The 2024 Legislative Session is officially in the books! The Senate adjourned Sine Die at about 9:30 PM on Friday, March 8th. This concludes one of the shortest non-budget Sessions in recent years. While Republican Legislators claimed this would be a short session without controversial legislation, that reality did not pan out. This Legislature addressed substantive and significant policy issues that implicate many Hoosiers this year. Senate Democrats had some significant wins on public health & safety, preserving local government control in Indianapolis, promoting conservation and helping Hoosier families and workers. Indiana also saw major setbacks with child labor, education, birth control access and basic environmental protections. Learn more in this year’s wrap-up edition of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. 

The Good: 

Promoting Public Health & Safety 

Hoosiers saw several major wins in public health and safety this year. Senate Bill (SB) 5, co-authored by Senator Hunley, would significantly speed the replacement of lead water-service lines by working with water utilities. Senator Pol’s SB 253 would require municipalities along Lake Michigan to store life-saving rescue equipment at public piers, where tragic drownings often occur. The General Assembly was also able to successfully find a landing place for the language on psilocybin clinical research. HB 1259 provides research funds to study psilocybin and it’s benefits on human health. Additionally, Senate Democrats successfully defeated PFAs language. Originally introduced as HB 1399, House Republicans attempted to relocate the language into another bill during Conference Committees. Thankfully, the language was eventually stripped out before Sine Die.  

Preserving Local Control in Indianapolis 

This year, Statehouse Republicans continuously tried to attack local government control in Indianapolis. Thankfully, these measures were largely defeated or modified in a way that preserved vital local decision-making abilities. From the compromise on SB 52, which allowed the IndyGO Blue Line project to continue, to securing the Downtown Economic Enhancement District with HB 1199, Senate Democrats successfully defended Indianapolis against Statehouse intrusion. 

Helping Families and Workers 

With cost-of-living skyrocketing across Indiana, Hoosiers are in need of relief. Thanks to Democratic leadership, parents and public-pension holders will have more support soon. SB 2 aims to expand childcare options while increasing income eligibility for certain subsidized programs and ensuring important safety regulations remain in place. For pension-holders, a long-deserved 13th check will soon be on the way, thanks to an amendment fought for by Democrats at the end of session to HB 1004. Furthermore, this bill will create a plan moving forward to give 13th Checks or COLAs to public retirees, eliminating the opportunity for the legislature to neglect this program. 

The Bad: 

Risking Kids’ Futures 

This Session, Statehouse Republicans made many policy proposals meant to protect children, but on several of these initiatives, they actually risked Hoosier children’s futures instead. From childcare to child labor to reading skills, Republicans passed bad bills that will not solve any of the issue they purport to address while creating significant risk for kids in the process. 

SB 1, the Senate’s priority literacy bill, will impose a mandatory retention policy for third graders who do not read at the appropriate level upon taking the IREAD-3 exam. Experts have told us that retention can be as damaging to a child as homelessness or having parent’s divorce. Punishing kids who lack the support they need is not the answer to our literacy crisis. Children should not pay the price for decades of state disinvestment in early childhood education and families.  

On childcare, HB 1102 weakens essential requirements for home-based childcare providers. For these providers, the bill increases the number of children a single provider can monitor from six to eight. It also fails to account for children already in the households, meaning the true number of providers-per-children could vastly outpace what experts advise. Families should not be faced with the choice of second-guessing an affordable option because they fear for the safety of their children. Instead of investing state money into this provider shortage, Republicans are putting more work on already stretched-thin childcare workers and risking Hoosier children’s safety in the process. 

Since COVID, Indiana has faced a growing worker shortage. Instead of supporting real solutions to ensure Hoosiers can work high-paying and good quality jobs, Republicans want to use children to fill the gap. Legislators said as much on the Senate floor during debate on HB 1093, which would allow kids to work significantly more hours during the early part of the school year, when they should be focused on their education and creating a solid foundation for their new classes. SB 146 would lower the age that teenagers can serve alcohol at bars and restaurants. Other provisions would reduce penalties for timeclock violations by employers of minors. Senate Democrats agree that the labor shortage is a major concern, but Indiana should never shortchange our children’s education and safety to fill our worker shortage.  

The Ugly: 

Infringing on Local Control 

For decades, Gary has suffered from gun violence while the Indiana General Assembly has made it easier and easier to obtain weapons. When Gary took action to hold bad-acting gun dealers accountable, this Legislature decided to intervene and halt an ongoing lawsuit in its tracks. This unprecedent move of interfering into ongoing litigation sets terrible precedent to give carve outs to an industry. It tells bad actors who break the law that all they need to succeed in court is to build favor with Legislators. With HB 1235 signed into law, Indiana is forcing a community to continue suffering from gun violence and stripping options away from communities to respond to gun manufacturers who break the law. 

HB 1137 removes local control in another domain: religious instruction in school. This legislation would require principals and school administrators to allow students to miss instruction in favor of religious instruction. While the language permitting schools to hire chaplains to offer non-secular counseling was removed, this bill still takes away local school district control on an important issue. Schools should have control over what level of religious entanglement is permitted within their walls, and this represents another attempt by extremist legislators to disintegrate the separation of church and state. 

Attacking Birth Control 

HB 1426 will require hospitals to offer postpartum patients insured under Medicaid Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) while specifically excluding copper IUDs. Hormonal IUDs are recommended for many women, and for others, they are contraindicated. Indiana should not be in the business of dictating what kind of birth control women should have available: that must always remain a decision between a patient and a doctor. This bill masquerades as a way to expand birth control and help women, but in reality, it is creating a two-tiered system for birth control in Indiana. The slow erosion and undermining of reproductive care are the same tactics Indiana used to roll back abortion rights for women. This looks like a page from the same playbook, with birth control now under attack. Senate Democrats will continue standing and fighting for ALL options for all women, always.  

Rushing Through Destruction of Wetlands 

Many issues received very little attention this session: housing affordability, real solutions to childcare, the $1B Medicaid deficit and FSSA cuts and addressing reproductive health, just to name a few. However, this Supermajority made it a priority to rush through HB 1383, which deregulates most of Indiana’s remaining wetlands. This was the first bill signed into law this year by the Governor and the first to pass out of the Legislature, well ahead of all crossover and passage deadlines. That Statehouse Republicans chose to rush this bill while ignoring many of Indiana’s most pressing challenges is very telling. Wetlands provide essential ecological services like purifying water, mitigating flooding, and retaining groundwater. Senate Democrats will continue fighting for common-sense, science-based environmental laws, not industry-written deregulations that stand to harm Hoosiers for generations to come.