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Happy Memorial Day message from the Indiana Senate Democrats

State Senator Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte), Ranking Minority Member on the Senate Veteran’s Affairs & Military committee, passes along a Memorial Day message on behalf of the Indiana Senate Democrats wishing everyone a safe and happy 2015 Memorial Day.

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Pence agenda charts combative path on education

The governor has taken to calling the recently-wrapped 2015 legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly the “education session.” He’s right. Hoosiers got a lesson in the extent of damage one-party rule is capable of inflicting and Republicans’ adversarial vision for Indiana classrooms.

Consider first the narrative Governor Pence and his Republican allies have constructed around school funding. “The largest increase in state history,” is how Republicans describe education spending this year. So how then, do some schools still lose funding?

Because Hoosier Republicans and other champions of competition in education increasingly see classrooms as revenue streams, students as data points and teachers as test preparers. The school funding formula Republicans devised is simply an extension of this marketplace philosophy. The result: schools that win and schools that lose.

How can we assign more value to one student’s education over another? It’s a false choice. But it’s a choice Republicans willingly entered into and one that will see $250 million shifted out of urban and rural classrooms to subsidize growth at other schools.

In practice, their choice will handcuff teachers serving students in high-poverty communities. Difficult circumstances outside the classroom are challenge enough for our teachers, now we’re asking educators to achieve success with even fewer resources. These schools aren’t trying to offer Latin or lay Astroturf in their football stadiums, these are schools struggling to keep the lights on and their buses running. I can promise you the Indianapolis 500 will not be won by a team racing Ford Pintos but that’s the equivalent of what Governor Pence is asking of our educators.

Republicans’ “education-as-a-business” ideology extends beyond just school funding. Students endlessly churn through cycles of test prep, high-stakes testing and test debriefing that teachers and schools are then narrowly evaluated from. Test results are king, so be it if it means the slow death of educators as facilitators of actual learning.

Education in Indiana is a $6 billion a year enterprise and it’s a bull market. Disciples of “education-as-a-business” model have expertly tapped funding once reserved for public schools and are just beginning to open the spigot. Nearly $2.8 million in scholarship tax breaks for Hoosiers earning $100,000 or more, $100 million of taxpayer money to subsidize private schools, contracts with for-profit, out-of-state school takeover providers, the list of winners and losers only grows.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Business acumen and education can overlap in ways that benefit all Hoosiers students. How can we claim this was an “education session” when the legislature demurred on early childhood education? I challenge the governor to lay the groundwork for a statewide expansion of his preschool pilot program that gives any family that wants it access to high-quality early childhood education. The governor knows quality pre-K returns $13 in public benefit for every $1 invested. Schools bring our communities together, education policy should strive to achieve the same. Governor Pence and Statehouse Republicans must distance themselves from the divisive politics of this legislative session and work to chart a more unified way forward.

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Pence budget underscores divisive 2015 legislative session

INDIANAPOLIS – Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) released the following statement after Governor Mike Pence signed House Enrolled Act 1001 into law Thursday.

“If this was the governor’s so-called “education session,” the only thing we learned was the extent of the damage one-party control can inflict.

“How, if this is the largest increase in school funding in state history as Republicans claim, did some schools still lose funding?

“The school formula is Republicans’ cold calculation. It’s the tool they’ve devised to determine whose future to invest in and whose to pass over.

“The hard truth is some students will attend schools that won and some will attend schools that lost.

“Marketplace ideology has no place in the classroom.

“Every legislative session moves Indiana further and further away from the public aim of guaranteeing a quality, enriching education for every Hoosier student.

“Nearly $2.8 million in scholarship tax breaks for Hoosiers earning $100,000 or more, $100 million of taxpayer money to subsidize private schools, contracts with for-profit, out-of-state school takeover providers, the list only grows.

“We’ve kept our foot on the “education-as-a-business” gas pedal and now we’ve taken our hands off the wheel. Indiana is approaching critical mass.

“Priorities matter. Leadership matters. Why were Republicans so eager to stoke the flames of injustice with RFRA? The party of business cost Hoosier firms as much as $1 billion and their “fix” missed the point. Discrimination remains legal in most areas of Indiana.

“We’ve got to refocus our attention on helping regular Hoosiers earn a little more and get ahead.

“And some progress was made.

“This budget took steps in the right direction by funding mass transit projects in Northwest Indiana and enabling the Department of Child Services to hire the caseworkers they desperately need.

