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 the fourth week of the current session.
Notable Bills Passing Committee or a Chamber This Week
Senate Bill 188 (Author: Republican Senator Jack Sandlin): This bill went through committee last week, but was not voted upon. It is set up to make school board candidates declare their partisan affiliation. The Indiana Capital Chronicle indicates that Sandlin authored the bill due to concerns from parents in certain mostly suburban areas that their views were not being represented by board candidates and board policies. Groups representing Indiana school boards, superintendents, and teachers universally spoke in opposition. The general worry of their testimony hinged on the fact that these races are already becoming increasingly politicized in our communities and it would simply supercharge an area that should be as separated from politics and political parties as possible. The bill will most likely be amended and voted on in committee next week. (Coverage from WFYI)
House Bill 1160 (Author: Republican Representative Ed Clere): This bill, passed in committee, will expand eligibility for TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) benefits for Hoosiers for the first time in 30 years. The House version also takes steps to increase workforce participation among Hoosiers, which certain outlets have stated as being 62% and dropping, especially among male workers. A similar bill was passed by a 40–5 margin in the Senate (SB 265, authored by Republican Senator Jon Ford) that will almost triple the threshold of poverty that a family experiences before getting TANF benefits. According to the Indiana Capital Chronicle, Indiana spends 4.8% on direct assistance as compared to 22% nationwide. The Chronicle also indicates that similar bills passed in previous sessions only to be held up by the House Ways and Means Committee and ultimately never passing.
House Bill 1007 (Author: Republican Representative Ed Solliday): This seems to be a general bill outlining large goals for the future of energy in the state. The Indiana Capital Chronicle indicates that the most recent Christmas deep freeze placed a severe strain on the state’s energy needs. The bill passed the House, but legislators expressed reservations about whether it keeps our state in line with how quickly certain industries are moving toward renewable energy sources and whether Indiana is readying itself to make that transition as seamless as possible. The bill does not seem to make a major commitment to specific benchmarks for renewable energy utilization going forward. (Coverage from WFYI)
There was mostly good news on education bills this week. Bills seeking to attract more diverse applicants to the teaching profession and setting up an alternative teacher education pathway complete with an up to $10,000 scholarship passed unanimously through the House Education Committee (House Bills 1637 and 1528).
House Bill 1449 (Author: Democratic Representative Earl Harris, Jr.): This bill that proposes to universally enroll students qualifying for the 21st Century Scholars Program passed committee unanimously as well.
Senate Bill 402 (Author: Republican Senator Aaron Freeman): This bill attempts to tie reading instruction to the practices of the so-called “science of reading.” This is an ongoing trend in education circles questioning whether instruction methods in reading are truly science-based and serving the needs of the greatest number of students. While many can get behind that sentiment, The Indiana Capital Chronicle and WFYI report that the bill also stipulates that K–8 teachers must post all classroom materials pertaining to reading at the start of each semester and school year. This is a nearly impossible task to demand of teachers. It’s like telling state legislators that they need to have all bills submitted on the first day of session in their final form.
Senate Bill 480 (Author: Republican Senator Jeff Raatz): This is the most controversial educational bill so far. It purports to streamline the professional development training teachers must take each year in various areas, including human trafficking awareness, gang awareness, homelessness, bullying, and so on. However, a provision in the bill changes the state statute mandating collective bargaining in contract negotiations between teachers and administration from a “shall” to a “may” provision. The same goes for building-level discussions between teachers and administrators. This constitutes a grave threat to vital workplace protections that the embattled teaching profession is fighting to hold onto. The Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) is vigorously opposed to this bill. It passed out of committee 7–6 with two Republicans voting against it. (WFYI coverage)
Mental Health Bills
House Bill 1006 (Author: Republican Representative Greg Steuerwald): This bill passed the House overwhelmingly. It works to divert to appropriate treatment programs and facilities people who arrested or incarcerated and showing signs of mental illness. This passed unanimously with bipartisan support. Some legislators expressed worries that we do not have the facilities and trained professionals in Indiana to handle the number of people that may go into the mental health system as a result of this bill. This is a similar concern that was expressed in the rollout of the 988 Hotline this past year.
Senate Bill 1 (Multiple authors of both parties): This bill is the Senate version of the HB 1006 Mental Health Treatment Bill. It passed committee this week. But most critically, the $30 million allotted in the original bill for funding is stripped out. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch took the rare step of testifying in support of the bill before the committee, detailing struggles with mental health and addiction in her family. The funding for the bill allegedly will be applied through the budget bill that is currently HB 1001 in the House.
Citizens rallied to oppose a large number of bills that seemingly target LGBTQ Hoosiers. This includes House Bill 1608 (authored by Republican Representative Michelle Davis), which contains language similar to the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” law. Six bills are identified in the WFYI report. As of now, none are scheduled for a committee hearing. However, it’s worth pointing out that HB 1130 banning transgender male athletes from participating in women’s IHSAA sports easily passed last year. It is now in effect as the lawsuit stopping the bill from going into effect was recently dropped.
Outside the General Assembly: Candidate News
Former Governor and Purdue President Mitch Daniels announced this week that he would not seek the Republican nomination for the Senate seat opened by Mike Braun seeking the governorship in 2024. As of today, the only significant candidate to throw their hat in the ring is 3rd District Congressman Jim Banks.
Fifth District Congresswoman Victoria Spartz, who was exploring the idea of running for Braun’s vacated Senate seat, announced this week that not only would she not seek the seat, she would not run for her House seat again in 2024 either.
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