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 sixth week of the current session.

Bills Passing or Going Through Committee

House Bill 1608—Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Instruction (author: Michelle Davis-R). HB 1608 is not the exact “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed by Florida last year, but it certainly rhymes with it. The bill goes in front of the House Education Committee on Monday 2/20 at 8am. This bill is authored by Michelle Davis, who authored the anti-trans female athlete bill that passed last session. Section 2 of the bill is as follows:

A school, an employee or staff member of a school, or a third-party vendor used by a school to provide instruction may not provide any instruction to a student in kindergarten through grade 3, including a presentation, in which the goal or purpose of the instruction is to study, explore, or inform students about: (1) gender fluidity; (2) gender roles; (3) gender stereotypes; (4) gender identity;(5) gender expression; or (6) sexual orientation.

This bill bars a school employee from even speaking about the nature of a student’s family if they come from a nontraditional family unit. It also silences teachers who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community from speaking about themselves or their family. This means that if a student asks about the parents of their peer, a teacher cannot say that they have two moms or two dads, or affirm the gender identity of certain parents of their students. Chalkbeat Indiana’s report on this bill is here.

Senate Bill 12—Material Harmful to Minors (author: James Tomes-R). SB 12 seeks to eliminate protections for school librarians who are sued by parents who allege that the books in their collections are pornographic or obscene. Currently in Indiana law, librarians and educational professionals who are sued for questionable materials can use the defense that materials are for educational purposes. The original bill seeks to remove that defense for libraries below the college and university level. The educational purposes language was previously included in state code to allow for materials used in the instruction of sex education. An amendment was agreed upon at the start of the hearing which would remove the educational purposes defense, but force a comprehensive listing of all library materials and allow a defense in court on grounds of “literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” It also established a grievance procedure that library patrons could follow if they had specific objections to material in a library. Media observers reported that the process of testimony, amendment, testimony, hurried improvised amendment, and party-line vote raised more questions than it answered about whether this bill is really necessary and fair. The bill will go to the full Senate the week of February 20. (Read the Capital Chronicle and WFYI reports.)

Senate Bill 386—Dignity and Nondiscrimination in Education (author: Jeff Raatz R). SB 386 was set to appear in front of the Senate Education Committee this week, but was pulled from the agenda the night before the hearing. This bill is a scaled-down version of the Florida “STOP WOKE” Act from last year. It presents itself as a “Dignity and Nondiscrimination in Education bill.” It does the opposite. The bill instructs that schools should not teach that one group is superior to another, that one group should not be adversely treated on account of their group. While this sounds good, educators worry that the moment they teach slavery, Jim Crow segregation, the Holocaust, the Indian Removal Act, and Japanese internment camps (to name a few challenging topics), a parent will complain that they are violating one of these forbidden concept rules and the instruction of these topics will be silenced. The bill also encourages any parent of a student in a school corporation to submit a grievance against any teacher in the corporation. If the parent is not satisfied by the result of the investigation, they can take their concern directly to the Secretary of Education. A coalition of teacher, parent, religious, and civil rights groups came together once again to denounce the bill. The bill’s author offered an amendment the day before the hearing stripping out language of the many protected classes under civil rights law from the provisions of the bill and made it solely a bill about race and color—which may make the bill even more offensive and seems to say the quiet part out loud. There is no word on whether the bill will be heard by the committee the week of February 20. (Read the Capital Chronicle and WFYI reports.)

House Bill 1177—Handgun Training for Teachers (author: Jim Lucas-R). HB 1177 is the bill to provide handgun training at state expense for teachers recommended by their school district and approved by local authorities. Democrats attempted to attach an amendment demanding that parents know whether their child’s teacher has handgun training or carries a weapon on their person in the classroom. That was defeated by party-line vote. It is important to note that according to state law a teacher may carry a gun in school if approved by the school district. This bill seeks to provide training at state expense for said teachers and others who may at some time carry. The bill’s author believes that more firearms in schools makes schools safer. Rural and small-town school officials indicate that they are less likely to have local police or School Resource Officers able to respond to an active shooter incident in their building. This bill passed the House on a mostly party-line vote, but it appears that some Democrats voted for it as well. Rep. Victoria Garcia Wilburn (D) voted against the bill. (Read the Indiana Capital Chronicle and WFYI reports.)

House Bill 1297—Decriminalization of Marijuana (author: Heath VanNatter-R). HB 1297 is one of a half-dozen bills introduced this session to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in some way. The bill was given a hearing in committee, but the chair indicated there would be no vote in committee on the bill and therefore a hearing was as far as it would get. Business leaders spoke out against the bill. Veterans’ groups spoke out for the bill. Prosecutors and the State Police spoke out against the bill. One objection was the fact that there is not a reliable test of marijuana impairment in the case of driving. This is probably the last we will hear of this or similar bills this session. (Read the Indiana Capital Chronicle and WFYI reports.)

Senate Bill 305—Indiana Education Scholarship Account Program (author: Brian Buchanan-R). Senator Ryan Mishler, who is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, issued a blistering rebuke of the state’s private school voucher program in a letter released last week. He decried a voucher-receiving high school’s response to a discipline situation in the course of the past year (his child attends this school in Mishawaka). The scathing rebuke of the school leads him to call into question the level of accountability that comes with these vouchers. It also calls into question the quality of instruction and safety of the school environment. As a result, Mishler is holding the bill up in committee. “I would advise families looking at voucher schools to be aware that they are on their own at this point in time. They should strongly consider an alternative to the blemished and blatantly flawed procedures of accountability when choosing a school for their child,” Sen. Ryan Mishler said in a letter published Friday. “We need to hold the schools to the same high level of accountability they expect from the students and their parents.” This unprecedented criticism of a core issue of the Republican agenda highlights a key issue with the voucher system and its most extreme manifestation: The $7,000-per-student educational student account. A similar system that passed in Arizona last year reveals that ESA money is being spent by parents for general purchases and not for the education of students. It is important to note that religious schools accepting vouchers do not have to subscribe to the same civil rights and Equal Employment laws as their public school peers. States with these policies often do not require students getting ESA dollars to take state-mandated tests for graduation. (Read the Indiana Capital Chronicle and WFYI reports.)


Lori Hand


Precinct Chair, Noblesville 29; HamCo Dems Communications Committee member.