“This budget leaves more work to be done. We’ll continue to advance common sense initiatives that ensure every Hoosier family has a shot at success.”

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From RFRA wreckage will come progress

By Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson)

Not much good came from the path Governor Pence and Republicans set our state on when they shoehorned RFRA through the legislature. The economic firestorm they touched off scorched our state’s reputation in a way no slick $2 million New York public relations blitz can fully assuage. To their credit though, in their blind ignorance Republicans have set in motion a conversation that will ultimately see the promise of equality under the law for all Hoosiers guaranteed.

First a damage assessment. Indiana business leaders attached a one billion dollar economic price tag – billion with a ‘B’ – to Republicans’ RFRA maelstrom in the form of cancelled contracts, events lost to other cities and businesses putting expansion plans on ice. That estimate also fails to account for the prospective college students, graduates and entrepreneurs who will take their ideas elsewhere. Try explaining to a local restaurant owner with more empty tables than ever and forced to let staff go that RFRA was only a media ‘misperception.’

They can, however credit the media for extending the conversation over RFRA and discrimination beyond the walls of the Statehouse and into kitchens and corporate boardrooms in Indiana and around the world. Everyday Hoosiers, like many in the legislature, were suddenly exposed to how embarrassingly deficient Indiana civil rights protections are. Beyond the few cities and counties with ordinances extending protections, it’s perfectly legal to fire an employee or deny housing or other services simply for being gay. Civil rights do not end at city limits but for LGBT Hoosiers lawful discrimination is the reality they confront every day. For many, RFRA was the first time this ugly truth sunk in.

The days of sidestepping this issue are quickly coming to end for my Republican colleagues. Their close-mindedness will ultimately be the key that unlocks social progress.

The very first bill Senate Democrats will file in 2016 will be one to outlaw discrimination in Indiana by adding protections for LGBT Hoosiers. Republicans cannot shove the issue of equality aside any longer. The bill will be heard, proponents and opponents alike will have their day, testimony will be weighed and I am confident the democratic process will at last see protections afforded to all Hoosiers.

This is no easy course for someone fearful of losing their job simply for being who they are. For them, this conversation can’t come soon enough. For us, for all of Indiana, it’s time.

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10 key proposals from the 2015 legislative session

Legislators completed their work late Wednesday night sending numerous last-minute proposals to the governor’s desk. Of the 1258 bills that were introduced to the General Assembly in January, 309 bills gained final approval and will be sent to the governor for his final approval. Here are the top ten most talked-about proposals passed by the Indiana General Assembly this year.

Superintendent Ritz and the State Board of Education

SB 1 moves the date when members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) could remove Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz as the chair of the board to 2017 if she wins reelection to the post. The final version awards the governor eight appointees to the board of which six must have educational experience and no more than five may be of the same political party. The Speaker of the House and Senate President each appoint one member to the board, for a total of eleven members. Board appointments will be made June 1, 2015 and a new chairperson will be elected annually.

In a controversial last minute move, Republicans added language that would require the Department of Education to share confidential student data with the State Board of Education and its expanded staff.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

One of the most controversial bills approved this session contained language that some believed would open the door to discrimination against the state’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. The original language for SEA 101, or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, exposed the state’s civil rights law as being embarrassingly deficient and could allow a company or business to use the law as a defense for refusing service to LGBT individuals. After gaining world-wide attention, the legislature needed to revisit the topic with companion legislation that clarifies bill’s intent. Senate Democrats called for a full repeal of RFRA while simultaneously adding lasting protections for the LGBT community into the state’s civil rights laws. However, the final companion proposal 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.”

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. At the close of session, Senate Democrats pointed to the two week debate over RFRA as a distraction from the real issues facing Hoosiers. Senate Democrats have therefore committed to making statewide protections for all Hoosiers their number one priority when the Indiana General Assembly reconvenes next year.

Biennial Budget

Lawmakers signed off on the state’s two-year $30.9 billion spending document late Wednesday night. 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.

School funding

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.

Indiana Syringe Exchange

In response to an unprecedented outbreak of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in Scott County and high rates of Hepatitic C infection in some areas of the state, SB 461  authorizes certain counties and municipalities to begin needle exchange programs. After hours of behind the scenes negotiating, the bill requires local entities to declare a Hepatitis C or HIV epidemic and the State Department of Health Commissioner to confirm that declaration. Local entities can begin exchanging dirty needles for clean syringes and must offer any participants information on drug and addiction counseling. Participants cannot be prosecuted for exchanging needles used to inject illegal drugs. The declaration of a health epidemic required for any needle exchange program run by a municipality or county expires after one year but can be renewed by the State Health Commissioner.

