INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana General Assembly concluded the year’s regular session on Thursday. Here are some key issues debated during the nearly four-month session:
Lawmakers approved a new two-year $37 billion state budget that’s bolstered by the projection of unexpected $2 billion jump in state tax collections and $3 billion in federal coronavirus relief money. Much of that federal aid will go toward the state’s unemployment insurance fund, economic grant programs, numerous construction projects and expanding broadband internet availability. A new state tax on vaping materials will start in July 2022, while a cigarette tax increase sought by health advocates was rejected.
The state budget increases base K-12 school funding by about 4.5% each of the next two years, which Republicans say will money the governor’s teacher compensation commission found needed to significantly boost Indiana’s lagging teacher pay in comparison to nearby states. More students will become eligible for the state’s private school voucher program as the income limit for a family of four goes from the current roughly $96,000 a year to about $145,000 starting this fall.
Republican legislators stepped toward a possible court fight with Gov. Eric Holcomb by voting to override his veto and give themselves more authority to intervene during governor-declared emergencies. Holcomb and some legal experts believe the measure isn’t allowed under the state constitution. Other measures give county and city elected officials control over orders issued by local health officers and limit restrictions from health orders that could be placed on religious services. Holcomb signed into law a bill giving businesses broad protections from lawsuits by people blaming them for contracting COVID-19.
Lawmakers unanimously backed a bill aimed at increasing police accountability, including provisions for mandatory de-escalation training, misdemeanor penalties for officers who turn off body cameras, and bans on chokeholds in certain circumstances. The bill signed by Holcomb also establishes a procedure for a state police training board to decertify officers who commit misconduct and eases the sharing of employment records between police departments.
State protections would be removed from Indiana’s already diminished wetlands under a bill pushed through by Republican lawmakers. Holcomb has said he has concerns about the proposal and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has joined environmental groups in urging him to veto it.
Republican legislators voted to override Holcomb’s veto of a bill largely blocking Indiana cities from regulating rental properties, a move pushed by apartment complex owners after Democratic city officials in Indianapolis approved regulations allowing fines for landlords who retaliate against renters over living condition complaints. Bills failed that aimed to prohibit local officials from blocking solar and wind farm projects or adopting local housing design standards.
Delays in receiving data from last year’s census mean that legislators will return to the Statehouse later this year in order to approve new congressional and General Assembly election districts. Republicans rejected calls from Democrats and voting-rights advocates for the establishment of an independent commission to oversee the once-a-decade map drawing.
Republicans pushed through a bill requiring doctors to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions about a disputed treatment that could stop the abortion process. Opponents argue it would force doctors to provide dubious information to their patients about the “abortion reversal” procedure.
The state budget allocates $3.5 million a year for local police agencies to make up for handgun permit fees they now collect. House members passed a bill to repeal the law requiring a permit to carry a handgun in public despite opposition from many police officials. The move stalled in the Senate, which consented to dropping the $75 state fee for lifetime permits.
Republican lawmakers for a second year turned aside Holcomb’s call for a law requiring businesses to make workplace accommodations for pregnant employees. They approved a bill allowing pregnant employees to request accommodations but it does not mandate managers to grant any of the requests.