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 in committee during the fifth week of the current session.
Bills Passing Committee or Going Through Committee
The Indiana Capital Chronicle and other media outlets reported that House Bill 1008, a priority bill for House Republicans, could cost the INPRS (Indiana Public Retirement System—the pension program for state employees, including teachers) an estimated $6.7 billion over the next decade. The analysis was done by the Legislative Services Agency, a nonpartisan state organization that does fiscal impact statements on all relevant bills proposed in the General Assembly. This was obviously picked up by many state media outlets and caused considerable consternation. The crux of the bill is the push by conservatives across the country to divest public pension plans from “ESG” investments. ESG is shorthand for Environment, Social, and Government Framework used by certain organizations to make or not make investments in companies that may be harmful to the public good in the ways in which they turn a profit. This is a flashpoint nationally for conservative lawmakers to push back on organizations that, in the words of the Capital Chronicle Report, “may choose to not invest in companies that profit in areas deemed irresponsible to people or the planet, such as manufacture of guns or fossil fuels.” The bill passed its first committee hearing, but was reassigned to the House Ways and Means Committee, and it seems to be in a good deal of trouble. The governor has weighed in with concerns. Speaker Todd Huston continues to defend the bill. A similar but less complex form of the bill is proposed in the Senate and may end up being the vehicle for this policy moving forward.
According to WFYI, House Bill 1005, another Republican caucus priority bill “…would create a loan fund that local governments can access to pay for infrastructure for new housing—things like roads and sidewalks and water, sewer, gas, and electric lines.” Builders testifying in committee asserted that this new bill may add as much as $57,000 to the cost of building a new house. Proponents of the bill point out that some municipalities that have already relaxed certain rules regarding the building of new housing additions should be able to access additional funding needed to bring these neighborhoods up to speed on basic needs for new homes. The bill also specifies 70% of funding will go to communities under 50,000 residents, which should benefit smaller cities and towns that may be most in need of the support. Money was not allocated as this bill passes out of committee. It will be allocated during the process of ironing out the state budget, which will probably come into focus in April after state revenue reports come out. The bill passed the House on Wednesday with a 91–5 vote.
House Bill 1290 (author: Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville) passed the House this week. The bill enjoyed bipartisan support as it expanded income eligibility for an estimated 500,000 Hoosiers for the State Earned Income Tax Credit. This is regarded as a critical tool at the federal and state level to provide much-needed funds to low-income families. Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis) supported the bill by pointing out that it represents a critical part of the social safety net for Hoosier families in need.
Senate Bill 248 (numerous R and D authors and coauthors) passed committee this week on a narrow 5–4 vote. Media reports indicate it has an uphill battle ahead as it heads to the full Senate. As the title indicates, it would provide an official state-issued driving card to undocumented immigrants. WFYI reports that the requirements for attaining this privilege include “…undergoing training, passing a test…but also show they pay taxes in Indiana, have proof of insurance, get fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check, and renew the card every year.” A wide variety of groups testified in favor of the bill, including law enforcement and local government groups. Several objected to the bill for predictable reasons of giving a right of citizenship to someone who is not fully a citizen. Jim Buck (R), who represents part of Hamilton County, expressed worry that it would incentivize individuals in this country illegally.
Senate Bill 380 (author: Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond) passed the Senate on a party-line 39–10 vote. The Indiana Capital Chronicle reports that one major part of the bill includes “… a 10% cap on the number of students who can graduate from a school with a waiver before July 1, 2027. After that, the cap drops to 5%.” This provision drew ire from organizations like the Indiana State Teachers Association. Graduation waivers are pathways for students who do not pass the graduation qualifying exam (which is currently the SAT, ACT, or ASVAB test) in Indiana but still need a pathway to graduate. Critics have pointed out that if lawmakers are really concerned about graduation rates, more investment should be made into Pre-K education, as well as fully funding public education instead of subsidizing private schools, and addressing the teacher shortage across our state. In addition, over the last 10–15 years, the graduation qualifying exam has changed several times, often with little notice or opportunity for teachers and school corporations to adjust to the specifics of each testing tool.