Improving Indiana’s Gaming Industry

Senate Democrats advocated for a measure that will help to improve the state’s casino and gaming industry around the state. In a move to cut maintenance costs, open harbor space, and encourage interstate competition with neighboring states, SEA 1540 improved Indiana’s gaming industry in Northwest Indiana by allowing riverboat casinos to move inland and convert to land-based operations. The act also opens the door to allow live dealers to replace electronic table games at the state’s two racinos in the future, a move that when enacted in 2021, could generate hundreds of jobs for the racinos in Anderson and Shelbyville. Since taxes collected through the state’s casinos and gaming industry are a major source of revenue for the state, the act also urges study of the revenue and taxes generated from gaming to determine how gaming revenue is shared with local municipalities.

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, effectively lowering wages for thousands of working Hoosier families.

Funding for community corrections

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.

Medical marijuana reform

An initiative led by Senator Karen Tallian would have permitted physicians to prescribe medical marijuana to Indiana patients. The bill would have created a state agency to police the program and assembled an advisory panel to make recommendations and review the effectiveness of medical marijuana. Research facilities in Indiana would also have been granted licenses to perform testing. Even after sustained, grassroots support for the bill to be considered, it failed to receive a committee hearing. Tallian has stated she will continue to advocate for common sense marijuana legislation.

Regional Cities

The “Regional Cities” initiatives aims to promote job creation by encouraging collaboration among Indiana cities and towns. Promoted by the governor and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, the initiative hit a snag when budget writers slashed funding. A last minute compromise was reached allowing the governor to tap uncollected tax debt – up to $84 million through an amnesty program outlined by the Department of Revenue. The first $6 million collected beyond $84 million is earmarked for the Hoosier State Rail line with anything else directed to the state General Fund.

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Lanane: “Education session” lesson in divisiveness of one-party rule

INDIANAPOLIS – Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) released the following statement after the first regular session of the 119th General Assembly adjourned sine die.

“Asked what can be said came from this legislative session, the answer is clarity.

“What’s become clear is the willingness of Governor Pence and Republican supermajorities to engage in partisan squabbling while ignoring the growing income gap between Hoosiers and the rest of the nation.

“This session was punctuated by the Republican-initiated fight over RFRA, one that cost Indiana businesses as much as one billion dollars and embarrassed our state on an international stage.

“Republicans looked the other way when it was discovered RFRA enabled discrimination and then failed to act to protect all Hoosiers.

“The “fix” missed the point. Discrimination remains legal in most areas of Indiana.

“The days of sidestepping this issue are quickly coming to end for my Republican colleagues. Their close-mindedness will ultimately be the key that unlocks social progress.

“If this session was about education, the only thing we learned is the extent of damage one-party rule can inflict.

“How can we spend a record amount on education and still have schools lose funding?

“The school formula is Republicans’ cold calculation. It’s the tool they’ve devised to determine whose future to invest in and whose to pass over.

“We’re better than choosing winners and losers. Sadly, Republicans are sabotaging the educational outcomes of some of our children.

“Republicans wrestling control from Superintendent Glenda Ritz – the only statewide elected Democrat – is exactly what it looks like: revenge politics.

“Over one million Hoosiers voted for Supt. Ritz to serve as Indiana’s chief education officer, by trying to remove her, Republicans are rewriting the democratic process.

“Hoosiers will struggle to identify one positive outcome of this legislative session.

“They’ll wonder why Republicans failed to advance Democrat initiatives to make child care more affordable, ensure women earn equal pay for equal work and hike the minimum wage.

“Instead, they’ll continue to question what lawmakers are doing to help regular Hoosier families earn a little more and get ahead.

“This session didn’t offer them any answers.”

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Indiana’s fallen workers honored at statehouse

Family members, friends and co-workers gathered in the North Atrium of the Indiana Statehouse Tuesday to honor those lost in job-related incidents. A wreath adorned with “Indiana’s Fallen Workers 2014,” a listing of those who lost their lives and a proclamation signed by Governor Mike Pence, stood on the sides of the stage at the annual event.

