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Weekly Statehouse Update: Charter School Referenda Sharing, Youth Labor Changes

Brandon Smith
IPB News

Language that could remove Attorney General Curtis Hill from office clears the House. An unexpected change to school referendum money passes the Senate. And a bill easing restrictions on child labor is headed to the governor.

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

Attorney General Amendment

Current law only says the Attorney General must have a law license and be a citizen. But with Curtis Hill’s license in jeopardy over allegations he groped four women, House lawmakers voted to clarify the statute.

Now, the AG would be ineligible to run or serve if their license was suspended for at least 30 days.

Charter School Referenda Sharing

The Senate made a surprise addition to an education bill that would allow public schools to share referendum dollars with charter schools. Supporters of the effort say it could help schools pass those ballot questions.

But some K-12 advocates worry this is the first step to forcing public schools to split that funding.

Youth Labor Changes

A bill going to the governor’s desk will make it easier for minors to work, eliminating student work permits by summer of 2021. The bill would increase the amount of hours 16- to 18-year-olds can work to 40 hours a week during the school year and 48 hours during holidays.

Coronavirus: Holcomb Signs Public Health Emergency Declaration

Indiana has reported the state’s first presumed case of illness from the new coronavirus.

State Health Commissioner Kris Box says a Marion County adult who recently traveled to Boston is in isolation with COVID-19. She called it an isolated case.

Speaking at a news conference Friday morning, Gov. Eric Holcomb says he’s declared a public health emergency in the state. That opens the door to federal funding.

Syringe Exchange Extension To Governor

Indiana’s syringe exchange programs will get “another year of certainty” after a bill extending them was sent to the governor Thursday. 

State law would eliminate Indiana’s nine syringe exchange programs after July of 2021. And after the Senate killed a bill earlier this session to permanently extend them, many worried the programs were running out of time.

Now, they’ve been given a respite – albeit a short one. Legislation the House overwhelmingly sent to the governor extends the programs until July 2022.

Tenant-Landlord Regulations

A measure to restrict local governments from creating regulations on landlords passed out of the Indiana House Monday. That’s despite pushback from several hundred housing, legal and other organizations. 

The vote comes after Indianapolis passed an ordinance recently to protect tenants’ rights.

The Senate bill includes a provision that would restrict local governments from making similar regulations governing tenant-landlord relationships without approval from the legislature.

Health Care Transparency Bill

House lawmakers moved forward with a bill Tuesday aimed at increasing the transparency of health care costs in the state.

SB 5 would create a database of prices for health care services so Hoosiers could compare costs. 

The all payers claims database would have information from health insurers and show how much procedures costs at different providers. The goal is to lower health care costs as providers compete on price. But research has shown transparency efforts alone are not likely to reduce prices. 

School Lead Testing

A bill that would require schools to test for lead in drinking water is headed to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk. It passed unanimously in the state Senate on Tuesday.

The measure would require all schools that haven’t tested for lead at least once since 2016 to do so within the next two years. If the results are higher than the federal action level, schools would have to take action — such as replacing lead water fixtures.

Indiana Farm Bureau Health Plans

The Indiana Farm Bureau celebrated another legislative milestone Tuesday for a bill that will permit the organization to offer health plans to its members.

The legislative push comes at a time when Indiana farmers say profit margins are tight and health care costs are challenging. 

Farmers urged legislators this session to pass a bill that would give them and their families an alternative option for health care.

The bill now returns to the Senate for approval before going to the governor’s desk.

Lead Pipe Replacement

bill that will help smaller utilities address lead in drinking waterpassed unanimously in the state House on Monday. 

Long-term exposure to lead can cause a host of problems, especially in children — including trouble learning, behavioral issues, and poor kidney function. But many homeowners don’t have the money to replace the last section of lead pipe leading to their homes.

In 2017, the state passed a law to let larger, investor-owned utilities replace those pipes and recover the costs. This bill would let smaller, municipally-owned utilities do the same.

Sexual Assault Reduction Rally

Advocates rallied at the Statehouse Thursday for legislation to protect women.

Organizers say because Indiana does not have a law defining consent, sex without consent is not a crime unless there is force, threat of force, or incapacitation. A bill with bipartisan support to create that definition died without a hearing earlier this session.

The rally is part of a yearlong creative initiative to bring awareness to sexual assault called El Tendedero/The Clothesline Indiana. Over the last five months, more than 1,000 pink cards were collected in all 92 counties detailing individual women's experiences with sexual assault and harassment. Those cards are hung on clothesline, and will be displayed at the Statehouse for two weeks.

Hold Harmless State School Letter Grades Released

After months of delay, the State Board of Education released 2019 state school accountability grades Wednesday. 

The board held off on releasing letter grades after a significant drop in student test scores on the new ILEARN test last spring, until lawmakers could expedite a "hold harmless" bill this legislative session.

Now that the governor has signed the so-called "hold harmless" measure into law, schools won't receive a lower letter grade on the state system than what they did in 2018. 

More than 100 schools received higher grades for 2019, but no schools will see any potentially lower grades until next year. That includes high schools, where students didn't take ILEARN.

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.