The 2023 Legislative Session has reached the midway point, and it’s time for this year’s edition of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” Though the Senate has not yet received the budget bill, we’ve had a busy first half considering bills dealing with health, education, public safety and more. Here’s a snapshot of the good, bad and ugly to come out of the Indiana Senate during this first half.
Expansion of Healthcare Access
This first half of session has seen a huge emphasis on improving healthcare and expanding access in Indiana. The Senate passed several bills aimed at bolstering care for Hoosiers including the bipartisan proposal Senate Bill 1. This bill would appropriate $30M over the biennium to support mental health by building out a system of certified community behavioral
health clinics across the state. SB 1 also seeks to expand our 988 crisis response line. Another bill, SB 4, would allow the Indiana Department of Health to provide district and regional services to local health departments on an opt-in basis. It authorizes the IDOH to provide funding and guidance to local health departments and seeks to increase access to care for residents across the state. SB 252 authorizes long-acting contraceptives prescribed to a Medicaid recipient to be transferred to another Medicaid patient if the prescription has gone unused, minimizing waste and costs for Hoosiers and hospitals.
Support for Public Safety in the Age of Permitless Carry
Last year’s legalization of permitless carry introduced a public safety risk to our streets, making Indiana’s communities more vulnerable to gun deaths and injuries. One of the most glaring issues with the 2022 law is the danger it posed to law enforcement, who would have no way to easily identify when an individual was illegally accessing a firearm. Senate Bill 136, co-authored by Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis), addresses this safety concern by creating a system to transmit data on “prohibited persons,” so officers in the field can readily identify individuals who are not authorized to access a firearm. The bill received unanimous support in the Senate.
Increased Protection for Juveniles During Interrogation
Senator Rodney Pol (D-Chesterton) authored SB 415 to provide increased protection for juveniles during interrogation. This legislation would make it illegal for law enforcement to provide children with misleading or deceptive information during lawful questioning. This legislation, which passed unanimously out of the Senate, would prevent situations where young people are coerced into false confessions.
Focus on Public Safety, Reducing Accidents
Senate Democrats introduced a number of bills to enhance public safety and decrease accidents across the state. Senator Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis) introduced SB 205 to create a task force aimed at reducing violent crime, which has spiked in recent years. Senator Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis) also introduced public safety legislation, drafting SB 233 to create the Vision Zero Task Force to study infrastructure safety in Indiana. This bill aims to reduce accidents caused by poor infrastructure. Another common-sense proposal by Senator Rodney Pol (D-Chesterton), SB 424, would make Lake Michigan safer and prevent drownings by requiring safety equipment at public access points on the lake. All three of these bills passed the Senate and move to the House for consideration.
Gutted Protections for Renters
This session, Senator Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis) introduced a bill to expand protections for tenants. His bipartisan legislation would have required landlords to make a good-faith attempt to repair heat, water, and electricity within 24 hours. In cases where repairs were not made, tenants would have had the right under SB 202 to notify their landlord of inhabitable conditions 30 days in advance and pay rent to a court. Currently, Indiana is just 1 of 6 states without rent-withholding rights for tenants. Unfortunately, this bill was gutted and turned into a summer study committee before it made it to the Senate floor.
Infringement of First Amendment Rights
Senate Bill 348 infringes on Hoosiers’ ability to exercise their first amendment right to protest. This proposal would make it a crime to picket or protest outside someone’s home, including on public access property, and make “residential harassment” a Class C misdemeanor that could result in 60 days in jail. This vague bill was crafted in response to protests outside the home of a Supreme Court Justice and seeks to remove a fundamental tool for holding elected officials and leaders accountable. Our caucus opposed this legislation, though it ultimately advanced out of the Senate 29-16.
Constitutional Removal of Due Process
Senate Joint Resolution 1 would modify the Indiana constitution to allow a judge to waive a Hoosier’s right to bail if they pose “a substantial risk to the public.” This bill will lead to more Hoosiers being kept behind bars while they await conviction and could lead to low-level, non-violent offenders being denied due process. This is a step backwards from bail and justice reform, and our caucus voted against this proposal based on its blatant unconstitutionality and its potentially disastrous consequences.
Culture Wars in Education
SB 486 is a culture-war bill that took aim at the non-existent problem of furries in schools, and it included a litany of concerning language. This bad public policy removed critical training requirements that ensure teachers have the tools and skills to provide the necessary support to their most vulnerable students. It also impeded teachers’ collective bargaining rights and removed the discussion requirement that makes sure administrators are being open and communicative with teachers. This contentious bill advanced out of the Senate just 28-20, and we’re hopeful it will be blocked from further progress in the House.
This year saw a renewal of some of the most egregious bills from sessions’ past, including a resurrection of last year’s censorship proposal in the form of SB 12. This bill would allow books flagged as “inappropriate” by a parent to be banned from schools, even allowing books to be banned by parents from another school district. This type of legislation seeks to address a problem that does not exist and will burden and frighten teachers, erode the quality of students’ educations, and further burden traditional public schools.
Big Government Overreach
Two big government bills that passed out of the Senate during this first half of session are SB 284 and SB 134. The former is the annual special prosecutor bill: the legislation is in direct response to Indianapolis choosing not to prosecute for the possession of small amounts of cannabis. This legislation would require a special prosecutor to be called to prosecute crimes in another county, penalizes “noncompliant prosecutors,” and overrides the discretion of elected officials acting in their communities’ interests.
SB 134 is both a big government proposal and a promotion of animal cruelty. This bill prohibits municipalities from placing restrictions and regulations around the retail sale of dogs. Communities like Bloomington and Indianapolis, which have ordinances in place to ensure animal welfare, would no longer be able to enforce regulations to promote the well-being of dogs under this law.
Ongoing Attacks on our LGBTQ+ Community
This session has seen a continued attack on our LGBTQ+ community. SB 350 was introduced to prohibit municipalities from banning conversion therapy. This discredited and dangerous practice has been condemned the medical community and has no place in Indiana. Unfortunately, under SB 350, conversion therapy can be practiced throughout Indiana without any meaningful regulations in place. SB 480 would ban all gender-affirming care in Indiana for those under age 18, even when a parent has given consent for care. It’s vital that parents have the ability to authorize life-saving care for their children; SB 480 is a direct violation of a parent’s fundamental right to decide care for their children. Both these bills advanced to the House with the support of the supermajority, but there is still time to stop this slate of hate before the 2023 session ends.