April 28th has been recognized as International Day of Mourning by Trade Unionists since the first Workers’ Memorial Day was observed in 1989. This date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the enrollment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The ceremony began with a Pledge of Allegiance lead by Chris Brickey, president of the Central Indiana Labor Council and a prayer from Darlene Bartlett-Stone, Supervisor of Women at the Church of God and Christ.

The Hoosier state lost the lives of 90 individuals through accidents on construction sites, diseases contracted by hospital workers and injuries at shopping centers, among other incidents. Brett Voorhies, president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO, Megan Sims, District Director for Congressman Andre Carson’s office, and Rick Ruble, Commissioner for the Indiana Department of Labor, were each in attendance for the ceremony and spoke words of encouragement to the families of the victims of tragedy.

Executive administrator of the Workers Compensation Board, Mary Taivalkoski, read the names of all 90 Hoosiers who passed away in 2014. Ginny Spellman, a retired member of the Association of Flight attendants, followed Taivalkoski by singing Amazing Grace.

The audience was given pamphlets with green and black ribbons to wear to honor the lives of their friends and family.

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Sign on and say it’s time to drop the attacks on Supt. Ritz

 

With the 2015 session winding down, lawmakers continue to wrestle over a controversial bill that would remove Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz as chairwoman of the State Board of Education and restructure appointments to the board.

Democrats offered amendments to restore the duties and responsibilities of the superintendent as well as remove the politics associated with the current board’s appointment process. Despite a groundswell of public support for Superintendent Ritz as the chief education officer for the state’s education policy, the bill continues to advance and Republican House and Senate leaders indicated it is likely heading for a final vote.

Sign on and tell lawmakers you believe they should be focused on improving educational opportunities for all Hoosiers, not tinkering with the State Board of Education. 

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Under a week left, negotiations remain on controversial issues

Lawmakers are currently working to finalize legislation in conference committees before bills receive a final up or down vote. A number of issues, including the state’s biennial budget, remain on the table. Below is a run-down of major proposals awaiting a final decision.

For a recap of the conference committee process>>

A look at some of the big issues still left on table:

State budget

UPDATE: Negotiators held a public hearing late last week as they work to combine budget versions passed in the House and Senate. State revenue projections fell below target levels largely as a result of lower individual income tax collections that some have attributed to the slow growth in Hoosiers’ wages and previously passed tax cuts. It’s largely expected negotiations on the budget will continue up until Wednesday, the last day of the 2015 legislative session. 

Approved Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee 8-3, HB 1001 – the state’s budget – has been significantly amended. The $31.5 billion, two-year state budget increases funding for K-12 education and higher education. It also increases funding for state highway projects, establishes a statewide entrepreneurship program, and appropriates $10 million each year for the governor’s Regional Cities Initiative. The new version of the budget also adds $56 million for community corrections 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. Opponents expressed concerns regarding cuts to school funding for urban and rural districts in favor of more funding for suburban districts and private schools receiving state funds from voucher students. A key concern is that while both the House-passed budget plan and the Senate Republican proposal add new money to the formula, it redistributes hundreds of millions of dollars within the formula that currently aids urban and rural schools serving low-income students. The bill now heads to the full Senate. This bill is expected to go to conference committee.

Common construction wage repeal

UPDATE: Senate Democrats saw amendments to move the controversial proposal to a summer study committee, allow state officials to set public project wage scales among other amendments were defeated on party line votes. Senator Karen Tallian and Senator John Broden argued that 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 incomes earned by Hoosiers are growing at the sixth slowest rate in the country, Senate Democrats noted we should be working to raise wages, not lower them.  The bill moves to the governor’s desk where he has indicated he will sign the controversial measure.

HB 1019 seeks to repeal the state’s common construction wage statute. Current law has been in place for 80 years, and allows local boards to set wages for each state or local public construction project costing more than $350,000. The five-member boards include members from the labor community and associations of non-union contractors who set the wage contractors must pay workers for public works projects. When the bill was heard this week in the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, it was heavily amended to include new bidding and job-training requirements. Opponents, including many Indiana contractors, maintain that these wages drive economic development in local communities. How a repeal of the current law would affect Hoosier contractors, workers, wages and ongoing training and safety programs are major concerns surrounding this controversial bill. Including Indiana, 32 states have common construction wage laws. The committee voted 8-5 to advance the bill to the full Senate where additional amendments are expected.