The bill also courted controversy in its language regarding school dress codes. The ICC reported, “Raatz maintained that other language in the bill addressing ‘disruptive behavior’ in the classroom ensures that schools can ban kids from ‘dressing inappropriately.’ He previously referred to students dressing like a ‘furry,’ although he did not provide examples of any Indiana schools where such behavior has been documented or considered disruptive.”
“Critics argue that claims about schools making accommodations for students who identify as ‘furries’ are transphobic and amount to misinformation.”
It is important to point out that dress codes in Indiana schools are often crafted according to relevant court cases. It is very possible that language this vague, especially bringing up the unsubstantiated trope that students are dressing like “furries,” will end up in the courts.
House Bill 1009 (author: Elizabeth Rowray, R-Yorktown) was significantly amended in committee before passage. This was the infamous bill that originally stipulated that child support could be back-charged through all 40 weeks of a mother’s pregnancy. There were significant worries that this would run into legal trouble. The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that a scaled-down version would stick to the 50% that a court could proscribe to a father for various expenses covered before, during, and after delivery of a child. There is still some worry about legal challenges to the bill.
House Bill 1428 (author: JD Prescott, R-Union City). This is another iteration of a bill from 2021 seeking to make school board candidates declare partisan affiliation. Those of us living in Fishers may see this as an already sore subject as the Hamilton County Republican Party fully endorsed Dawn Lang, Dr. Juanita Albright, Tiffany Pascoe, and Ben Orr in the most recent election, even though the election was nonpartisan. The bill gives three options to school boards or school districts under the current language. They are as follow, per the ICC:
- The first is to do nothing at all, meaning school board elections in a particular district would remain nonpartisan. That’s the default option laid out in the bill.
- Another provision says sitting school board members can decide on their own to vote for their seats to become partisan. According to the bill, they can do so as early as Jan. 1, 2024.
- A third option would permit the decision to be made through a petition process requiring signatures of 500 voters or 5% of voters in the district, whichever is lesser. A successful petition would put the question on the ballot.
The second provision is a scary one for many of our Hamilton County communities, particularly Fishers as the HSE board is currently constituted. The third option seems much more promising and could be an avenue for further activism. 500 signatures to put the measure on the ballot isn’t a high bar given the number of votes in the last school board elections. The ICC also points out the willingness to put this question on a local referendum is odd, since the Republicans are very skittish about putting questions like legalizing marijuana and protecting abortion rights on the ballot. This legislation is opposed by the Indiana State Teachers Association and Indiana School Boards Association.
House Bill 1177 (author: Jim Lucas, R-Seymour) was introduced in the House Education committee Wednesday. The bill is subtitled “Handgun Training for Teachers.” The bill would provide grant funding from state taxpayer expense to allow teachers to take an optional program in handgun use and safety. The law rigorously outlines the requirements for such a program and the process by which the district and outside authorities must vet a teacher before the training. It also stipulates under what conditions a trained teacher can participate in training simulations. It does also open state funds to schools that are the victims of gun violence to provide for grief counselors and other expenses. However, this does not put added firearms in schools or authorize teachers to carry weapons. However, the question must be asked, why would a teacher need handgun training at state expense if they would not be able to use it in the event of an active shooter situation in their school? What is the next bill to be proposed on this issue? The Indiana Capital Chronicle reports that under Indiana Law, school districts can appoint designated people—including teachers—to carry guns in schools. Evidently there are no training requirements for those individuals. The ISTA was neutral on the bill because the training is voluntary. The Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association supports the bill due to the lack of qualified officers and security personnel at many smaller schools throughout our state.
Senate Bill 12 (author: Jim Tomes, R-Evansville), House Bill 1130 (author: Becky Cash, R-Zionsville), House Bill 1522 (author: Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville): Material Harmful to Minors. I commented on these bills in more detail in this blog post.
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