Legislative Update: Where Do We Go?

developments this week leave us in a contemplative mood, befitting one of the
more cerebral
artists in the game, Talib Kweli

The Senate hasn’t unveiled its version of the budget (likely waiting for
April 5 revenue projections), and Ways & Means is still holding onto bills
like SB563 (economic
development, including the redevelopment tax credit) and SB7 (Capital
Improvement Board).

With some
key issues at a standstill, there was movement (‘progress’ being in the eye of
the beholder) on bias crimes, as House Republicans bypassed the usual committee
process on SB12 (sidelined
in Courts & Criminal Code) by inserting new language into SB198 on the
floor and passing it on third reading Tuesday.

This revamped
bias crimes vehicle excludes an explicit list of personal characteristics, but
refers to other parts of the Indiana Code to imply protection on the basis of disability, national origin, race,
religion or sexual orientation.  In
doing so, however, it lacks clarity on sex, gender, age and ancestry, and also
fails to provide law enforcement training to identify when a bias crime has
been committed.

This isn’t good enough; Hoosiers deserve a bill that’s
effective, with specific protections for the groups at greatest risk of being
targeted and victimized by bigotry. 
However, we recognize the argument that SB198 is an ‘inclusive’ solution is
compelling to many lawmakers, and the bill seems likely to get a Senate
concurrence vote next week and head to the Governor’s desk despite the
Governor’s calls to continue working on the bill.

This could get Indiana off the ‘no hate crimes law’ list (with
an asterisk?), but would leave us with a law that is vague when it comes to
some vulnerable Hoosiers, and still playing catch-up on inclusion.

It’s our hope that legislators heed the call of Governor
Holcomb to continue working on the language of the bill.

Let Me Ride

Legislative tactics can cut both ways – short-circuiting the process
on bias crimes, but also doing away with a potentially controversial measure
dealing with gender identification on driver’s licenses.  We’re pleased that SB182 was removed from the House calendar,
as it could have sent an anti-LGBTQ message and heightened perceptions that
Indiana isn’t an inclusive place to live, work and do business.

Speaking of driving privileges, HB1141 passed the Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee (amended)
this week; it directs the BMV to administer an amnesty program reducing
reinstatement fees for suspended licenses. 
We support this concept, to help Hoosiers hit the road and participate
in the job market as legal commuters, not scofflaws.  We prefer stronger language in the House
version, and hope it’s restored in conference.

Of course, more residents of Marion County can get to work via public
transit thanks to IndyGo improvements – and rapid transit options on the way –
but local priorities can still take a backseat to legislative pique.  HB1365, repealing the ban on light rail projects in
Central Indiana, isn’t on the committee schedule and appears dead; not a
substantive blow to current transit plans, but a disappointment nonetheless.


transit and quality education are two important catalysts for inclusive growth
and upward mobility – a solid educational foundation in particular shapes a
lifetime of earning and employment potential. 
It’s why affordable and accessible pre-K is on our agenda: HB1628 was heard
and held in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday – it expands ‘On My Way
Pre-K’ to counties across the state for high-quality preschool programs serving
four-year-olds, while
protecting service levels in pilot counties like Marion.

Speaking of
protecting progress, we wrote last week about House-proposed adjustments to the
school ‘complexity’ formula, which would limit funding to districts like IPS
with large numbers of at-risk students.  Indeed,
it hits urban and rural school systems alike, a ripple effect across
communities that grapple with poverty, food insecurity and other shared
socioeconomic challenges.

We’ll be
eyeing greater equity – tying the formula to more reliable measures of need –
in upcoming budget negotiations.  But
there is another way the General Assembly could help IPS in particular, by
adjusting the “$1” charter law (requiring districts to ‘sell’ unused buildings
to charter schools) to support reuse options for properties like the former
Broad Ripple High School. 

HB1641 would
reduce the window of time for charters to pursue such facilities and remove
other financial liabilities; recognizing that many IPS facilities are too large
for a single use, we support an approach that encourages charter partnerships
and educational choices while allowing IPS to bolster its budget by
capitalizing on the redevelopment potential of Broad Ripple.

(In the
context of the next bill mentioned – HB1003 – we
should note again that IPS is already partnering with the Chamber to be more
efficient and push more dollars into the classroom.  This has included the tough decision to
restructure local high schools; their efforts should come with flexibility to
maximize the resulting market opportunities.)

Studying the Rest:

  • HB1003 passed
    committee on Thursday; the bill sets efficiency targets for school corporations
    (an 85/15 ratio of education versus administrative and capital expenses) to
    encourage more resources dedicated to purposes like teacher pay – it was
    amended to include the Office of Management & Budget in oversight;
  • Sticking with education, SB607
    passed committee this week, providing financial support to programs helping
    adult learners earn their high school diplomas;
  • SB562, dealing
    with teacher preparation issues, also cleared its second committee hurdle;
  • SB522 (dealing
    with a host of gambling issues) was
    altered significantly
    in the House Public Policy Committee, and we expect
    more changes as it heads to Ways & Means;
  • HB1444 – taxing
    e-cigarettes – didn’t get the nod in Senate Appropriations Thursday (it remains
    a potentially germane vehicle for other tobacco reforms, though our optimism
    isn’t blazing on the issue);
  • Other bills are starting to wind their way
    through concurrence votes and head to the Governor without the headache of
    conference committee – SB191 (dealing
    with historic preservation grants and nonprofits as recipients) earned a
    unanimous Senate concurrence Thursday;
  • But it’s appropriate to close by mentioning a
    bill that’s still languishing in committee: SB105, elevating
    redistricting standards beyond arbitrary politics, still awaits a hearing – and
    since competitive elections are one cure for the partisan polarization that’s
    held us back on issues like bias crimes, we urge this modest reform as a small
    step forward.

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