2015NewLaws

2015 New laws effective July 1

Key New Laws

Indiana Biennial Budget

Lawmakers signed off on the state’s $30.9 billion budget, House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1001, for the next two years. The budget increases funding for some K-12 schools and allows universities to issue bonds for specific capital projects. It increases community corrections and mental health and addiction treatment funding to help with an expected shift of the state’s prison population to local jail and mental health programs following the overhaul of the state’s criminal code. The budget also authorizes the State Budget Agency to transfer $200 million to fund Major Moves road construction projects and funds an expansion of the South Shore Rail Line in Northwest Indiana.

After pressure from Senate Democrats and the public, budget writers fully funded the Department of Child Services, enabling them to hire 100 new caseworkers tasked with investigating cases of child abuse and neglect.

The state’s budget increases school funding by $464 million – 2.2 percent and 2.5 percent in Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017, respectively. Controversially, budget writers slashed complexity index funding – money directed to schools serving high poverty and at-risk students – by $250 million and changed how poverty is measured in schools from free textbook eligibility to SNAP, TANF and foster care figures over three years. Democrats argued that to truly invest in education, we should not cut funding to schools serving high poverty students to finance the growth of other schools. The result, Democrats argued – were some schools that saw funding gains and some that did not. The budget also bumped up money allocated for students with disabilities and funds full-day kindergarten. $10 million in charter school and innovation network school grants will be available annually.

Budget writers removed the $4,800 cap on vouchers the state provides to students attending private school. That move coupled with explosive growth will see the price tag associated with the controversial program rise to nearly $175 million in 2017.

Cited as a shift in philosophy, crafters of the state’s two-year budget increased funding for community corrections to $151 million over the course of 2 years. While the governor called for additional funding in the budget to build more prisons to house low-level nonviolent offenders, Senate Democrats pointed to community corrections programs as an effective solution rehabilitating these individuals. Specifically, Senate Democrats advocated for additional funding to invest in offender mental health and addiction treatment. The state budget bill raises funding for those programs by $30 million over the course of the next two years. Studies from the National Institute of Mental Health have shown that as many as 64 percent of inmates in local prisons suffer from mental health and/or addiction issues. Senate Democrats see these programs as an investment by helping these individuals with providing treatment to ensure they are able to become contributors in society once rehabilitated.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

One of the most controversial bills approved by Statehouse Republicans contained language that many believed would open the door to discrimination against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 101, more commonly referred to as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), garnered world-wide attention causing the legislature to revisit the topic in an effort to clarify language. The final companion proposal, SEA 50, stated that an individual or business cannot refuse services, goods, employment or housing to a person “on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.”

Drafters of the new RFRA language claim it will ensure that the law cannot be used as a defense for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, Democrats called for a full repeal of RFRA while simultaneously adding lasting protections for the LGBT community into the state’s civil rights laws.

Democrats noted the RFRA debate exposed Indiana’s civil right protections as being embarrassingly deficient. Under current Indiana law, it is lawful to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity unless those people are protected by local ordinances. Senate Democrats have committed to making statewide protection for all Hoosiers their number one priority when the legislature reconvenes next year.

State Board of Education changes

Lawmakers approved controversial legislation that postpones the removal of Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz as the chair of the State Board of Education until 2017. She faces reelection in 2016. The new law, SEA 1, awards the governor eight board appointees. Six must have educational experience and no more than five may be of the same political party. The House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore each appoint one member to the board, for a total of eleven members. The four-year board appointments were made June 1, 2015 and a new chairperson will be elected annually. In a controversial last minute move, Republicans required the Department of Education to share confidential student data with the State Board of Education and its expanded staff.

Repeal of the Common Construction Wage

Senate Democrats also fought to maintain the state’s common construction wage, a law that has effectively set wages on public construction projects for 80 years. To achieve the 20 percent savings proponents of repealing the common construction wage claimed, skilled local workers would have to work for virtually nothing. At a time when Hoosier incomes lag the rest of the nation, Senate Democrats repeatedly noted we should be working to raise wages, not lower them. Unfortunately, Statehouse Republicans repealed the common construction wage law under HEA 1019, effectively lowering wages for thousands of working Hoosier families.

