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Weekly Statehouse Update: What’s Still Moving Forward At The Session’s Midpoint?

Brandon Smith/IPB News

Senate Republicans gutted protections for pregnant workers and killed a syringe exchange bill. And the House sent legislation to the governor shielding teachers and schools from poor test scores as the session’s first half ended.

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

Pregnant Worker Protections Gutted

Pregnant employees aren’t guaranteed some accommodations – like longer or more frequent breaks, seating, and adjusted work schedules.

The legislation is a priority of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s.

Legislation to help ensure that for businesses with 15 or more employees was gutted by Senate Republicans who were hesitant to impose requirements on small businesses.

Syringe Exchange Programs Future Uncertain

Current state law halts all syringe exchange programs July 2021. Legislation this session would have removed that end date. But Senate Republicans defeated it.

Some complain the programs give out too many needles and enable drug use – though their actual purpose is to help stop the spread of disease.

Hold Harmless Sent To Holcomb’s Desk

Legislation sent to the governor’s desk Monday holds teachers and schools harmless from negative consequences of statewide standardized test scores that dropped sharply.

Gov. Eric Holcomb and legislative leaders of both parties made that measure a priority after the new ILEARN results were released last year.

Juvenile Sentencing

Legislation headed to the Indiana House would allow 12-year-olds to be sent to the Department of Correction for crimes that include attempted robbery.

That bill cleared the Senate as the 2020 session’s first half finished.

The bill expands the list of crimes that could send a delinquent child to the Department of Correction and lowers the age of those children to as young as 12. It also potentially puts children in DOC longer, up to age 22 (while they’re currently released at 18).

Teacher Gun Training

Teachers who want to carry guns in schools would have to undergo 40 hours of training under a bill approved by the Senate this week.

The measure now heads to the House, where similar legislation died last year.

The bill requires training in weapons, legal ramifications, 911 calls and a mental health evaluation. It also requires 16 hours of renewal training each year.

Controversial Coal Bill Moves Forward

A bill that would make it harder for utilities to close coal plants in Indiana passed in the state House on Monday 52 to 41. An amendment by Rep. Alan Morrison (R-Brazil) to help former coal miners may have made the bill more attractive to some Republican lawmakers. 

Among other things, the bill would require the state to review possible coal plant closures until May of 2021. The state would have to hold a public hearing and issue a formal opinion of whether or not the closure is reasonable. The bill would also give former coal miners priority for workforce training grants.

Speed Cameras Bill Dies

Legislation to allow speed cameras in Indiana highway work zones is dead.

Its author opted not to bring the bill up for a vote in the Senate on the chamber’s mid-session deadline day.

The bill would have created a pilot program – speed cameras in four work zones statewide. Tickets would only have been issued if a driver was caught going 11 miles per hour over the limit while workers were present.

Bill Targeting Marion County Prosecutor Dies

Legislation aimed at Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears’s decision not to prosecute simple marijuana possession won’t advance this session.

The bill didn’t make it past the Senate floor.

The legislation said if a local prosecutor makes a policy decision not to prosecute certain crimes, the Indiana Attorney General could appoint a special prosecutor to do so and charge the county to pay for it. It garnered almost no support from those who testified on it, though the committee passed it.

Consumer Credit Bill

A Senate committee revamped a bill that caps interest rates on many types of consumer credit after pushback from advocates and several lawmakers. However, with the changes, some committee members still feel the bill doesn’t go far enough.

The original language called for interest rates on all loans to be capped at 36 percent – that’s an increase for some loans.

After discussion, committee members voted to keep the current state code’s three-tier interest rate system and blended rate option.

The Senate did not add any further amendments, and it moves to the House.

Lake Michigan Beach Access Bills Die

Residents who live near Lake Michigan are unlikely to get clarity this year on who can use beaches in front of private property and for what purpose. Three state bills that would have addressed that issue failed this legislative session. 

Two of them would have given lakefront property owners the sole rights to the beach as long as those rights were stated in the most recent deed to the property.

One of them would have affirmed the Indiana Supreme Court decisionwhich said that the public can use the beach up to where the high water mark usually hits the sand. It also would have satisfied the court’s directive to define what kinds of activities are allowed on those beaches — like walking, fishing, and swimming.

Governor’s Workforce Cabinet expansion

A bill that aims to align Indiana’s workforce policies from preschool all the way to career preparation passed through the House on Monday. It would add more members to the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet.

The bill would increase the minimum membership of the cabinet from 23 to 32 people by adding representatives from schools, colleges, state political caucuses and business organizations. It also requires the governor to appoint a representative from a technology company to the cabinet.

LGBTQ Statehouse Day

Hoosiers gathered from across the state for the first LGBTQ Statehouse Day. A group from the ACLU of Indiana, who organized the event, spent the day speaking to lawmakers about trans issues.

While the majority of the lawmakers were Democrats, Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) also addressed the crowd, celebrating the defeat of a measure that would restrict gender identity on drivers licenses.

Another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany) celebrated the continued momentum of legislation to help modernize references to HIV in Indiana law.

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.