INDIANAPOLIS – With protesters packing the halls of the Statehouse, the Indiana Senate considered several controversial bills last week affecting Hoosier educators, students, and parents.
At the center of the debate is House Bill 1134, which would limit the teaching of certain topics on race, gender, and ethnicity. Proponents say it addresses accusations of “Critical Race Theory” in Indiana schools, while critics say it unfairly limits teachers and their lessons. Much of HB 1134 was watered down after amendments were added in the Senate.
In the current version of the bill, parents will not be allowed to opt their children out of certain lessons. Parents are also no longer allowed to sue school districts for potential violations. In addition, lawmakers took out the provision that classroom materials will have to be posted online for parental review. They also removed the ban on teaching topics that reportedly make students feel “guilt or discomfort.” This last provision sparked controversy with Indiana teachers, fearing that the broad language could lead to unfair restrictions.
HB 1134 garnered strong reactions from all sides of the debate, from teachers to concerned parents. Educators from across the state, organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA), descended on the Statehouse to voice their opinions on the bill. Over 200 members of the public applied to speak before the committee Wednesday, with lawmakers hearing hours of testimony.
“This is built on a premise that is going to cause there to be friction, or sets it up to be friction, between teachers and parents,” said Jennifer Smith-Margraf, Vice President of the ISTA.
First on the agenda during Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee was House Bill 1041, which bans transgender female high school athletes from playing on the girls team. Lawmakers passed the legislation 8-3 and it now moves to the full Senate floor vote. Members of the ACLU of Indiana joined educators in also opposing that legislation, saying that young Hoosier athletes simply want to play alongside their classmates.
“The overwhelming majority of transgender youth, like most kids, don’t even play at elite levels,” said ISTA president Keith Gambill during a rally at the Statehouse. “They just want to play everyday school sports, and participate with their peers.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers have scaled back parts of a bill that would limit private businesses from having COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Any business that has such a mandate would have to provide a weekly testing option for those who choose not to get vaccinated.
With the new amendments added, employers will not have to pay for those tests, and any religious exemption would have to meet the requirements in federal law. If an employee’s exemption is denied, they are no longer automatically eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Healthcare professionals, who are under a federal vaccine mandate, are now exempt from the bill.
Business leaders and healthcare professionals are reacting positively to the changes, saying it clarifies many of the concerns they had. Brian Tabor, President of the Indiana Hospital Association, is one of those satisfied.
“We really can’t end up with two sets of guidelines, and so we’re pleased that the new version recognizes that,” Tabor said.
As the bill heads to the floor, Senate President Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) is confident that Republicans have enough votes to pass it.
“We’ve been trying to put the Senate’s stamp on it obviously with what we think is the right piece of policy,” Sen. Bray said.
Democrats in the Senate remain disappointed the legislation is moving forward. Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) shared his concerns with Statehouse Reporter Kristen Eskow.
“We want to make Indiana attractive for businesses,” Sen. Taylor said. “Having that type of legislation is not going to do very much to help that.”
Watch more of the latest news from the Statehouse in the video above.