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Stars, stripes and safety

Cookouts, bonfires, family gatherings, parades and of course fireworks commemorating America’s Independence Day always provide great summer memories for Hoosier families. The Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus would like to wish everyone a happy and safe Fourth of July. While you’re having fun celebrating, it is important to remember some tips to ensure a weekend free of cuts, scrapes, burns and unnecessary hospital visits.

Safety tips courtesy of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security

  • Never let children handle, play with, or light any fireworks without adult supervision.
    •Store fireworks in a cool, dry place away from the reach of children.
    •Use a clear, open area and keep the audience a safe distance from the shooting site.
    •Do not attempt to make or alter any fireworks device.
    •Only purchase and light 1.4G consumer fireworks. Examples include bottle rockets, roman candles and fire crackers.
    •Only light one firework item at a time and never attempt to re-light or fix a “dud” firework.
    •Have a fire extinguisher, water supply, hose, or bucket of water nearby.
    •Use extreme caution when lighting fireworks in the wind. Keep spectators where the wind is blowing away from them.
    •Never smoke or drink alcoholic beverages while handling fireworks.
    •Never aim, point, or throw fireworks at another person.
    •Sparklers burn at extremely hot temperatures from 1200 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Glow sticks make an excellent, safer alternative to sparklers, especially for young children.
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Op-Ed by Sen. Tallian: Four reasons the governor has it wrong on clean air and the Hoosier economy

Recently, the Pence Administration issued a letter to the Obama Administration, threatening that Indiana will not abide by the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated rules under the Clean Power Plan. Governor Pence also issued a statement denouncing those policies. I believe the governor is wrong, both in his underlying philosophy and in his response to the federal plan.

#1 “Sky is falling” mentality
Americans heard this same kind of nay-saying when we passed the original Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act more than 40 years ago: “The sky is falling and it’s going to be too costly, and devastating to business and manufacturing.”

Those predictions never came to pass.

Instead, the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act may be two of the most productive, socially beneficial, and job producing pieces of legislation in the 20th century. They have saved our nation and our lonely planet.

The governor’s position shows no vision for the number of jobs and innovation that might occur if we look forward to new energy policies. Consider the efforts of the Blue-Green Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmentalists who have come together to promote good jobs, good environment, and a green economy. We could create a stronger, more innovative economy if Indiana’s leaders were not merely obstinate.

#2 File a lawsuit first approach
Indiana, again, was one of a few states to file a lawsuit against the federal government on this issue. This was recently dismissed by the courts as being premature.

This administration – chiefly Governor Pence and Attorney General Zoeller – have shown that their first response to federal policy is to file a lawsuit. Look at the wasted public money spent on the challenges to the health insurance subsidies. This administration has shown that they are willing to take Indiana‘s citizens to the Supreme Court in order to make political hay, even when it harms Hoosiers. Their reaction to these proposed standards is about adopting an extremist position in order to challenge their mainstream political opponents, and they have done it repeatedly. This is not a methodology for problem-solving.

#3: Reliance on fear mongering
The Governor’s statement adamantly threatens that these proposed rules will “force the premature retirement of existing coal plants” and kill Indiana’s coal industry.

This kind of talk is blatant political-speak, pandering to Indiana’s coal industry. He suggests that we have 26,000 coal-related jobs in Indiana; however, the Department of Natural Resources’ website indicates 2,500-3,500 jobs in 24 active operations in 10 southwestern counties. He also enacts this tactic by suggesting that Indiana’s energy prices will skyrocket.

The truth is that the proposed standards only set goals and options for how to get achieve outcomes. Indiana has the ability to come up with our own plan, using any or all of the many available options.

#4: Refusal to accept science as fact
An ever-diminishing number of the extremist right still refuse to acknowledge that climate change, smog, and pollution are man-made. Incredibly, the governor’s statement explicitly puts him among that group.

But the rest of the world has already come to different conclusions. Look at China and India today. Recall what it was like to drive through Gary, Indiana or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1960’s. Or watch the Cuyahoga River on fire. The rest of the world acknowledges what is happening.

These are the same people who wanted to teach Creationism a couple of years ago. Are we finished listening to them?

Leaders find solutions that help to advance our state. Clean air and economic vitality can coexist. The governor’s unwillingness to break away from his “world is flat” mentality solves nothing and traps Indiana in the past.

