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Weekly Statehouse Update: Curtis Hill’s Future, Accountability For Virtual Charter Schools

FILE PHOTO: Lauren Chapman
IPB News

Uncertainty over Curtis Hill’s future as attorney general. Calls for greater accountability of virtual charter schools. And a fix to Indiana’s welfare eligibility laws.

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

Curtis Hill Disciplinary Update

A disciplinary hearing officer says Attorney General Curtis Hill’s law license should be suspended for 60 days, without automatic reinstatement. That stems from allegations he groped four women. Legislative leaders say, if that happens, they’re not sure whether Hill is still eligible to be Attorney General. They’re asking the Indiana Supreme Court for guidance on that question when it issues its final decision.

Report: Virtual Charter Schools Defraud State

A new report alleges two Indiana virtual charter schools defrauded the state to the tune of at least $68 million. Democrats argue this calls for greater legislative oversight and accountability of virtual charters. But Republicans say the proper measures are already in place and weren’t adequately used in this case by, among others, the state Department of Education.

Children’s Internship Would Not Affect Welfare Access

And Indiana lawmakers want to fix a flaw in the state’s government benefits system. Going forward, children who get a paid internship or work-based learning opportunity won’t get that income counted against their family’s eligibility for food stamps and welfare.

An Indiana family of four is eligible for TANF if they earn about $8,500 per year and eligible for SNAP at about $33,000 per year.

Hands-Free Driving Forward, Lower Expectations

Legislation to ban handheld cell phone use while driving appears headed to passage after a Senate committee easily approved the measure.

That’s even as some lawmakers seemed to lower expectations Tuesday about the bill’s potential effectiveness.

Some lawmakers just aren’t sold. That includes Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville).

“We have a law against texting. It didn’t work; people didn’t stop doing it. We’re going to have another law now against handheld use. They’re not going to stop,” Boots says. “I just don’t understand what it’s going to take to get people to understand distracted driving kills them and their friends.”

Holcomb Orders Erosion Action On Lake Michigan

Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an executive order on Thursday to help cities along Lake Michigan experiencing erosion. Among other things, it directs the state to speed up approvals for projects that protect homes and infrastructure and determine whether Indiana can declare an emergency to receive federal dollars.

Four Indiana communities along Lake Michigan have already made emergency declarations. 

New Proposal Could Limit School Referenda Funding

Lawmakers are considering restrictions on how often schools in need of additional funding can propose referendum measures to local taxpayers, and education groups are once again pushing back on the proposal.

READ MORE: These Two Schools Won Their Referenda This May. Here’s Why That’s A Big Deal.

Right now, schools can propose referenda twice a year and in school-funded special elections, but lawmakers added a proposal into a bill this week that would limit those to general elections – about once every two years.

Drain Maintenance Bill

A seemingly simple bill to help local governments cut costs when repairing drains is working its way through the state legislature. But environmentalists worry it could harm the state’s wetlands. 

The bill proposed by Sen. Victoria Spartz (R-Noblesville) would allow local governments to fix or reconstruct a drain in a state wetland without a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Jarrod Hahn is the president of the Indiana County Surveyors Association. He says it can cost counties thousands of taxpayer dollars just to determine if a drain is in a wetland or if they need a permit — much more than the cost of repairing the drain itself.

Teachers Rally At Statehouse On Presidents’ Day

Teachers once again gathered at the Statehouse, following up on their Red for Ed rally in November. The Indiana Coalition for Public Education demanded action from legislators.

Representatives from several public education groups across the state applauded some of the legislative changes made this session – including a hold harmless measure signed by the governor last week, and a push to decouple test scores from evaluations.

But State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick says lawmakers still fall short of educator demands.

Advocates Push For Youth Tobacco Laws

The federal smoking age has increased to 21, but some say that is not enough.

More than 100 advocates gathered in support of stricter tobacco laws at the Statehouse Tuesday.

Nick Torres, the American Lung Association’s Indiana advocacy director, says the goal was to fight for legislation that would have tougher consequences for retailers that break the 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.