State Board of Education changes

UPDATE: In the House, controversial amendments were added to expand the size of the State Board of Education to 13 members. Under the House-passed version, the governor would appoint 10 members to the board, six of whom must have professional experience in the field of education. The governor must appoint members from each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts and no more than six appointees can be from the same political party. The Speaker of the House and Senate President each get an appointment to the board in addition to the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

After July 1, Superintendent Ritz will be removed from her position as Chair of the State Board, the position then will be elected by members.

Republican leaders of the House and Senate have indicated they will continue to pursue the bill and it will likely surface in the final hours of the legislative session.

SB 1 would give members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) the ability to remove the Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz as the chair of the board. Changes to the bill made in the House of Representatives also increase the number of appointees the governor selects to serve on the board from 10 to 13. Statehouse Democrats offered amendments to restore the duties and responsibilities of the superintendent as well as remove the politics associated with the current board’s appointment process. Despite a groundswell of public support for Superintendent Ritz as the chief education officer for the state’s education policy, SB 1 was ultimately approved in the Senate and how heads to the House floor where it is eligible for amendments.

Gaming and Indiana casinos

UPDATE: The proposal moved to a conference committee where details are still being hashed out. In public testimony, proponents continued to advocate for live dealers to replace electronic gaming machines at the state’s racinos. They argued the effort could create hundreds of new jobs and only replaces existing gaming options. The bill must achieve final passage before the last day of the 2015 legislative session, April 29.

A proposal that cleared the Indiana Senate would enable riverboat casinos to move inland and paves the way for table games at Indiana’s horse track casinos or ‘racinos.’ In a move to cut maintenance costs, open harbor space and encourage inter-state competition, HB 1540 would permit riverboat casinos to covert to land-based operations. The bill would also allow racinos to move forward with table games staffed with live dealers beginning in 2021. Racinos are currently permitted to offer electronic-based gaming, proponents argue converting those games to live dealers could generate hundreds of jobs. The bill includes language urging the study of revenue and tax issues related to gaming. Currently, gaming revenue is shared with local municipalities. The initiative is likely bound for conference committee where the bill can be modified before a final vote in both chambers.

Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority

UPDATE: Legislation to revamp the stadium used by the Indy Eleven soccer club and expand rail service in Northwest Indiana have been rolled into the budget where the final details are being negotiated. Senate budget writers have combined a number of “legislative regional projects” including the soccer stadium, rail expansion, an Indiana University medical school campus in Evansville, renovations to Indiana State University’s Hulman Center and the Hoosier State Rail Line. All the aforementioned projects have been vetted by the State Budget Committee over several years. At the same time, Governor Mike Pence is pressing the legislature to approve his “Regional Cities” initiative, at a price tag of $84 million.

Language was added in the Senate version of HB 1001 to provide $60 million for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. The funding, for which lawmakers have advocated for nearly a decade, will provide the necessary capital to extend the South Shore Line to Dyer. Part of a larger package funneling money to five different regions, the appropriation aims to assist local communities with their infrastructure projects. The initiative must gain final passage in the Senate and will likely end up in conference committee.

Indy Eleven soccer stadium proposal

UPDATE: Legislation to revamp the stadium used by the Indy Eleven soccer club and expand rail service in Northwest Indiana have been rolled into the budget where the final details are being negotiated. Senate budget writers have combined a number of “legislative regional projects” including the soccer stadium, rail expansion, an Indiana University medical school campus in Evansville, renovations to Indiana State University’s Hulman Center and the Hoosier State Rail Line. All the aforementioned projects have been vetted by the State Budget Committee over several years. At the same time, Governor Mike Pence is pressing the legislature to approve his “Regional Cities” initiative, at a price tag of $84 million.

After much debate regarding the plan to publicly finance a new $80 million stadium for the Indy Eleven professional soccer stadium, the Senate amended the original proposal to instead make improvements to Michael A. Carroll Stadium on the campus of IUPUI – where the Eleven currently play home games. HB 1273 would allow the university to issue and sell bonds to make the improvements to Carroll Stadium and fit the needs of Indy Eleven’s growing fan base. The bill specifies that the costs of the bonds issued may not exceed $20 million, a fraction of the cost to build the original stadium proposal. The Indy Eleven are entering their second season in Indianapolis and have touted their ability to sell out every game in their bid for a new stadium.

Independent redistricting commission

UPDATE: The proposal sailed through the Indiana Senate with no changes and is heading to the governor’s desk where he can choose to sign, veto, or let the initiative pass into law without his signature.

