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Weekly Statehouse update: Smaller nuclear reactors, anti-abortion legislation on hold

Brandon Smith
The Indiana Statehouse

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Lawmakers try again on highway work zone speed cameras. No big abortion bills are coming this session. And a Senate committee approves the creation of smaller nuclear power plants.

Here’s what you might have missed this week at the Statehouse.

SB 179: Construction zone speed cameras

Legislation to allow speed cameras in highway work zones faces a very uncertain future as lawmakers try once again to reduce speeding around road construction.

Drivers would be ticketed if they’re caught on camera going at least 11 miles per hour over the speed limit when workers are present.

The first violation would only be a warning. A $75 fine comes with the second ticket, and $150 for each ticket after that.

A similar bill, HB 1035, is being considered in the House, while another – HB 1150 – would allow speed cameras in school zones.

Anti-abortion bills on hold

Legislative leaders said there won’t be any major anti-abortion bills this session. Instead, they want to wait to see what the U.S. Supreme Court does. The Court is expected to issue rulings later this year, after the Indiana legislative session ends, that could dramatically weaken abortion rights. 

And lawmakers said if that happens, they’ll ask the governor to call a special session so they can pass stricter anti-abortion laws.

SB 271: Small nuclear reactors

Lawmakers want to make it easier for smaller, more advanced nuclear power plants to be built in Indiana. A state Senate bill, SB 271, would direct the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to adopt rules for building small modular nuclear reactors and offer financial incentives.

Those in favor of small modular nuclear reactors say, like other nuclear plants, these plants can provide reliable power that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide. But unlike commercial nuclear power plants, they’re smaller — which proponents say makes them cheaper and safer.

The Biden administration has embraced an "all of the above" policy when it comes to reaching its zero-carbon goals — including nuclear — to combat climate change.

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HB 1072: Referendum funding sharing with charter schools

School districts would be required to share future referendum funding with charter schools under a bill approved by a House committee Thursday.

Supporters say it will help close funding gaps for charters, but critics worry it could stifle future referendum attempts.

House Bill 1072 would apply only to operating or school safety referendums passed after June 2022. Basically, if a student lives within a school district’s boundary but goes to a charter school, the district has to send part of its referendum funding to the charter that enrolls that student.

HB 1130: School board public comment

Local school boards will be forced to take public comment by a bill approved by an Indiana House committee Wednesday.

The measure, HB 1130, requires at least three minutes per person of public testimony at every in-person meeting. That's more time than committee chairs at the General Assembly sometimes allow for particularly busy hearings.

The original bill would have required public comment at meetings of the governing body of any state or local public agency, like city and county councils.

Contentious school board meetings over the last year saw some boards limit or restrict public comments.

HB 1134: School curriculum transparency

Advocates representing Black Hoosiers, teachers and other education groups called for lawmakers to vote no on a controversial school curriculum bill Wednesday, as they gathered in the statehouse to further condemn legislation many of them say is racist and divisive.

Senate Republicans announced last week they will no longer consider Senate Bill 167 – that's the controversial school curriculum bill that would place restrictions on how schools talk about things like racism and politics. But a House committee made changes to and approved House Bill 1134 last week, which is nearly identical

The remaining bill is still waiting to be heard for second reading on the House floor.

HB 1214: Eviction filings sealed for some instances

A House committee unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would allow tenants to seal eviction filings against them in some instances.

Tenant advocates have long argued that eviction filings can serve as a permanent “scarlet E” that harms a renter's chances of getting housing in the future – even if an eviction filing against them is ultimately thrown out.

The bill received support from both tenant advocates and some associations representing property owners.

Tenants Day of Action

Hoosiers from across the state gathered at the Indiana Statehouse Thursday to demand legislation to protect tenants. Organizers created Tenants Day of Action to give renters a way for their voices to be heard.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Prosperity Indiana policy director Andrew Bradley said he estimates more than 1 in 10 Hoosier households have had an eviction filed against them.

"That is way too many people and no wonder we have so many folks here today who are telling us that there's not enough stable housing in Indiana," said Bradley.

House advocates pointed to three state Senate bills – SB 230, SB 233, and SB 385 – as legislation that addresses tenants rights and protections and they want to see passed. None of the bills have received a committee hearing with the deadline next week.

HB 1001: COVID-19 vaccine mandates

The Indiana House voted Tuesday to effectively block private companies from enforcing COVID-19 mandates.

The measure, HB 1001, says businesses have to grant exemptions from getting the vaccine to employees who request them on a medical or religious basis or who have contracted the virus within six months.

The measure also says if someone is fired even after requesting a COVID-19 vaccine exemption, they can receive unemployment benefits.

And it includes provisions, requested by Gov. Eric Holcomb, that will allow him to end the state's public health emergency without losing access to millions in federal funding tied to the pandemic. The Senate has a stand-alone bill – SB 3 – which only addresses those issues.

SB 14: Handgun licenses

A Senate committee heard legislation Wednesday that almost entirely eliminates the license requirement to carry a handgun in public. And it differs from a similar House bill in some key ways.

For one, SB 14 would keep in place the license requirement for Hoosiers age 18 to 20. It also significantly expands the list of people who wouldn’t be allowed to possess a handgun at all.

And those differences have some pro-gun groups opposing the measure.

HB 1313: Lead screening

Getting your child screened for lead could be as easy as taking them to the doctor if a state House bill becomes law. It’s something public health advocates have been pushing for for years.

Kids with lead poisoning can have trouble learning, behavioral issues and poor kidney function. Right now, Indiana only requires children covered by Medicaid to be screened for lead — and according to state health officials less than half of them are actually getting screened.

The bill HB 1313 would require health care providers to screen every child under 6 for lead.

HB 1209: CO2 storage

A bill would set up a permit program to allow companies that pollute to capture carbon emissions and store them underground. That could create opportunities for companies to offset their emissions and possibly receive federal funding from the Biden administration.

Right now, the state has only approved one company to store its emissions underground. But after nearly three years, the pilot project with Wabash Valley Resources LLC in Terre Haute still hasn’t moved forward.

Among other things, the bill would require companies to get permission from owners of 60 percent of the land area and compensate those who don’t consent. Those property owners wouldn’t be allowed to sue for punitive damages as long as the company complies with its permit.

HB 1157: Township oversight

The full House passed a bill Thursday aimed at providing oversight for township trustees.

The bill is one of two introduced this session in response to issues with trustees in Wabash and Fairfield Townships in Tippecanoe County, who lawmakers say have acted with little oversight or accountability.

Rep. Chris Campbell (D-West Lafayette) introduced the legislation, which closes a loophole allowing township trustees to keep defaulting to a previous year's budget without having a new one approved.

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