Indiana legislative session at halftime: what lives or died
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers have reached halftime in this year’s legislative session, which has been marked more by plans deferred and legislation killed than major accomplishments.
That’s not entirely a surprise. Majority GOP leaders previously said that, for the first time in years, they did not have a major legislative goal to achieve.
Some measures that are advancing, like a stopgap school funding bill and clarifications to the state’s hemp law, are intended to clean up unanticipated problems.
Meanwhile, Republicans have sought to steer clear of divisive issues as they head into November elections.
Here’s a look at how things stand as lawmakers return for the second half:
Many Indiana workers lack the education needed for the jobs available and improving worker training was supposed to be a dominant issue. But Republicans have acknowledged much of that work is to come.
“We are teeing it up for major retooling next year,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma.
The Indianapolis Republican has said the state needs to revamp its approach, which involves “spending $1 billion through nine different agencies and 30 different programs and not moving the ball.”
He wanted to “sunset” programs and start over, though that proposal was dropped. Another House plan would redirect corporate income tax collections to worker training programs, though it’s unlikely the Senate will support that idea.
A forced consolidation of about 300 small Indiana townships was a top priority for House Republicans this year. That effort failed.
The bill was not called up for a vote and died due to a lack of support, most notably from rural lawmakers.
Bosma called it a “little shortfall,” but added: “some very effective lessons” were learned.
The plan would have required consolidation by townships with fewer than 1,200 residents — or about 30 percent of the state’s 1,005 townships.
Indiana will remain one of five states without a hate crimes law after the Senate killed a bill that would have allowed judges to stiffen sentences for those convicted of so-called crimes of bias.
“We’re done with it for this year,” said Republican Senate leader David Long of Fort Wayne. “But as I’ve said before, I think we’ll be back.”
GOP leaders, including Long, supported the measure. But there was opposition among Senate Republicans because it included crimes committed against transgender people.
If the bill moved forward, it could have forced a debate that once again would have thrust Indiana into the spotlight of the nation’s culture wars.
In the end, Senate Republicans let it die in committee.
An unexpected surge in public school enrollment would have outstripped the amount of funding lawmakers set aside in the state budget. A measure authored by GOP Rep. Sally Siegrist of West Lafayette would fix that. The stopgap, which was approved by the House, will use existing money to cover what would otherwise be a $15-per-student shortfall.
Separately, a high school diploma overhaul is in the works. Under new federal rules, Indiana’s “general” diploma, which a small number of students opt for, would no longer count toward the state’s graduation rate. The solution is a new baseline called the “Indiana Diploma” that would include additional enhancements based on academic achievement.
Another bill approved by the House would allow Ball State University to take over cash-strapped Muncie Schools.
A measure that would allow convenience stores, pharmacies and big box stores to sell cold — instead of just warm — beer is dead after intense pressure from liquor stores, which primarily enjoy that right.
However, the Legislature is poised to give final approval to a measure that would eliminate the state’s prohibition-era ban on carryout Sunday alcohol sales. Bills passed by the House and Senate would allow stores to sell between noon and 8 p.m. beginning July 1.
A law passed last year allows those with severe forms of epilepsy to use cannabidiol, a cannabis-derived extract believed to have therapeutic properties. But this year they are reworking it due to a conflict with an existing law, which prompted state excise police to crack down on the sale of the product, commonly known as CBD.
Under bills moved out of the House and Senate anyone could use CBD, which can be derived from hemp and marijuana but lacks the stuff that will get you high.
A push to legalize medical marijuana didn’t fare as well. However, lawmakers in the House passed a resolution calling for a legislative study committee to take a closer look at the idea.
Rep. Jim Lucas has tried several times to repeal the state’s mandatory license for carrying a handgun. The Seymour Republican says it infringes on Second Amendment rights. But under stiff opposition from law enforcement groups the measure he sought was watered down. The bill passed by the House would eliminate the cost of a lifetime license, which can include fees of up to $125.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce made increasing the age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21 a top priority. Indiana consistently ranks poorly among states when it comes to key measures of public health, including smoking rates. Increasing the smoking age could create a powerful disincentive in a state where one-in-five people smoke, supporters of the bill said.
House Republicans thought differently. Bosma used a procedural move to kill the bill.