Mid-session review of Senate bills

Committee agendas in both chambers have been packed with bills awaiting initial hearings as lawmakers worked through mid-session committee deadlines. Senate bills not making it through the Senate committee process as of Friday, January 27, are considered dead for this session. Approved measures advance to the House and Senate floors where legislators have until Feb. 1 to vote on bills introduced in their respective chambers. Approved Senate bills will advance to the House for its consideration and House-passed initiatives will be under Senate review as of Feb. 6. Bills must pass both chambers before going to the governor for possible signature into law.

Many Senate proposals have gained committee approval and are moving through the process. This brief summary highlights some of the action taken by the Senate thus far.

Despite numerous objections by Senate Democrats, the Republican-controlled Indiana Senate voted 28 to 22 to approve Senate Bill (SB) 269, the controversial “Right to Work” bill. Senate Democrats argued that the legislation would be harmful to Indiana workers, working families and local economies by lowering average incomes statewide. Democrats also contended that the legislation is not necessary because of current federal protections for those who choose not to join organized labor, and that no concrete evidence has been presented indicating that the nonexistence of this policy has stifled job growth in the state. Nine Republicans voted with the 13 Democrats in the Senate in opposition to the bill. Several attempts by Democrats to amend the bill were also defeated including a proposed amendment to allow citizens to vote on the divisive issues in a public referendum. SB 269 now moves to the House for its consideration. Similar legislation, House Bill (HB) 1001, has been approved in the House.
Right to resist law enforcement unlawful entry
Following months of review in a summer study committee, legislation that would establish guidelines under which a person may lawfully use force against unlawful police entry into a person’s home has been approved by the Senate. SB 1 is in response to Barnes v. Indiana, a state Supreme Court decision handed down in 2011.  In Barnes, the Court ruled 3-2 that Indiana will not recognize the ‘Castle Doctrine,’ which is the common-law right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers into a citizen’s residence. Public outcry over the ruling prompted lawmakers to review current law regarding this issue. Concerns have been expressed on how the law may be interpreted by citizens that could lead to dangerous situations for both the citizens and law enforcement officers. A Senate vote of 45-5 sent the measure to the House of Representatives for its consideration.
Local government reform
SB 170, a bill aimed at deterring nepotism and conflicts of interest in local government, gained Senate approval by a vote of 39-11. SB 170 would halt public workers from hiring family members. In addition, the proposal would prevent firefighters, police officers, park officials and other municipal employees from serving in an elected position on a county council or board of commissioners that sets agency budgets and salaries. The bill stipulates that upon election, public officers would have to resign their employed position to serve in the elected office. Similar legislation, HB 1005, is moving through the House.
Safety of outdoor stages
SB 273, authored by Senator Tim Lanane, (D-Anderson), would strengthen the regulation of outdoor stage equipment like the concert rigging equipment that collapsed during last year’s Indiana State Fair. Currently there are 60 such temporary structures in Indianapolis, both indoor and out, many of which have been constructed and inspected under current city regulations for this year’s Super Bowl. To ensure public safety and public confidence, this legislation would establish statewide standards for the installation and inspection of such structures, and institute a permit process to determine the safety and functionality of these structures. This bill awaits action by the full Senate.
“Lifeline Bill” for alcohol-related emergencies
Legislation authored by Senator Vi Simpson, (D-Ellettsville), aimed at preventing alcohol-related deaths among teens gained unanimous approval by the Senate this week. SB 274 would prohibit police from taking a person into custody for a crime of public intoxication or minor possession, consumption, or transportation of an alcoholic beverage, if that person called 911 for someone in need of medical assistance due to an alcohol-related emergency. The legislation, referred to as the “Lifeline Bill,” was suggested by students involved in Hoosier Youth Advocacy who provided supporting testimony for the bill. These students represent a movement among universities statewide to enact a policy seeking limited immunity from prosecution for Indiana college students who want to help friends in need of medical attention due to alcohol-related emergencies, but fear arrest for underage drinking.
Child support until age 19
A proposal that would cut off child support at the age of 19 has been approved by the Senate. SB 18 provides that the duty to support a child, which does not include support for educational needs, would cease when the child becomes 19 years of age. Under current statute, child support payments must be paid until children reach the age of 21. The legislation would not affect parents currently providing child support. SB 18 has been approved by the Senate by a vote of 49-1 and is now eligible for House consideration.
Child sexual abuse education
Legislation authored by Senator Earline Rogers (D-Gary), SB 267, requires the Department of Education, in collaboration with organizations that have expertise in child sexual abuse, to identify or develop model educational materials, response policies, and reporting procedures on child sexual abuse. The legislation would assist schools with the implementation of these policies and materials for prekindergarten through Grade 5 to assist teachers, parents and students. The educational materials would include warning signs, basic principles of prevention, methods for outreach, actions that an abused child may take to obtain assistance, interventions, counseling options, educational support for an abused child, and sexual abuse reporting procedures. Further, the bill stipulates an implementation date of July 1, 2013. This bill awaits action by the full Senate.
Crackdown on animal fighting
SB 11, authored by Senator Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte) has been approved by the Senate by a vote of 38-10 and would make attending an animal fighting contest in the state a Class D felony. Testimony revealed that Indiana’s law regarding animal fighting is less strict than laws in surrounding states, and that these events attract drugs, gambling and weapons. By toughening the penalty for spectatorship, it is hoped that passage of SB 11 will work to eliminate this activity in Indiana. The bill now moves to the House.
Candidate names on all ballots
Legislation approved in 2011 that allowed local clerks to drop a municipal candidate’s name from the general election ballot if that candidate is unchallenged is under review again. SB 233 would repeal that language and require that all candidates for any municipal office must be on the ballot if there is an election for any office of the municipality. Senate Democrats filed similar legislation. The Senate approved the bill 50-0, and it will now advance to the House for its consideration.
Voter ID number required to vote absentee
Legislation that would have required a voter requesting an absentee ballot to provide his or her voter identification number as a part of the absentee ballot application process has been amended by the Senate Elections Committee. Under the original language in SB 175, if the absentee voter failed to include their voter identification number on the application, it would be considered incomplete and a ballot would not be provided. The bill was amended in committee to require the Election Commission to modify the absentee ballot application form to request that a voter provide the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number or state that the voter does not have a Social Security number. Further, the bill provides that a voter’s failure to provide the requested information does not affect the voter’s ability to receive an absentee ballot. Also, SB 175 urges the Legislative Council to assign to a study committee during the 2012 legislative interim the topics of ballot security for an absentee ballot transmitted to and from a voter by mail and connection of the statewide voter registration list and files maintained by the Department of State Revenue. This bill awaits action by the full Senate.
High school class basketball system
Language from SB 236 that would have changed the tournament format for high school basketball games from the current four-class system to a single-class system has been withdrawn. The four-class tournament format has been in place since 1998. The Indiana High School Athletic Association is preparing to examine the current system and plans to seek public input later this year.

Upcoming Senate deadlines

February 1        Deadline for Senate to take action on Senate bills

February 6        Senate begins hearings on House-approved bills

March 14           By law, legislature must adjourn by midnight