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Weekly Statehouse Update: Controversial Corrections Bills, Speed Cameras

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FILE PHOTO: Lauren Chapman
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IPB News

The Senate Corrections Committee passes two controversial bills. Speed cameras legislation moves forward. And the state’s longest-serving legislator announces this session will be his last.

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

Bill Targets Marion County Prosecutor

One of the contentious bills in the Senate Corrections Committee retaliates against Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears’s policy not to prosecute simple marijuana possession. The legislation would allow the state Attorney General to step in and take those cases.

The committee passed the bill 6 to 3, though some who voted for it expressed serious reservations.

Contentious Testimony On Sending 12-Year-Olds To Department of Correction

A bill would allow 12-year-olds to be sent to the Department of Correction for a broad list of crimes that includes attempted robbery.

Provisions that remain expand the list of crimes that could send a delinquent child to the Department of Correction. The bill lowers the age of those children to as young as 12. And it potentially puts children in DOC longer.

Both measures passed despite many people speaking in opposition and few in support.

Highway Speed Camera Bill Changes

Speed cameras could be coming to Indiana highway construction sites. The measure approved in a Senate committee this week would allow the Department of Transportation to put the cameras in four work zones statewide. Drivers would only be issued tickets for going at least 11 miles per hour over the speed limit while workers are present.

Longest-Serving Lawmaker Announces Retirement

And South Bend Rep. Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) announced he won’t run for re-election. Bauer has served 50 years in the General Assembly, longer than anyone else in state history.

Bauer helped lead several reforms to Indiana’s tax system, including helping create the state earned income tax credit.

Competing Lake Michigan Beach Access Bills

Two contradictory state bills meant to decide who gets access to Lake Michigan beaches passed out of committee on Monday. 

The one in the Senate aligns with a 2018 Indiana Supreme Court decision that says the public has a right to use Lake Michigan beaches up to where the high water mark usually hits the sand. It also defines what kinds of activities are allowed there — like walking and swimming — which the court said the state should decide.

competing bill in the state House would allow lakefront property owners to claim the sole rights to use the beach as long as those rights were stated in the most recent deed to the property.

Underage Marriages Restrictions

It will be significantly harder to get married under age 18 in Indiana if a bill approved by a House committee Monday becomes law.

More than 500 Hoosier minors have gotten married in the last five years, the vast majority of them girls.

Under current law, anyone under age 18 must have parental consent. And minors as young as 15 can get married in Indiana, if the girl is pregnant. New legislation says no one under age 17 can get married. 

But this version of the bill will not advance in the House. Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says he intends on adding the measure’s language to another bill at some point this session.

Lead Testing For School Water

A bill that would require schools to test for lead in drinking water passed the state House on Thursday. The measure was originally aimed at Lake County schools, but it was recently amended by Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) to include all Indiana schools. 

Kids who get exposed to lead can have trouble learning, behavioral issues, and poor kidney function. The bill would require all schools that haven’t tested for lead at least once since 2016 to do so within the next two years.

Right now, schools aren’t required to participate in the statewide testing program through the Indiana Finance Authority. More than half of the schools that did participate in 2017 and 2018 had at least one fixture above the federal limit.

Maternal Health Caucus

A group of Indiana lawmakers is creating a Maternal Health Caucus to help find solutions to the maternal mortality problem in the state.

Data from America’s Health Rankings show Indiana has the third highest rate of mothers dying while pregnant or within a year of giving birth when compared to other states. 

For every 100,000 births in Indiana, 41 white women die. Black women die at an even higher rate at 53 deaths per 100,000 births.

Holcomb Signs Surplus Spending Bill Into Law

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed legislation Wednesday that spends $291 million to pay cash for higher education building projects.

It’s the first bill signed into law this year.

Indiana finished the last budget cycle with nearly $300 million more than it expected. Republicans this session decided to spend that money paying cash for higher ed capital projects they had already approved.

Senate Committee Passes Farm Bureau Health Plan Bill

Many Indiana farmers want more health care options. On Wednesday, they got closer to that goal. An Indiana Senate committee approved a bill that would allow the state farm bureau to offer a group health plan including sole proprietors.

READ MORE: Why A Farm Bureau Push For Health Plans Is Raising Concerns

Some committee members raised concerns about the impact on the current health insurance marketplace. They also were concerned that some people might be denied coverage. But they passed the bill 8-0 sending it back to the Senate floor.

Decoupling Test Scores From Teacher Evaluations

A proposal to separate student test scores from teacher evaluations at the state level is making progress through the legislature, and the state’s largest teachers union says it could draw more young people to the profession. 

Indiana teachers have long pressed for the state to remove requirements that student test scores be used in their evaluations and this year, it seems like lawmakers are on board. A bill to nix the requirement already passed the House – and won unanimous approval. 

Some opponents to the bill say removing the requirement could weaken efforts to hold educators accountable for student outcomes. But schools would still have the power to locally decide how they use test scores in teacher evaluations. 

Youth Climate Action Day

Hundreds of kids from all over the state gathered at the Indiana Statehouse for Youth Climate Action Day. The event invites young people to encourage their lawmakers to pass policies that address climate change. 

In honor of the event, Rep. Carey Hamilton (D-Indianapolis) is proposing a House resolution. It would require the state to form a summer study committee on climate change and recommend policies on climate solutions.

Pregnant Worker Protection Bill

A bill that would require businesses to provide “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers passed through committee Monday. After hours of arguments, the bill now moves to the full Senate.

If passed, the bill would make employers grant pregnant workers job modifications like lighter duties, longer break times, or unpaid time off work. 

READ MORE: Women Rally At Indiana Statehouse for Workplace, Wage Equality

With a passing vote from the committee, the bill will advance to the Senate floor next.

Fetal Remains Disposal Bill

A Senate committee easily approved legislation Wednesday that requires medical facilities to develop policies for burying and cremating fetal remains.

The bill – which follows up on a 2016 anti-abortion law – is the only abortion-related measure advancing this session.

Indiana law – upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court – says medical facilities must bury or cremate fetal remains. This year’s bill clarifies the policies those clinics and hospitals must develop to do so.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.