Lawmakers pushed through mid-session deadlines this week completing work on bills that gained approval in their house of origin. Moving forward, the Senate and House of Representatives will begin deliberations on each other’s bills. Legislation approved by both chambers will proceed to the Governor for final review. There were 570 Senate bills introduced in January and 678 House bills. About 375 of those initiatives are advancing through the process. This brief summary highlights some of the major bills under consideration.
The only bill that must be approved this session is a state budget plan to fund government services and schools for the next two years. The $31 billion proposal, contained in House Bill (HB) 1001, is now under review by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Included in the current plan is a modest appropriation of 2.8 percent, or $273 million over two years for K-12 education. This is less than the $474 million appropriated for schools in the 2015 budget cycle. Negotiations will continue as HB 1001 moves through the Senate.
Expansion of state’s prekindergarten program
Two bills seek to expand the state’s prekindergarten pilot program currently in place in Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh. By a vote of 61-34, HB 1004 would extend the Pre-K program to 10 counties and expand eligibility guidelines. In addition, the bill would double the pilot program’s current allocation of $10 million to $20 million. However, a contentious provision provides yet another pathway for Pre-K students to become eligible for vouchers in grades K-12. The bill now awaits Senate consideration.
The other measure, SB 276, currently includes $32 million over the biennium to fund Pre-K programs. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 41-9 and it proceeds to the House for its review.
State road funding
Another priority this session is developing a long-term funding plan for the state’s road and infrastructure needs estimated to cost more than $1 billion annually. HB 1002 includes a 10 cent per gallon increase on gas, currently set at 18 cents per gallon, and would tie future increases to inflation allowing it to rise one cent per year. Also, drivers would see a $15 increase in motor vehicle registration fees, and $150 for electric vehicles. Furthermore, HB 1002 calls for feasibility studies on imposing tolls on current and new roadways in the state. The bill was approved by a House vote of 61-36 and now awaits Senate action.
Freezing recent corporate tax cuts, bonding, and reducing the surplus are other options being considered that would produce tax-free funding for roads. SB 262 would allow the state to leverage its credit rating to levy bonds, creating up to $500 million for road improvements. The bill stipulates that state pension funds would be offered the first opportunity to buy these bonds as part of an “Invest in Indiana” program. The bill gained Senate approval by a vote of 41-9 and now awaits House consideration.
Senate approved bills proceed to the House
Legislation that would establish a mental health wellness education program and require school corporations to incorporate mental health education in their curriculum has gained Senate approval. Authored by Mrvan, SB 435 would allow schools to provide mental health screenings to students with the consent of parents in order to identify at-risk youth. According to data from Kids Count in Indiana, Indiana ranks third among 30 states in the percentage of high school students who have contemplated suicide. In 2015, 55 teens in Indiana committed suicide.
A grant program that would generate more healthy food options for Hoosiers is included in SB 277. Commonly referred to as “food deserts,” Hoosiers living in these areas, both rural and urban, have little or no access to fresh, healthy food. The grants would be used by new or existing businesses to create healthy and fresh food options in underserved areas of the state. SB 277 currently includes no funding. However, authors will continue to seek funding options as the bill moves through the process.
SB 9 would remove a 12 month limitation on certain individuals receiving supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) benefits. The bill specifies that, beginning January 1, 2018, Indiana elects to opt out of the federal law prohibiting individuals convicted of certain drug offenses from receiving SNAP assistance including food stamps, if the individual meets specified conditions regarding parole and drug testing requirements.
SB 179 would have required the Superintendent of Public Instruction to become an appointed position by one person, the Governor, instead of being an elected position chosen by voters. Supported by the Governor, the bill died in the Senate this week by a surprise vote of 23-26. On the same day, similar House legislation, HB 1005, was approved by a vote of 68-29. Since both bills contain substantially similar language, HB 1005 should not receive a Senate hearing under Senate rules.
Popular legislation calling for redistricting reform has died in both the House and Senate where Republicans hold super majorities in both chambers. HB 1014 called for an independent redistricting commission to draw election maps, and then provide the General Assembly final authority on the proposed districts. The bill was recommended by a summer study committee that held numerous hearings on the issue. A House committee held a hearing on the proposal where many testified in support of the bill, but no final vote was taken. Similar legislation in the Senate did not receive a hearing.
SB 354 sought to allow the Rising Sun Casino to split its gaming license and move games to a supplemental facility in Terre Haute. After much debate, the bill failed in the Senate Public Policy Committee by a vote of 5-5.
SB 88 would have prohibited schools from beginning their school year before the last Monday in August, beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. The bill died by a vote of 25-25.
Important upcoming dates
March 1 – Senate begins review of approved House bills; House begins review of approved Senate bills
April 3 – Deadline for committees to meet
April 5-6 – Deadlines for bills to be heard by the opposite chamber
April 10 – Conference committees begin
April 29 – Session business must conclude on or before this date
To learn more about bills moving through the General Assembly, log on to www.in.gov/legislative. Also from here, you can watch the House and Senate in session and committee hearings. Senate Democrats offer up-to-date information at www.indianasenatedemocrats.org. Multimedia updates on the Senate’s daily activities are provided at The Briefing Room (www.INthebriefingroom.wordpress.com) and Twitter at @INSenDems (www.twitter.com/INSenDems).
Visit my website at www.indianasenatedemocrats.org/S1 and subscribe to receive periodic e-mails about action taken on major issues.
Check out my Facebook profile at www.facebook.com/senatorfrankmrvan. Personal contact with constituents has a direct impact on legislation considered by the General Assembly and what ultimately becomes state law. Please contact me to express your concerns regarding pending legislation or if I can be of assistance.