2014 Session Halftime: A look at Senate-passed bills

session_halftimeTuesday marked the halfway point of the 2014 legislative session as lawmakers worked to gain approval for their proposals. Senate bills not making it through the chamber by Tuesday are considered dead for this session. Of the 419 Senate bills introduced this session, 164 are heading to the House for further consideration and 145 House-passed initiatives will be reviewed by the Senate. Bills must pass both chambers before going to the governor for possible signature into law. This summary highlights some of the action taken by the Senate thus far.

Taxes:

Corporate income, business personal property tax cuts

 Legislation that would further reduce Indiana’s corporate income tax rate and provide an exemption from business personal property tax for businesses with less than $25,000 in assessed value passed the Senate. Senate Bill (SB) 1 would further reduce the corporate income tax rate from 6.5% in 2015 to 4.9% by 2019 at a cost of $370 million in forgone state revenue by 2020. The proposal provides that if the assessed value of a taxpayer’s business personal property is less than $25,000, they would be exempt from paying the tax. At this point, there is nothing in the bill that replaces the $54 million in property tax revenue that local governments, schools and other taxpayers will lose. In addition, the bill would eliminate the college contribution tax credit, along with several other credits. SB 1 was approved by the Senate with a vote of 35-11. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Differing priorities

Senate Democrats proposed a number of amendments to the measure, including language reducing the fiscal impact the tax cut would inflict on local governments and schools and stripping the tax cut from the bill, instead using the resources to provide access to early childhood education for every Hoosier child. In offering the preschool amendment, Senator Skinner argued it would be as beneficial an investment in Indiana’s long term future and pay higher dividends in the form of higher graduation rates, lower incarceration rates and a more educated future workforce. The amendments were defeated along party lines.

Mass transit expansion

Under SB 176, the expansion of mass transit services in Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Johnson, Madison and Marion counties would be approved through local public questions placed on the ballot this November. The measure authorizes eligible counties to fund approved public transportation projects through raising various tax rates slightly, including income tax rates, while fares will cover 25% of the costs associated with expanded mass transit services. The legislation also prohibits the counties from carrying out a light rail project. Controversial and unexpected language concerning Indianapolis’ bonding authority was inserted by Republicans during the committee process. However, that language failed to meet the approval of the full Senate and was removed on the floor. Additional concerns linger regarding the long-term effects on labor agreements that still exist in the proposal. The Senate ultimately passed the amended version of the measure by a vote of 28-20, and it now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage:

HJR-3 By a vote of 57-40, the House of Representatives approved a modified version of House Joint Resolution (HJR) 3, a controversial proposed amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage in Indiana. In earlier action, House members deleted a sentence in HJR 3 that would have banned civil unions and domestic partnerships. The resolution now only contains language to ban gay marriage in the state. The resolution advances to the State Senate where it could be changed again. By altering the amendment’s language, the approval process from two separately elected general assemblies would likely have to start over, which would delay the initiative from going to voters in November. With recent shifts in attitudes regarding gay marriage, opponents of the ban, including Eli Lilly, Cummins, IU Health and many universities around the state, are calling on lawmakers to defeat the legislation. According to a poll conducted last October by nonpartisan Ball State University and WISH-TV, 58 percent of Hoosiers oppose an amendment to the constitution banning same sex marriage. A ban on gay marriage is already in state law. The resolution will be heard in the Senate Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure on Monday, February 10.

Education:

Common Core education standards

A proposal that would require the State Board of Education to adopt its own Indiana college and career readiness standards and require Indiana to no longer use Common Core standards passed the Senate. The Common Core standards were initiated in 2008 by the National Governor’s Association and the National Superintendents Association with support from former Governor Mitch Daniels, and were originally adopted by 46 other states to align high-quality standards nationwide. Proponents of the legislation to halt Common Core claim that the standards are not strong enough and would lump Indiana in with the rest of the country, barring local flexibility. Opponents point to the fact that Indiana school corporations have already invested considerable money into implementing the Common Core standards, and that rejecting them now would leave those schools with no avenues to recoup the money. The proposal now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

