Competing interests and ideas define the 2016 Legislative Session.
This past week the Indiana General Assembly began what all expect to be another contentious legislative session. By Friday morning almost 600 bills had been introduced, many of which were in direct conflict on major issues. From civil rights to education to infrastructure, the state’s major issues are still very much under construction.
On Monday, Governor Pence laid out his legislative agenda for the short session including major proposals for funding highways and addressing the state’s well publicized issues with ISTEP. Notably absent, however, was any mention of expanding Indiana’s nondiscrimination laws. Hints were droppedthroughout the week that the Governor will address a civil rights expansion during his state of the state address on Tuesday.
After the national controversy from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in2015, legislative leaders promised to hear proposals to expand civil rights in 2016. Senate Republicans took the lead by publically releasing SB 100 in November that expanded the nondiscrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity for housing, employment, and public accommodation in addition to many religious carve outs. Other bills like SB 2 and SB 170 better address nondiscrimination, while SB 35 andSB 66 address other controversial topics in a continuation of the RFRA conversation. Late in the week,Sen. Holdman introduced SB 344 in addition to SB 100 that includes veteran status and sexual orientation as protected classes, but excludes gender identity.
Education issues will also loom large in 2016 as lawmakers seek to address controversies over ISTEP testing. In particular, a HB 1003 and SB 200 were fast tracked to provide a one-year moratorium on using ISTEP data for teacher evaluations. Both were passed out of committee with bipartisan support. Many more education bills will be heard in committee in the coming weeks including HB 1117, HB 1150,SB 148, SB 307, and many others.
Legislators will be addressing roads and infrastructure throughout the session as well. There appears to be a different approach between the Governor and the House Leadership on how to fund roads improvements. Governor Pence’s proposal has no tax increases for short term funding, while House leadership is seeking a gas tax increase. The bill that’s receiving the most attention at this stage is SB 67that will release local income tax revenue sequestered by the state, but 75% of the funding must be used on local roads.
Stay tuned for our next update following this week’s bill filing deadlines (Jan. 8th in Senate and Jan. 12thin House), with a full rundown of all priority legislation from our legislative agenda being tracked by your Statehouse advocacy team.