As the General Assembly moves into the second half of this year’s legislative session, proposals housing a two-year state budget plan, road funding and an expansion of the state’s prekindergarten pilot program are now under Senate review. Senate-approved bills dealing with various issues including the state’s opioid crisis, civil forfeiture, E-liquids and net metering are now under consideration by the House. This brief summary highlights recent action taken by the Senate.
The only bill that must gain approval this session is a state budget plan to fund government services and schools over the next two years. Contained in House Bill (HB) 1001, the $31 billion proposal is now under review by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Approved by a House vote of 68-29, the bill’s author recently provided input on the House-passed budget as well as state university presidents and various state agency commissioners. The committee will continue to hold information-gathering hearings on HB 1001 over the next few weeks. Changes to the proposal are expected as it moves through the Senate.
State road funding
Another priority this session is the development of 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 a hearing by a joint meeting of the Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy and the Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation scheduled for March 14.
Freezing recent corporate tax cuts, bonding, and reducing the surplus in efforts to produce tax-free funding for roads are other options being considered. Senate Bill (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 awaits further action by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Expansion of state’s prekindergarten pilot program
Two bills seek to expand the state’s five-county prekindergarten pilot program for low income children. HB 1004 would extend the preschool program to 10 counties, expand eligibility guidelines, and double the program’s current allocation of $10 million to $20 million. However, a contentious provision of the bill would provide another avenue for preschool students to become eligible for vouchers in grades K-12. HB 1004 recently received a hearing by the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development, and final action is expected in the next few weeks.
The Senate advanced similar legislation contained in SB 276. This bill includes considerably less funding for the Pre-K pilot program, and includes an amendment to expand it statewide with the inclusion of a technology-based, in-home early education component. Attempts by Senate Democrats to add funding to expand the successful pilot program were defeated. HB 276 awaits a hearing by the House Education Committee.
The Senate Education Committee also considered: HB 1024 allowing students to pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during, and after the school day; HB 1079 regarding school safety and expanded criminal history checks for teachers and employees; HB 1136 pertaining to latch key (school-age child care) programs; and HB 1430 seeking staff training concerning youth suicide. Final action on these bills is pending.
Senate approved bills now under House review
Legislation authored by Mrvan that would require school corporations to incorporate mental health education in their curriculum has gained Senate approval. SB 435 would allow schools to provide mental health screenings to students, with the consent of parents, in order to identify at-risk youth, and better inform youth about mental health issues such as anxiety, eating disorders, self-mutilation and depression. Indiana leads the nation for the number of teenagers who have committed suicide, and ranks second for teen suicide attempts.
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. Although SB 277 currently includes no funding, the bill’s authors will work with their House colleagues to seek funding options. The bill awaits a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee.
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 would elect 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. The bill was approved by a vote of 34-16 and awaits a hearing in the House Committee on Family, Children and Human Affairs.
SB 179 would have required the Superintendent of Public Instruction to become an appointed position by the Governor, instead of being an elected position chosen by voters. Supported by the Governor, the bill died in the Senate by a surprise vote of 23-26. Similar House legislation, HB 1005, was approved by a vote of 68-29. Since HB 1005 contains substantially similar language, under Senate rules, the bill should not receive a Senate hearing.
Popular legislation calling for redistricting reform died 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. After holding a hearing on the proposal where many testified in support of the bill, the Republican Committee Chair chose not to take a vote on the bill thus killing the measure. Similar legislation in the Senate did not receive a hearing.
Important upcoming dates
April 3 – Deadline for standing committees to meet
April 5-6 – Deadlines for bills to be heard by the opposite chamber
April 10 – Conference committees begin
April 29 – General Assembly must conclude business 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.