Sen. Tallian represents Senate District 4 which encompasses portions of northern Porter County and Michigan, Coolspring and New Durham townships in LaPorte County. For more information on Sen. Tallian, her legislative agenda or other State Senate business call 1-800-382-9467 or visit www.IN.gov/s4.

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LANANE: SCOTUS decision paves way for Indiana’s own redistricting commission

INDIANAPOLIS–Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) released the following statement in response to the decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today affirms that independent redistricting commissions are constitutionally permitted to draw legislative maps and take politics out of the redistricting process.

“The end goal of the redistricting process should not be to benefit one party or the other. Rather, the goal of redistricting should be to create more competitive democratic elections and restore the confidence of Hoosiers and the integrity of the electoral process.

“It is my hope that the Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting takes a hard look at this process, how we can improve it, and make this a reality before 2020. Not only is this possible, it’s what Hoosier voters deserve.

“Other states have implemented state redistricting provisions in their constitution or by state law to make their processes more balanced. Indiana unfortunately lags other states in this regard.

“Our current maps have resulted in two extremely conservative super-majorities, neither of which seem to reflect the reality of the Hoosier electorate.

“Besides the most basic federal rules, Indiana has no additional provisions that aim to preserve communities of interest, respect political boundaries, create competitive districts, or keep districts compact.

“These are all topics the Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting should evaluate over the summer. Hoosiers deserve to have the best system in place to ensure that the voters are choosing their politicians instead of politicians choosing their voters.”

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LANANE: SCOTUS agrees, marriage equality a matter of fundamental fairness

INDIANAPOLIS – On Friday, Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) released the following statement in response to the United States Supreme Court decision on Obergefell v. Hodges.

“Today’s ruling reinforces the belief that a solid majority of Hoosiers have already expressed: that marriage equality is a matter of fundamental fairness.

“This ruling makes even clearer the need to extend Indiana’s civil rights protections to members of the LGBT community.

“The journey toward equality in the Hoosier state has been winding but today’s decision signifies a momentous victory along that path.

“This decision gives ultimate resolution to same-sex couples recently married but unsure upon what legal ground their nuptials stood.

“This decision adds significance to the growing chorus of Hoosiers who have and continue to say it’s time to outlaw discrimination in Indiana.

“Today we celebrate progress. Tomorrow we begin anew our efforts to make sure everyone knows that Indiana is an accepting and welcoming state that does not discriminate.”

“This is a huge step in a long, winding journey of reaching marriage equality.”

“I am happy with this outcome but we are still far from where we need to be to reach Hoosier equality. The next step is to push even harder on expanding civil rights in our state Constitution to include same-sex marriage.”

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Lanane & Tallian applaud SCOTUS ruling, 160k Hoosiers maintaining coverage

INDIANAPOLIS—Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) and long-time advocate of the Affordable Care Act, State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) released the following statement regarding the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling on King v. Burwell:

“Today’s decision is good news for Hoosiers. The Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the spirit and intent of the Affordable Care Act.

“Today nearly 160,000 Hoosiers will rest easy knowing that they’ll continue to receive help in affording medical care.

“This decision once again legitimizes the legality of the Affordable Care Act and puts to rest any lingering doubt.

“This has always been about ensuring Hoosiers have access to affordable care and unfortunately, some politicians in our state have lost sight of that.

“Governor Pence and Attorney General Zoeller actively fought affordable care.

“We narrowly escaped the uncertainty statehouse republicans created for Hoosier families and their ability to continue to access health care on the federal exchange.

“Republican leaders had no back-up plan, and that is a clear failure in governing.

“The fact that they avoided 160,000 Hoosiers losing their coverage by a decision from the federal courts should have them breathing a sigh of relief.”

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Unemployment report shows significant declines in May

On Monday, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced Indiana’s May unemployment rate dropped yet again to 5.1 percent, a 0.3 percent decrease from April’s mark.

The national unemployment rate went up slightly to 5.5 percent, a 0.1 percent increase from April. Michigan’s unemployment rate also increased 0.1 percent and mirrors the national unemployment rate at 5.5 percent. Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio’s unemployment rates all remained steady for the month of May. Illinois’ rate remained at 6 percent, Kentucky at 5.1 percent, and Ohio at 5.2 percent respectively.

