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 third week of the current session.
Bills Discussed Last Week
House Bill 1160 (Author: Republican Representative Ed Clere): Expansion of TANF benefits.This enhances access to TANF benefits for the first time in 30 years. Indiana has one of the more restrictive standards to qualify for these benefits. In addition, the bill contains language aimed at expanding workforce participation.
(Passed out of Committee)
Senate Joint Resolution 1 (Author: Republican Senator Eric Koch): This proposed amendment to the Indiana State Constitution would give judges the wider ability to withhold bail on defendants awaiting trial. Currently only in the cases of murder or treason charges being filed is a judge able to withhold bail. Proponents say this is in line with over 20 states that have made this adjustment. Critics point to the fact that certain language about whether the person is a danger to the community is vague and emphasizes that being held without bail often impacts minority communities at a higher rate and also often results in loss of job, housing, or child custody. The process for an amendment going through takes multiple years and multiple sessions of the General Assembly.
(Passed out of Committee)
Senate Bill 305 (Author: Republican Senator Brian Buchanan): This bill aims to radically expand the number of Educational Savings Accounts that are currently available to under 150 special-needs students across the state. An ESA would give any family a $7,500 voucher to use in enrolling in any school setting that will take their child as a student. The bill was amended in committee to only be open to students in families making under $154,000, which is the cutoff for a school-choice voucher by law. Half of the ESA spots are guaranteed to Special Education students. $10 million is appropriated for this bill, which amounts to about 1,300 ESAs for the first year of the program. This is in addition to the tens of thousands of educational vouchers already issued to families attending non-public schools across Indiana, which comes out of K–12 funding in the budget.
(Passed out of committee with amendments)
Senate Bill 486 (Author: Republican Senator Jeff Raatz): This bill attempts to streamline certain ongoing training programs teachers are required to complete under state law. Unfortunately, it also contains a provision that tells school districts that they MAY collectively bargain and conduct discussion regarding the most important elements of work environment with teachers (rather than SHALL). This threatens to make teachers yet another profession that cannot have collective bargaining protections. Despite the bad weather, many teachers spoke out against the bill. The bill was not voted upon in committee and is not scheduled for committee hearing this week.
(Comment only in committee, vote will be at next committee meeting)
Bills in Committee for This Week
Senate Bill 224 (Author: Republican Senator Greg Walker): This elections bill puts limits on when votes on public questions—such as school referendums—can be put to the voters. The bill states that such ballot measures will only be allowed during November General Elections. It’s a well-known strategy in the public school system to put these measures in off-year primary elections due to lower voter turnout and the ability to energize an enthusiastic base for passage. Due to property tax caps from the Daniels administration and similar measures being bandied about in this session, many local districts have put referenda on the ballot. HSE will be putting one on the ballot soon.
Senate Bill 188 (Author: Republican Senator Jack Sandlin): This elections bill appears to place the political affiliation of a school board member or candidate on the ballot. It appears there is a chance to declare oneself nonpartisan. There are multiple bills submitted to put party affiliation on a school board candidate and regulate filing deadlines and other aspects of board elections. Fishers/HSE went through a controversial and hard-fought vote on four school board seats that ended up going to a slate of candidates that was openly endorsed by the Hamilton County Republican Party.
Senate Bill 262 (Author: Republican Senator Jon Ford): This bill will direct the Secretary of State to contract with a forensic imaging company to conduct a complete canvass and a full forensic audit of the 2023 municipal general election and the 2024 general election in 10 randomly selected Indiana counties. This seems to be similar to other efforts in states across the country agreed upon prior to any contentious election. There were several promising improvements in the process of securing elections and election machines last session.
House Bill 1006 (Author: Republican Representative Greg Steuerwald): “Specifies the circumstances under which a person may be involuntarily committed to a facility for mental health services and specifies that these services are medically necessary. Establishes a local mental health referral program to provide mental health treatment for certain persons who have been arrested.” The key part of this is to afford law enforcement the option to refer arrested people to mental health care, evaluation, and treatment.
Tell Me Something Good
HB 1449—Expansion of 21st Century Scholars Program to Automatic Enrollment (Authors: E. Harris [Democrat], V. Smith [Democrat]: Will automatically enroll all eligible students to the 21st Century Scholars program. This program provides college tuition assistance to students who meet income requirements or are in foster care. Current law requires students to enroll in middle school with little to no chance to enroll after that time.
Outside the Indiana General Assembly
District 3 Congressman Jim Banks drew criticism over remarks on a radio program about strengthening state laws against abortion along with federal laws in a manner that suggested that he may also be in favor of restricting Hoosier women from traveling to neighboring states to have the procedure. He later clarified saying that he was not in favor of a travel ban. Banks is running for the Republican nomination for the US Senate in 2024.
Former superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick, who identifies as a Democrat despite being a Republican when she held statewide office, has formed an exploratory committee to examine a campaign for Governor in 2024. She has not made an official announcement on her candidacy yet. Several Republican candidates announced before the start of the legislative session. Candidates cannot raise money for campaigns during the legislative budget session, which ends in April.
For More Information
Niki Kelly: @nkellyIN
Brandon J. Smith: @brandonjsmith5
Rep. Blake Johnson: @IndyBlakeJ
Casey Smith: @SmithCaseyA
Kaitlin Lange: @kaitlin_lange
Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA): @ISTAmembers
ACLU Indiana: @ACLUIndiana
Indiana Week in Review (WFYI—can listen to it in podcast form through the NPR app)
Indiana Lawmakers (same format as IWIR)
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