The 2023 Legislative Session came to a close in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, April 28. As always, this year saw a mixed bag of legislation ranging from good to bad to downright ugly. Read our 2023 edition of “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly,” to find out which policies Hoosiers can expect to become law this summer.
Elimination of school textbook fees
For two decades, Statehouse Democrats have introduced legislation to remove the burden of school textbook fees from parents. Our constitution promises all Hoosiers a free education, and that is what we’ve been fighting to deliver. We were extremely grateful to finally support the passage of this policy into law this year. Although House Republicans tried to push those costs off to underfunded schools, we were able to successfully advocate for the State to cover those charges. Now, neither parents nor schools will be responsible for those fees.
College is about to become more accessible
Indiana’s college attainment rate has declined in recent years and students have increasingly faced a barrier to higher learning opportunities due to price. This year, Statehouse Democrats successfully pushed for the adoption of a law that will auto-enroll eligible Indiana students into the 21st Scholars Program. This program can cover the full cost of tuition for students attending Indiana schools and will allow more students to access college without the burden of price.
Expanded access to birth control
Last year, the Indiana supermajority passed an abortion ban, eliminating women’s half-century right to privacy and control over their bodies. This year, my caucus continued to push for a restoration of women’s bodily autonomy along with an expansion of all reproductive rights. One important proposal that we were happy to help become law this year allows pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives directly to patients. This will have a monumental impact on access, allowing more women to obtain birth control without having to first schedule a doctor’s appointment and wait for a prescription.
Justice for juveniles during interrogation
With the passage of Senator Pol’s SEA 415, Hoosier juveniles are protected from being making statements or confessions through deceptive means during a routine interrogation. Now, law enforcement officers are prohibited from sharing false statements to obtain information from a juvenile. If an officer does use deceptive tactics to get la juvenile to make a statement, the statement will be deemed inadmissible. This important legislation will go a long way toward protecting the rights and freedoms of young Hoosiers.
Support for Children in home health services
Thanks to Senator Qaddoura’s SEA 438, vulnerable Hoosier children receiving home health services are about to see increased support. This legislation seeks to improve home health services by requiring a comprehensive view of existing services for kids with complex medical needs. The policies will also be assessed for a person-centered approach and feedback on issues with home health services will be collected from stakeholders.
Underfunded public and mental health
This year, supporting mental and public health appeared to be a bipartisan issue for once. Republicans included both items on their list of priorities for the session, and our caucus was excited to have them join us in fighting to improve Hoosiers’ health. Despite prioritizing both items, however, the supermajority ultimately failed to fully fund both pieces of legislation by millions of dollars. When we task the Public Health Commission and Behavioral Health Commission with telling us the amount they need to support the health of residents, we should listen. Instead, our Indiana supermajority chose to ignore the request of both agencies. By underfunding public and mental health, this Legislature has ensured that some Hoosiers will not be able to access the health care they need.
A law enforcement buffer zone may curb accountability
This session, Republicans introduced HEA 1186 to create a buffer zone around law enforcement “in the line of duty.” Our caucus supports efforts to keep law enforcement and citizens safe, but this legislation seems designed to prevent bystanders from being able to potentially witness actions by law enforcement and hold them accountable. We know that eyewitnesses and video footage have been vital to showing police misconduct, such as in the case of George Floyd. Creating a “buffer zone” around police, which would extend out further and further depending on where officers are positioned, can lead to misuse and misconduct by bad actors.
Rights stripped from parents
HEA 1560 is bad public policy that will shorten the amount of time a parent has to withdraw consent for adoption. We know how difficult and complicated a decision adoption is, and we also know there are often many factors at play. In some instances, women may be coerced into choosing adoption; a father may not be informed of the birth of a child; a woman may be involved in a domestic violence situation where she needs time to gather her bearings—there are many reasons a person may authorize an adoption and later need to withdraw consent. It is disappointing that parents will now only have half the amount of time under the law to finalize this monumental decision.
Educators take on the duties of law enforcement
This year, legislation permitting firearm training for educators was passed into law. Although it was law enforcement, not teachers, that received a much-need pay raise this year, this Legislature nevertheless passed a policy that would have teachers take on the role of law enforcement. Instead of approving any of the common-sense gun legislation our caucus put forth, Republicans chose to double down on arming teachers to protect schools from gun threats. Teachers asked for more resources, respect and pay to better support our kids, and this body passed a bill to train them to defend their lives against gun violence that they have continuously failed to do anything about. These are not the types of policies that will help this state retain teachers.
Republicans continued their war on public education
This session, Republicans made a sport of attacking public education. In the budget, they expanded income eligibility for voucher programs by 400%, allowing families making up to $220K a year to use state dollars to pay for private school education. In total, this expansion will divert $500M in essential funding away from public schools. This body also authorized charter schools to collect property taxes only collected by public schools, siphoning away even more funds from underfunded public education. In four counties, Allan, Vanderburgh, Lake and Marion, charter schools were also allowed to share referendum dollars that currently only go to traditional public schools. By allowing so much money to be funneled away from public schools to other school types, while not funding traditional public schools enough to even keep up with inflation, this Legislature has all but ensured that public schools will struggle to operate, raise teacher pay and provide adequate support for the more than 90% of Hoosier students that are educated at a traditional public school.
Educators lose big
Along with attacking public education, Statehouse Republicans also advanced policies to make it harder for teachers to do their jobs this year. Under SEA 486, important training requirements were eliminated, meaning teachers will no longer have the training necessary to support certain vulnerable groups of students. Teachers also lost their right to discuss important topics with their administrators, including these like learning conditions and class size. On top of this bad bill, our supermajority also stuck language from SB 12 to ban books and open teachers up to criminal prosecution into HEA 1447 in the last days of session. Our caucus fears that both these laws will only drive more teachers away when Indiana is already suffering a critical teacher shortage.
An onslaught of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community
The LGBTQ+ community experiences an unprecedented number of attacks from the Indiana supermajority this session. Over two dozen anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed this year, setting a troubling new record. Of the bills filed, several passed this Legislature to unfortunately become law. SEA 350 prohibits municipalities from banning conversion therapy, although it has been proven to be harmful and has been condemned by the medical community. HEA 1608 seeks to eliminate mention of LGBTQ+ people in schools, by vaguely banning all mention of “human sexuality.” SEA 480 strips parents of their right to make the medical decision to approve life-saving care that aligns with their child’s gender. These bills all seek to erase the mention and existence of LGBTQ+ Hoosiers, but they will not. The LGBTQ+ community will continue to be seen, valued and uplifted by our caucus, and we will continue to stand with and for them in this Statehouse.