IN County with the highest unemployment rate: Vermillion at 7.1%
IN County with the lowest unemployment rate: Dubois at 3.2%

Employment Report (LAUS)

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DWD also announced last week that the department was awarded a $4.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The Sector Partnership National Emergency Grant (SPNEG) to help connect dislocated workers, including dislocated veterans and underemployed workers with employers in advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health sciences, information technology and transportation, distribution, and logistics fields. More information on the grant can be found here>>

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TALLIAN: Governor Pence’s obstinacy may cost tens of thousands of Hoosiers health insurance

Republican inaction on state-run Marketplace means King vs. Burwell decision comes down to ‘coin flip’ for Hoosiers

INDIANAPOLIS – On Monday, State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) feared tax credits certain Hoosiers receive to help pay for health insurance could disappear pending a decision by the United States Supreme Court in a situation she says, Indiana Republicans chose to exacerbate.

“This was a 100 percent avoidable situation. Now, as a result of Republicans’ inaction, nearly 160,000 Hoosiers are a coin flip away from losing,” said Tallian. “Instead of taking proactive steps to defuse this, Republicans have been more than happy to watch our state careen toward the edge.”

Those steps include SB 417, a proposal Tallian offered during the 2015 legislative session that would have created a health insurance exchange managed by state officials and effectively bypassed the issue the King vs. Burwell case is set to determine. Republicans have been absolute in their refusal to negotiate a solution and failed to advance Tallian’s initiative, leaving no backup plan for families receiving tax credits.

“For many Hoosiers, these tax credits are the difference between affording health care for their children and being forced to go without. That’s a situation no parent should have to face,” said Tallian. “Governor Pence and his Republican allies have proven unwilling to move beyond partisan politics to find a solution and as a result, some families could see their premiums jump by 270 percent.”

If a decision by the Supreme Court invalidates tax credits provided through federally-run health insurance Marketplaces, Tallian believes Indiana lawmakers would be forced to act immediately.

“We cannot and will not abandon Hoosier families,” said Tallian. “There’s no backup plan, no contingency. Other states like Delaware and Pennsylvania have hedged to avoid calamity. If the Supreme Court rules against tax credits, the governor will be forced to call a special session for lawmakers to create a state-run exchange.”

In 2009, the Indiana Legislative Service Agency estimated a special session cost taxpayers at least $75,000 per week, a cost Tallian believes taxpayers wouldn’t have to bear again had the General Assembly considered her earlier proposal.

Sen. Tallian represents Senate District 4 which encompasses portions of northern Porter County and Michigan, Coolspring and New Durham townships in LaPorte County. For more information on Sen. Tallian, her legislative agenda or other State Senate business call 1-800-382-9467 or visit www.IN.gov/s4.

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Health insurance, King vs. Burwell and what it means for ordinary Hoosiers

The United States Supreme Court is poised to issue a decision concerning tax credits provided to low and middle-income Americans to offset the cost of health insurance. The case before the Supreme Court – King vs. Burwell – concerns the 34 states that opted to allow the federal government to run the states’ Marketplace – the online portal where Americans purchase health insurance. It hinges on the legislative intent of drafters of the Affordable Care Act and whether federally-run Marketplaces can provide tax credits directly to consumers in those 34 states.

In Indiana, Republican leadership chose to allow federal officials to manage Indiana’s Marketplace and depending on the ruling, Hoosiers receiving tax credits may see their support vanish.

What is the Marketplace?

To expand coverage and help make choosing the right health insurance plan more convenient, the Affordable Care Act created the Marketplace for people without employer-provided coverage and earning too much to qualify for Medicaid (about $24,000 for a family of four). For example, self-employed Hoosiers or small business owners could compare plans on the Marketplace and purchase health insurance that meets their family’s needs.

What are tax credits?

To help offset the cost of health insurance, the Affordable Care Act made tax credits available to families purchasing health insurance through the Marketplace. Enrollees with household incomes between $24,250 and $97,000 for a family of four (100 to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level) could qualify for tax credits to help offset some of the cost of monthly health insurance premiums. In Indiana, the average tax credit for consumers with Marketplace-purchased health insurance coverage was $320 per month.

Nearly 160,000 Hoosiers could have to pay more

So if the Supreme Court decides federally-run Marketplaces cannot provide consumers tax credits, it throws into question whether tens of thousands of Hoosiers will continue to be able to afford health insurance. A June 2015 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation noted more than 180,000 Hoosiers have purchased health insurance through the Marketplace and nearly 160,000 – 88.5 percent – receive tax credits.

