The 2020 legislative session has officially reached its halfway mark, which means it’s time for another edition of the Senate Democrats’ The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Read below for a review of the legislation, good and bad, that came out of the first half of session.

The Good

Better health care coverage on its way for Hoosiers with PANDAS and PANS

State Senator David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) authored Senate Bill (SB) 311 which would provide better health care coverage for children with PANDAS or PANS in Indiana. These are infection-triggered autoimmune diseases that are difficult and expensive to treat. Guaranteed health care coverage for these diseases would drastically improve the ability of families to provide care for their children who are affected by these illnesses. SB 311 was successfully passed out of the Senate with a vote of 40-9 and will now move to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Lead testing for Lake County approved

The Senate voted 46-1 to progress SB 214, authored by State Senator Lonnie M. Randolph (D-East Chicago). His proposal would require all schools in Lake County to test their drinking water for the presence of lead every two years. Regular lead testing would help ensure that children in Lake County are protected from harmful levels of lead at school.

Gary schools improvement bill moved to House

State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary) authored SB 416 to temporarily suspend debt payments of the Gary Community School Corporation to free up $43.5 million for use on the rehabilitation and demolition of current school buildings. The proposal also allows for a private-public partnership to be created for the purposes of building a new central middle and high school for the community. SB 416 advanced out of the Senate with unanimous support and now moves to the House.

Local government takeover bill defeated

Republican State Senator Michael Young (R-Indianapolis) proposed SB 436 that would have allowed the Indiana Attorney General to prosecute cases that local prosecutors choose not to, such as cases of marijuana possession in Marion County. His bill would have taken authority away from local governments and increased the number of Hoosiers placed in jail for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Fortunately, Senate Democrats were able to kill this bill before its passage in the Senate.

The Bad

Common sense gun laws halted

State Senator Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington) proposed two gun safety bills this session in an effort to address gun violence and accidents in Indiana. His first proposal, SB 29, would have simply required the safe storage of all firearms in order to prevent child access. The second, SB 28, intended to ensure that all individuals purchasing firearms underwent universal background checks first, which is a measure that 90 percent of Hoosiers support. Unfortunately both proposals died without ever receiving a committee hearing.

Off-duty officers can carry guns in casinos while drinking

Instead of passing common-sense gun bills to address gun violence, Senate Republicans passed SB 291 which would allow off-duty law enforcement officials to carry handguns in casinos. A provision in the bill that would have prohibited those authorized to carry firearms from consuming alcohol was removed from the bill, effectively allowing individuals authorized to carry guns to be under the influence without limitation.

‘In God We Trust’ motto may be placed in schools

Senate Republicans introduced a bill to require every school in Indiana to pay for a poster containing the United States motto ‘In God We Trust,’ the American flag and the Indiana flag in every classroom. Sen. Kruse’s bill is a clear violation of the separation of church and state, a point that Sen. Stoops brought up in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee. Although Sen. Stoops was able to amend the bill to make hanging these posters in classrooms optional for schools and require funding for the posters to come from private donations rather than state dollars, he still opposed the passage of the bill.

Bill to further shame women who seek abortion

Sen. Elizabeth Brown (R-Fort Wayne) authored SB 299 that would require health care facilities that provide abortions to cremate or bury the results of an abortion if the woman so chooses. This bill would require a woman to choose a cremation or burial even for drug-induced abortions that occur in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) correctly argued that the bill incorrectly describes fetal remains because during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, the woman is only carrying an embryo or zygote, and when that embryo or zygote is aborted it is similar to passing a blood clot. This bill would add medically incorrect language concerning abortions to the Indiana code and put more strain on women who seek an abortion.

Accommodations for pregnant women gutted

Republicans gutted a bipartisan bill, SB 342, that would have required employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, such as providing lactation rooms and allowing for additional bathroom breaks. The bill was amended so that it would be sent to an interim committee for further study, effectively killing the bill and making pregnant women wait for these basic accommodations.

The Ugly

Republicans halt any possibility of teacher pay raises

Indiana ranked in the bottom half of the nation for teacher salary in the 2017-2018 school year, and has also been ranked dead last in the nation for teacher salary growth since 2002. State Senators Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) and Eddie Melton (D-Gary) each proposed a plan that would have allowed $100 million to be freed up to put more money in teachers’ pockets this year. Unfortunately, neither of these bills received a committee hearing. Sen. Tallian and Sen. Melton also offered their bills as amendments to House Bill 1007, a proposal that opened the budget to fund Republican projects. Their amendments were voted down along party lines, showing once again that Senate Republicans do not value our Hoosier teachers.

Jail time for marijuana possession still likely

Sen. Tallian proposed several marijuana bills, including one that would have reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana. People should not be thrown into our already overcrowded prison system for possession of a drug that is legal for either recreational or medical use in 33 states. Sen. Stoops proposed SB 103, which would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for terminally ill patients. State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) proposed a similar bill, SB 86, that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for both terminally ill patients and people with valid medical marijuana cards. The Indiana Senate Democrats believe that sick Hoosiers should be given every option to combat their pain and shouldn’t go to jail for having small amounts of marijuana. The Senate Republicans did not give any of these bills a hearing and remain staunchly opposed to any proposals that would update the state’s antiquated cannabis laws.

Partisan gerrymandering likely to continue for another decade in Indiana

Currently, the Indiana state legislature is responsible for drawing state and federal voting maps. This system of political gerrymandering allows lawmakers to draw these districts in their favor. Redistricting reform has bipartisan support in the Senate with both Republican and Democratic Senators proposing redistricting bills. State Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) proposed a bill, SB 138, this session that would have established a non-partisan redistricting commission to recommend plans for drawing new maps. Yet, despite the obvious need for redistricting reform the Republican Chairman of the Senate Elections Committee did not give the bill a hearing. Senate Democrats believe that voters should be able to choose their representatives, not the other way around.

Senate votes to send juveniles to jail

SB 449 would allow children as young as 12 years old to be sent to jail with adults for as long as six years. This bill will funnel more juveniles into our prison system, where they will not receive the same opportunities for rehabilitation as they would in the juvenile delinquent system. Despite massive opposition to the bill from Senate Democrats, Hoosier residents and advocacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Campaign for Youth Justice, the bill still passed in the Senate with a 31-18 vote.