Legislative 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.

Ripple Effects

Reliable 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.