The 2024 Legislative Session has reached the mid-point, and any bill that did not make it out of its originating chamber is now dead. Check out this year’s midpoint edition of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to learn the legislative actions and bills that have taken place up until this point.  

The Good: 

Public Safety Legislation Moves Forward 

Senate Bill (SB) 253, authored by Senator Rodney Pol Jr. (D-Chesterton), requires life-saving equipment around piers along Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, the districts around Lake Michigan have seen countless drownings and tragedies. This bill would save the lives of visitors, residents, and first responders alike. Another bill aimed at promoting public safety is SB 5. Authored by State Senator Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis), this bill seeks to reduce the amount of lead exposure in Hoosiers’ water. Lead poisoning is one of the most prominent public health issues Indiana faces and is especially damaging to children. This legislation would go a long way toward addressing that pervasive problem.  

Senate Green-Lights Research on Psilocybin 

Research facilitates discovery. Throughout history, cures and significant breakthroughs have been hidden in the realm of exploration. Psilocybin is a natural compound that affects mood, cognition, and perception. SB 139 would institute a research fund focused on the clinical study of psilocybin and its effects on mental and physical health. Thankfully, this bill passed out of the Senate with near unanimous support. It now heads to the House for consideration.   

Steps Are Taken to Improve Childcare  

Access to quality, affordable childcare is scarce in our state and has become one of the most pressing issues facing Hoosier parents. SB 2 would allow for an increase in childcare providers, addressing the shortage Indiana faces. While this bill is a step to solving the childcare crisis, there is still a lot of progress to be made: improving quality, affordability, and accessibility. The Indiana Senate Democrats will continue advancing holistic solutions to support Hoosier families. 

Proposal to Protect Privacy Advances 

As our digital world continues to grow along with threats to cyber security, the protection of our personal information has never been more important. To prevent the selling or ownership of personal identity or data, State Senator Andrea Hunley (D- Indianapolis) authored SB 284. This bill ensures that DNA data service providers are responsible for protecting genetic data in their possession. SB 284 passed with bipartisan, unanimous support and now heads to the House.  

The Bad 

Republicans Push Child Labor Bill  

This year, SB 146 was introduced to make it easier for minors to work extended hours during the school year. Despite protests and amendments by Democratic members, this legislation passed without any improvements being made. If Indiana is allowing children to work extended hours at potentially dangerous jobs, the state must have stricter liability regulations to hold bad-actor employers accountable for injuries and harms. This Legislature cannot tout child safety as a top priority, then allow children to work in bars and restaurants without proper guardrails.  

Attacks on Free Speech in Public Education Continue 

This year, Statehouse Republicans continued to attack education on every front. In the Senate, Republicans drafted SB 128, imposing new requirements on school districts. Under this bill, districts would be required to publish materials that would be used in curriculums teaching human sexuality—a vague term that we worry will be weaponized against LGBTQ students, families, and teachers. Parents already have the ability to opt-out of instruction for their children. This is an unnecessary bill that would add bureaucratic hurdles for school districts.  

SB 202 makes several changes at higher education institutions across the state. It creates requirements to promote “intellectual diversity,” namely conservative principles and ideas. It overlooks and ignores the experiences of minority students—who face real harm and racism on campuses—and politicizes the tenure process in their name. Senate Democrats voted against this bill to ensure free speech and autonomy remain in higher education.  

Mediocre Solutions Put Forward to Address Education Issues 

SB 1—while containing many positive provisions—risks significant harm with a mandatory retention policy. If third graders do not pass the IREAD exam, they will face retention with all its psychological harms, which experts have said are similar to parent’s divorcing or experiencing homelessness. Lawmakers cannot expect retention to address our literacy problem when data shows that retention has more harmful than beneficial outcomes. There are real solutions to helping children improve reading that don’t require punishing them for a failure brought on my two decades of poor education policy by Republicans.  

SB 50 would allow local school districts to hire religious chaplains to serve as counselors for students. While Senate Democrats’ successfully added language to ensuring safeguards against non-secular religious counseling to the bill, this legislation still risks significant harms to students and blurs the constitutional line between church and state. 

Republicans Erode Separation of Powers  

Statehouse Republicans this year continued to tout their disregard for the separation of powers between the legislature and governor. SJR 19—which Senate Democrats successfully amended to ensure parity between political parties—would allow legislators to serve on executive branch commissions. SB 234 would add significant legislative hurdles to emergency declarations, risking Hoosier safety in times of emergency. SB 297 would restrict executive agency rulemaking on financially significant issues—curtailing the power of experts working for state regulatory agencies in favor of politicians. Senate Democrats stood against these bills that undermine the Hoosier government by giving the Indiana General Assembly excessive power—instead of letting it rest with the people. 

The Ugly: 

Republicans Vote to Destroy Remaining Wetlands 

In 2021, Republicans advanced Senate Bill 389 to remove vital protections from the majority of Indiana’s wetlands. Unsatisfied with the destruction of over 350 acres of Hoosier wetlands—which filter, recharge and store water to name just several functions—Republicans came back to the Statehouse this year to fast-track HB 1383. This proposal would reclassify certain Wetland III areas to Wetland II. Currently, Wetland III areas receive the highest level of federal protection and are not eligible for development. By changing the classification for these wetlands, development would be permitted to take place on previously protected land. It’s no secret that the Indiana Builders Association is a large proponent of this bill, and our caucus is disappointed that this General Assembly chose to approve the decimation of a critical natural resource at the expense of present and future generations of Hoosiers.  

Indiana’s $1 Law Becomes a Shall 

SB 270 is a continuation of the “$1 law”, which was passed last session. The $1 law requires public schools that close down to first offer their building to charter schools for $1 before placing the facility on the market. Indianapolis Public Schools recently won a lawsuit against the state regarding this law. Under this year’s proposal, it would mandate the closure of certain buildings. By stipulating that a school district “shall” close any building deemed “underutilized,” more public-school buildings would be forced to shut down. This would mean an increase in charter schools at the expense of our public-school systems. At a time when Indiana is grappling with mismanagement, closure without notice, and disparities in the quality of education from charter schools, the further expansion of these school types is not the direction we should be heading. 

 Republicans Attack Public Transit in Indianapolis 

It wouldn’t be session without an attack on public transit and local control in Indianapolis. SB 52 enacts a one-year moratorium on all dedicated bus lanes in the state of Indiana. A one-year moratorium would effectively kill IndyGo’s Blue Line expansion, which relies on dedicated lanes and has been in the works for nearly a decade. If a moratorium were enacted, IndyGo would likely lose federal funding of as much as $150 million dollars, setting much-needed infrastructure improvements along the Washington Street corridor back years. This bill undercuts IndyGo’s Blue Line expansion, reduces the quality of Hoosier life and decreases Indiana’s ability to attract a diverse workforce and employers who value public transit. Despite bipartisan opposition, SB 52 passed out of the Senate and now waits for consideration.