School funding flexibility

A number of bills dealing with school debt restructuring have gained Senate approval. Under SB 143, a school corporation may adopt a resolution before January 1, 2019 to use certain debt restructuring statutes if the property tax circuit breaker credit impact for the school corporation is at least 20 percent of the tax levies it collects. Under current law, schools were able to adopt a resolution by December 31, 2013, to refinance up to 50 percent of their existing bonds for a period not to exceed 10 years. SB 143 would extend the deadline to December 31, 2018. Bonds that could be refinanced would be limited to those issued before January 1, 2009. Additional school corporations could decide to refinance bonds under this proposal. While the annual property tax levy would not be any higher during the original term of the bond, the levy could be extended by up to 10 years. SB 143 was approved unanimously by the Senate. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Under the passage of SB 163, school corporations would receive further spending flexibility when needed. Schools across the state are under strain from the caps placed on property taxes. This proposal would provide these school corporation some flexibility they need to fund vital areas of operation such as transportation. As amended in committee, SB 163 would allow a school corporation that experiences at least a 20 percent loss to its transportation fund due to property tax caps in 2014, 2015, or 2016 to allocate those losses among all funds for that year. SB 163 was approved unanimously by the Senate. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

School Resource Officers

 An initiative expanding the program created during the 2013 legislative session to fund school resource officer programs will move forward. School resource officers are charged with keeping the school secure, as well as helping to educate and counsel students on a daily basis. The proposal permits the secured school safety board to award a matching grant for school resource officer training. It would also require a school resource officer to be employed by a law enforcement agency. Lastly, it would permit the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board to approve the training programs for school resource officers. The proposal, SB 85, gained Senate approval and now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

School building safety

A proposal authored by State Senator Lindel Hume would establish the Division of School Building Physical Security and Safety within the Department of Education. The division would develop and advise school corporations on nonbinding safety guidelines for new buildings, renovations, repairs, or alterations. School corporations would then be required to take the safety specifications under advisement when planning for construction. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 45-3 and now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Choices for teachers

SB 264 would offer a $10,000 stipend for each of first two years to public school teachers who move to work at a failing public school or a charter school where 50 percent or more of students receive free or reduced lunch. The proposal would therefore require that a teacher must have received a designation of either highly effective or effective on the teacher’s most recent performance evaluation to be eligible for the stipend. However, the proposal does not address the high-performing teachers that already teach in these schools who will not be eligible for the stipend. The legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 34-14 and now moves to the House of Representative for its consideration.

Veterans:

Military Family Relief Fund

A proposal to help military families transition to civilian life and provide support during financial difficulty is on its way to the Indiana House after clearing the Senate by a unanimous vote. Senate Bill 352, championed by Senator Tim Lanane, removes a provision that limits to three years the time period that an Indiana qualified service member or a dependent is eligible to receive assistance from the state’s Military Family Relief Fund; thus allowing more veterans to apply for assistance. Testimony revealed that passing this legislation would allow for family assistance considerations once the veteran and family are settled back into civilian life. The fund, established in 2007, currently has a balance of $7.5 million and continues to grow through the sale of veteran license plates. The proposal passed the Senate unanimously and now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Women Veterans Coordinator

Senate Bill 354, advocated by Senator Richard Young, would create a Hoosier Women Veterans Program through the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA). The program would provide information, including services and benefits, specific to the needs of female veterans. IDVA would establish a program coordinator to perform outreach and make recommendations in order to more effectively address the needs of more than 33,000 female Hoosier veterans residing in the state. The proposal was unanimously approved by the Senate and now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Veteran employment preference

Intended to tackle an unemployment rate of 20.1 percent among post 9-11 veterans, SB 300, authored by Senator Richard Young, would allow eligible veterans that have been honorably discharged to receive preference points when being considered for full-time employment with the state of Indiana. Each individual being considered for state employment is evaluated on a points system. Under SB 300, if a veteran is qualified and being considered for a position with the state, they would be awarded 10 percent of the total amount of possible points while disabled veterans would be awarded 15 percent of the total amount of possible points. The proposal was unanimously approved by the Senate and now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Law enforcement and public safety:

Downloading of cell phone information by police

A proposal intended to protect the privacy of an individual’s electronic communication data was approved by the Senate by a vote of 45-3 and now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration. SB 64 would prohibit a police officer or law enforcement officer from downloading information from an electronic device without the owner’s consent, probable cause the phone was used in the commission of a crime, or a valid search warrant.