Future election boundaries could be determined by an independent commission rather than by the Indiana General Assembly. HB 1003 would urge the study of how election boundaries are drawn and what steps would be required to transition to an independent commission. Currently 12 states authorize a body or commission other than the state legislature to redistrict. The bill is eligible for amendments before it must receive a final Senate vote.

Ethics reform

UPDATE: The House author of the bill dissented to an amendment added on the Senate floor that would require additional disclosure regarding investments of more than $500,000. A conference committee for the bill has yet to be scheduled but is likely before April 29. (*correction: a previous version of this post erroneously set the disclosure amount at $5,000)

After a number of ethics violations came to light last legislative session, lawmakers have crafted a bipartisan ethics reform proposal that focuses on transparency and accountability. HB 1002 would require lawmakers to be more transparent regarding their finances and business interests and prohibits elected officials from using state resources – employees and equipment – from being used for political gain. Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was accused of using state resources to campaign in 2012. The proposal mandates ethics training for lawmakers and creates an ethics oversight office within the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA). The call for stronger ethic standards grew louder after the conduct of State Representative Eric Turner raised questions whether his support for legislation that financially benefited his business interests constituted an ethics violation. The proposal sets new requirements for legislative statements of economic interests that would require lawmakers to disclose active business investment of at least $5,000 (current law does not require disclosure unless investments reach $10,000).

High-fenced hunting preserves

UPDATE: The high-fenced hunting proposal failed to gain approval after extended debate on the Senate floor. Supporters of the bill argued that the proposal would significantly regulate the four hunting operations currently conducting business in the state while also preventing additional preserves in the future. Opponents of the measure argued that there should be a complete ban of high-fenced hunting preserves in the state and anything short of that would not go far enough. Ultimately, the measure was defeated by a vote of 23-27 and will not advance this session, leaving the existing hunting preserves with no limits and no regulations.

Although nearly half of states have enacted full or partial bans on captive hunts and 80 percent of Hoosiers support a complete prohibition of the practice, HB 1453 would increase regulation of the industry in Indiana. HB 1453 allows privately-owned facilities in the state to stock deer and elk for trophy-seekers, letting them pay to shoot the semi-tame animals trapped in enclosures for guaranteed kills. Opponents feared shipping deer and elk across state lines to be stocked in these fenced enclosures would greatly increase the risk of native wildlife being infected by the deadly chronic wasting disease. The bill was amended to ensure deer used by high-fenced preserves are born and raised in Indiana. After an intensive study of the issue last year, concerns were raised over the risk of chronic wasting disease and the health and monetary costs of the disease. Therefore, the proposal would establish licensing requirements, inspection requirements and fees associated with stocking and hunting deer and elk on a hunting preserve.

Needle exchange program

UPDATE: Senate and House negotiators are working behind the scenes after hearing multiple hours of public testimony during a conference committee meeting on slowing the spread of HIV in Indiana. In a media avail, Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane criticized Governor Pence’s response to an HIV epidemic that has seen more than 100 positive cases across two counties in Indiana, stating it was “no time for the governor to lead from behind.” Senate Democrats maintained the state has to take a three step approach to the intravenous drug crisis by including comprehensive testing and treatment options in any plan to expand a needle exchange program. Negotiations are ongoing and must be concluded by April 29.

In response to an unprecedented outbreak of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in Scott County and other health concerns, SB 461 would authorize certain counties and municipalities to begin needle exchange programs. The bill requires the State Department of Health to determine areas where the case rates for Hepatitis C are highest. In localities hit hardest by Hepatitis C, the initiative authorizes counties to allow anyone to exchange dirty needles for clean ones without legal ramifications. Localities would also have to provide drug treatment counseling services. Proponents argue it will help slow outbreaks of diseases spread by shared needle use while opponents contend it’s sending a signal that drug use is permissible. The bill heads back to the Senate where the author can consent to changes or take the bill to conference committee where a compromise version can be hammered out.

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Senate Democrats provide an update on needle exchange to combat HIV outbreak in southern Indiana

Senate Democrat Leader Tim Lanane, Assistant Democrat Leader Jean D. Breaux and Senator Mark Stoops held a media availability to discuss negotiations that occurring in the final week of the legislative session to combat the HIV outbreak in southern Indiana. The Senate Democrats offered a three-pronged approach to fight the spread of the disease that consists of needle exchanges, testing and ultimately drug treatment.