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Weekly Statehouse Update: Session Wraps Up, Huston Takes Over As House Speaker

Lauren Chapman
IPB News

Lawmakers wrapped up the 2020 legislative session – a bill on Curtis Hill died, while health care measures cleared the General Assembly. And coronavirus landed in the state.

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

Attorney General Amendment Dies

House lawmakers sought to clear up state law when it comes to Attorney General Curtis Hill, whose law license could be suspended due to groping allegations. A House proposal would’ve ensured such a suspension would force Hill out of office.

But Senate Republicans rejected that measure, saying it’s too close to the election.

Transparency Database

Making health care costs lower and more transparent was a priority of both parties this session. And the legislation that ultimately passed is weaker than originally proposed. One bill does set up a database of all health care payer claims, which will allow consumers to get an idea of how much they’ll pay for a procedure.

But another stops short of ending “surprise billing,” where a patient gets an out-of-network charge at an in-network facility. Instead, customers will know a few days ahead of time such a bill is coming.

Holcomb’s Response To COVID-19

And GOP leaders say they’re confident Gov. Eric Holcomb has all the tools needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic. That’s as Democratic leaders express frustration at what they say is a lack of guidance from the governor.

READ MORE: What Do You Need To Know About Coronavirus? We’ve Got Answers.

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Thursday steps Indiana will take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The state had reported 12 known cases as of Thursday morning.

Bosma Hands House To Huston

There was a changing of the guard at the Statehouse Monday as Rep. Todd Huston (R-Fishers) became the new Speaker of the Indiana House.

Huston replaces Rep. Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), the longest-serving Speaker in state history.

Nearly a third of the 100 members of the House spoke for Bosma’s honoring resolution. They praised the Republican’s leadership during his 12-year tenure as speaker

Hands-Free Driving To Holcomb

Indiana is just the stroke of a pen away from becoming the 22nd state to ban cell phone use while driving unless hands-free.

The House and Senate overwhelmingly sent the bill to the governor Tuesday.

The bill says people can’t hold or use their cell phones while driving unless utilizing hands-free or voice-activated technology.

Environmentalists Ask For Veto On Drain Maintenance

An environmental group is asking the governor to veto legislation that it says would harm the state’s wetlands. The Hoosier Environmental Council says recent changes to a bill regarding drain maintenance in wetlands don’t go far enough. 

The bill aims to help local governments cut costs by allowing them to fix or reconstruct a drain in a state wetland without a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

READ MORE: What Energy, Environment Legislation Is Set To Become Law?

IDEM and environmentalists have both expressed concerns that the measure could cause damage to sensitive plants in wetlands. 

Fetal Remains Goes To Governor

Health care facilities that perform abortions will now have procedures to follow for burying and cremating fetal remains based on legislation headed to the governor’s desk.

It’s the only abortion-related bill that advanced this session.

The measure builds on a 2016 law upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court that requires medical facilities to bury or cremate fetal remains, not dispose of them as medical waste. This year’s bill lays out the procedures for how facilities must do that, including forms with the state health department and agreements with licensed funeral homes and crematoriums.

Senate, House Compromise On Tobacco 21 Fines

Indiana’s legal age to smoke and vape will soon be 21, in alignment with federal law.

Legislation sent to the governor Wednesday also increases fines on retailers who sell to those underage.

The compromise? Doubling the fines – $400 for the first infraction, with up to $2,000 if they’re caught doing it three or more times in one year.

Charter School Referenda Sharing

A last-minute change to a bill at the Statehouse in the days before the 2020 legislative session came to an end opens the door for charter schools to receive property tax funding through referendum measures. Lawmakers approved the multi-purpose bill on the last day of session after more than an hour debating the language.

The charter-referendum sharing proposal was added to a tax bill last week by a vote so split in the Senate that Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch had to break the tie. It says school boards can decide whether to share referendum money with nearby charter schools. 

This was the last week of the 2020 legislative session.

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.