Gun buyback program

The Senate narrowly approved SB 229 by a contested vote of 28-21, which would prohibit the destruction of any firearm in the possession of a law enforcement agency, unless the serial numbers of the firearms have been obstructed or removed. Moreover, SB 229 would also bar local governments and police departments from holding gun buyback events. Instead, the initiative establishes a procedure to permit certain individuals whose firearms have been retained by law enforcement to have the firearms sold at auction and the proceeds returned to the individual. The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Law enforcement cultural and U-Visa training

Legislation authored by Senator Lanane to require law enforcement agencies to enhance education on cultural diversity and U non-immigrant Visas (U-Visas) gained Senate approval. This legislation would benefit those who do not hold legal status in the U.S., but have been affected by violent crimes. SB 343 would not serve as a shortcut to citizenship, but instead a vehicle of cooperation. Law enforcement agencies would be educated on the purpose of U-Visas and their role as authorizers. The Law Enforcement Training Board would adopt rules for minimum standards for a course of cultural sensitivity and U-Visa training and set forth provisions for continuing education. The proposal was approved by the Senate by a vote of 42-6 and now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Implied consent for forensic examination

In an effort to allow medical personal to collect vital evidence in the instance of a crime, a proposal authored by Senator Lanane would allow for a forensic medical examination of an unconscious person to be completed if it is suspected that person is a victim of a sex crime. Under SB 255, medical examiners would be able to preserve this evidence until the victim is capable of providing consent. The proposal also requires the State Police Department to develop and distribute a standard sexual assault examination kit and for health care providers to administer the kit upon suspicion that a crime has been committed. This proposal ensures that all evidence that could be helpful to convicting a perpetrator is gathered. The measure passed the Senate by a unanimous vote and now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Home inspections 

To ensure safer homes, SB 329 extends the scope of home inspections to include attic spaces, basements and crawl spaces if applicable. Expanded inspections would be agreed upon in writing between a home inspector and a client before the inspection is conducted. The Senate approved the measure unanimously and it now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Agriculture:

Industrial hemp

A measure aimed at legalizing industrial hemp cleared the Senate by a unanimous vote and now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration. SB 357, authored by State Senator Richard Young, authorizes the Indiana State Chemist and Seed Commissioner at Purdue University to oversee the cultivation and production of industrial hemp. Among other conditions, the bill establishes requirements to obtain a license and authorizes inspections by the State Police. Hemp, separate from marijuana, is environmentally friendly, offers farmers a crop alternative to corn and soy, and is pest-resistant. Southern Indiana was once a leading provider of industrial hemp rope during World War II. Today, 10 states including Kentucky and West Virginia have recognized the agricultural, economic and environmental benefits of promoting the growth and marketing of industrial hemp. It is currently used by the Ford Motor Company, Patagonia and the Body Shop in its products. Hemp can also be used for food, fuel, paper, textiles and plastics and could be the next big cash crop for Hoosier farmers.

Constitutional right to hunt and fish

SJR-9, a joint resolution intended to amend the Indiana Constitution, would provide the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife . Proponents of the resolution state hunting and fishing are the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. The proposal also aims to preserve the right to pursue these actions by traditional methods and that the General Assembly may prescribe laws potentially interfering with this only to promote wildlife conservation and management, preserve the future of hunting and fishing, and to prevent trespass and protect property rights. This proposed amendment has not been agreed to by the previous General Assembly, but passed the Senate this session by a vote of 43-4. The proposal now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Other issues that gained Senate approval:

Mental Health Pilot Program

Legislation was approved to allow Marion County to establish a three-year pilot project to reduce recidivism rates within the prison system by providing mental health and forensic treatment services at a separate facility. Under SB 235, individuals committed to the Department of Correction for certain crimes who suffer from a mental health or addiction problem would be eligible to be sent to a treatment facility to overcome those issues. The proposal is aimed at helping people with mental health problems that cause them to commit crimes to receive treatment. The Senate approved the measure unanimously and it now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Issues that did not gain Senate approval this session:

Universal access to high quality preschool

As one of only 10 states without a state-funded early childhood education program, Indiana is putting its students at a disadvantage. Quality pre-K allows students to develop the cognitive and interpersonal tools they need to be lifelong learners and arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. The results of early childhood education are clear. Students attending quality early education programs are more likely to complete high school, earn a higher income, hold a skilled job, attend college and less likely to have a criminal record or spend time in prison. For every one public dollar invested, early education returned nearly $13 in benefits and participants earned nearly $160,000 more than they would have otherwise. All  four-year-olds are at a critical stage of cognitive development, not just those who meet narrow eligibility guidelines. Ensuring broad access means all Hoosier families can participate in early learning programs. The proposal, SB 389, championed by State Senator Earline Rogers was assigned to the Education and Career Development Committee but did not receive a committee hearing.