A lot more

Those tax credits on average help Hoosiers offset monthly insurance premiums by $320 or $3,840 annually. If those credits are barred by the Supreme Court, Hoosiers with Marketplace-purchased health insurance would see their premiums jump 271 percent, the 16th largest increase in the nation.

It impacts folks across the state

If the Supreme Court does invalidate how tax credits are distributed in Indiana, communities across the state will feel the impact. In fact, areas of Crown Point and Greenwood have the most at stake as communities in those cities have the highest number of consumers who have purchased insurance through the Marketplace.

2015 Marketplace Enrollment by Indiana County

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Click for an interactive map of Marketplace health insurance enrollments by Indiana county.

2015 Marketplace Enrollment by Zip Code

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Click for a deeper dive into Marketplace enrollments and how the King vs. Burwell decision may affect your neighbors’ coverage.

2015 Marketplace Enrollment by House District

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Click and explore Marketplace Enrollments by Indiana House Districts.

2015 Marketplace Enrollment by Senate District

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Click and explore Marketplace Enrollments by Indiana Senate Districts.

This could have been avoided but Hoosier Republicans blocked a potential solution

During the 2015 legislative session, Senate Democrats – led by Sen. Karen Tallian – offered a proposal to move control of Indiana’s Marketplace to state health officials. By setting up a state-run Marketplace, lawmakers could have avoided what amounts to a quarter-flip deciding whether the nearly 160,000 Hoosiers receiving tax credits will continue to. The bill was blocked by Republicans in the Senate.

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5 Summer trips for Hoosier travelers

Indiana boasts a number of vacation spots covering an array of traveling preferences. Here are our top 5 vacation and staycation ideas, for everyone from adventurist to wine connoisseur, and in between.

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Outdoor Adventure: A rapid river in Indiana may sound like a fantasy, but the Blue River in Southeastern Indiana Cave Country offers easy rapids with incredible scenic views.  Rent your kayak or canoe from Cave Country Canoes and spend the day, or multiple days, paddling down the mighty Blue River.

conner prarie

Historic Hoosier Living: If you are searching for a more educational activity, why not visit Conner Prairie, an interactive, living museum that replicates life in Indiana from the days of the earliest Native Americans to the early days of statehood.  The outdoor museum offers fun for all ages and is only minutes from the thrills of Downtown Indianapolis.

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Food & Beverage Tours:  It’s summer and Indiana is full of opportunities to get out and explore Indiana’s ever-growing beer and wine industry.  So why not leave the kiddos at home and enjoy one of the many regional Wine Trails and Brewery Tours? However,  we know it isn’t always easy to just leave the children at home, there is a place that they may also enjoy.  The Albanese Candy Company, theonly tour-friendly gummi-candy company in the U.S.

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Festivals: If you are searching for a way to celebrate that German heritage that many Hoosiers share, why not take a weekend and travel to Jasper, Indiana for the Annual Strassenfest? This week of weinershnitzel and bier is so German that you may see more lederhosen and hear more Dutch accents than any other time in our state. If heavy German food and whimsical dress don’t suit your fancy, head on up to Plymouth, Indiana for the annual Marshall County Blueberry Festival.  You can sample hordes of blueberry inspired treats, take part in a 15k run, fly in hot air balloons, or just spend time at the carnival.

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Drive-Ins:  Lastly, for those looking for a trip close to home, why not try out one of the classic drive-in movie theaters that dot our state?  These eclectic summer adventures are perfect for first dates and families alike, offering all sorts of movies and diner food.  Get out the bug spray and blankets and head out to one of these great outdoor theaters: Tibbs Drive-in (Indianapolis); Starlite Drive-in (Bloomington); Georgetown Drive-in (Floyd County); Huntington Twin Drive-In (Huntington); Lakeshore Drive-in (Monticello); Holiday Drive-in (Rockport).

For a full list of Indiana’s tourist destinations visit http://www.visitindiana.com. There you can also find the Travel Indiana app where you’ll be able to watch videos, view photo galleries, see up-to-date event calendars, read feature stories and more—all in one window.

No matter your destination, the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus wish you a fun and safe summer of travel!