanders from recording acts of police misconduct or other activities guaranteed by the 1st Amendment right to assemble and protest. The bill is passing on party-line votes as it goes through both chambers. (Read the Indiana Capital Chronicle coverage.)
House Bill 1009—Court-Ordered Pregnancy and Childbirth Expenses (author: Elizabeth Rowray-R). Remember this past summer when the near total abortion ban was passed? Republican lawmakers promised robust wraparound services for mothers forced to carry their child to full-term birth. This is one of the few policy bills that provides such “wraparound” services. At first, the bill tried to force child support up to 40 weeks starting at the determined date of conception. It is now amended to cover existing child support expenses already in Indiana Code, with addition of additional expenses defined as “other necessary expenses” related to birth, and postpartum needs of mother and child. It is important to note that 48% of Indiana childbirths are paid for by Medicaid. This correspondent is struggling to find many other bills that are being considered by the legislature that attempt to support prenatal care for expecting mothers, access to birth control, access to affordable postpartum care and expenses, and access to affordable daycare and pre-K services. It’s time for the pro-birth Republicans to step up and support mothers, children, and families. (Read the Indiana Capital Chronicle coverage.)
House Bill 1001—Budget (author: Jeff Thompson- R). Odds are you have heard concerns about rapidly rising property taxes on the horizon for this year and coming years. While the current budget proposal attempts to address this challenge, the solution may lead to a significant reduction in operating expenses for school districts in the Indianapolis metro area. Casey Smith of the Indiana Capital Chronicle reports that:
“The House-approved version of the budget also stipulates a levy cap on property taxes schools can receive for operations and other non-classroom expenses.
“That would mean cuts to local operations funds at some schools—especially in districts with a large tax base such as Indianapolis. It’s still not clear how exactly individual school districts could be impacted, however. A fiscal impact statement says schools statewide could lose $87 million in 2025 and $177 million in 2026.”
While textbook and curricular fees were eliminated for parents and families, the state will not pick up the tab. School districts will be expected to make up the difference by dipping into their own budgets, and are restricted as to which funds they can draw from to pay for this unfunded mandate.
In addition, there are restrictions in the bill to additional sources of income for school districts, by limiting the amounts that a referendum can raise.
So, to sum this up, the public school districts that educate 90% of Hoosier students will get less funding from the state, less funding from property tax revenue, less opportunity to raise money through referenda, and increased costs through picking up textbook and curricular materials fees. Ask yourself: How will we be able to increase average teacher pay and be able to recruit and retain quality teachers at a time when the State Department of Education Job Bank website lists more than 2,500 open positions across all Indiana schools?
Meanwhile, funding for private school vouchers will increase 70% under the current proposed budget. (Read the Indiana Capital Chronicle coverage.)
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