Senate Democrats did propose an amendment on the Senate floor to strip language cutting corporate taxes, instead using those resources to provide access to early childhood education for every Hoosier child. In offering the preschool amendment, Senator Skinner argued it would be as beneficial an investment in Indiana’s long term future and pay higher dividends in the form of higher graduation rates, lower incarceration rates and a more educated future workforce. The amendments were defeated along party lines.

Child care safety & regulation

Not every child care center that receives federal Child Care and Development Funds (tax dollars) is required to follow basic health and safety procedures. If a child care center takes tax dollars, those tax dollars should be used to keep Hoosier children safe. Authored by Senator Greg Taylor, SB 48 would have required child care centers that receive these tax dollars to meet food, health, safety and sanitation standards on issues including bathroom and hand washing, grounds conditions, maximum capacity limits for number of children in care, nutrition, daily activities, and the vehicles used to transport children. The measure would have also set child to caregiver ratios and required staff training. The initiative was assigned to the Health and Provider Services committee but did not receive a committee hearing.

State Adoption Subsidies

When a child is adopted out of foster care, the adoptive family should receive a monthly adoption subsidy to help assist with ongoing medical and other needs.  For those eligible, the federal government pays this subsidy.  For the other children, the state pays for this subsidy in every state BUT Indiana.  Indiana children are going without.  The amount of Hoosier kids waiting for this subsidy has doubled in the last two years to 1,400.  All Hoosier children and the families who open their hearts to them should be receiving this subsidy critical to their care.  Under SB 268, authored by Senator John Broden, would have provided an incentive to families on the verge of economic hardship to continue with the adoption process.  This is evident by the fact Indiana’s adoption rate has been dropping. The initiative was assigned to the Appropriations Committee but did not receive a committee hearing.

Decriminalization of marijuana

An initiative championed by State Senator Karen Tallian would decriminalize marijuana in Indiana by lessening the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. After sustained public interest in seeing the bill receive a hearing to start a public debate on the issue, SB 314 was assigned to the Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law and did not receive a hearing this session.

Following extensive testimony and review during a 2011 study committee, the proposal’s goal is to reduce criminal penalties for personal possession of small amounts of marijuana. The impact could also mean less state and local criminal justice resources being spent on marijuana-related arrests, prosecution and sentences.

A personal update from Sen. Tallian>>

Medicaid Expansion

This session, Senate Democrats worked to cover as many as 400,000 Hoosiers going without health insurance. By making the federal health care law work for Hoosiers, Senate Democrats aimed to expand coverage, a move that would inject as much as $3.4 billion of new economic activity into local communities and finance as many as 30,000 new jobs. Hoosiers with health insurance could see an average savings of as much as $677 on annual premiums. Under the Senate Democrats’ proposal, Hoosier tax dollars currently paying to cover the uninsured in Illinois, Kentucky and other expanding states, would have been redirected to cover Hoosiers and create jobs here in Indiana. The proposal, SB 369, authored by State Senator Karen Tallian was assigned to the Appropriations Committee but did not receive a hearing.

Senator Tallian also attempted to insert health care expansion language into a bill dealing with the administration of Medicaid. That amendment would have established a “premium assistance” program, which would have allowed Medicaid expansion dollars to be used for purchasing private health insurance on Indiana’s health care Marketplace. The amendment was defeated on the Senate floor by a party line vote.

Schools receiving choice scholarships

A measure that was originally intended to allow private schools receiving state voucher money to opt-out of the annual ISTEP exam and certain reporting requirements failed to pass the Senate. Although the ISTEP language was eventually removed, opponents of SB 322 testified that allowing schools to not report performance removes transparency from entities that receive state dollars and reduces what administrators and parents know about these schools’ performance. Uncertainty over what schools would and would not have to report to the state regarding academic performance killed the measure in the last hours of the first half of the session.

Hunting preserves

A proposal that would legalize enclosed deer hunting preserves and establish regulations for future sites was rejected by the Senate. Under SB 404, preserves would be required to be at least 160 acres and allow for a 50 percent escape cover for released animals. It would have banned the hunting of game birds on site and prohibited hunting within 150 yards of a feeding station. High-fence preserves are privately-owned enclosures that charge individuals to hunt on the premises, often referred to as “canned hunting”. The preserves would have been subject to annual inspections by the Department of Natural Resources. The measure failed to pass in the Senate due to the lack of constitutional majority (only 25 yes votes).