Tasty breaded pork tenderloin explains Indiana legislative process
Let’s face it — the legislative process is complex, and a bill can die at any point in the process. But a state food staple explains the basic steps of how Indiana laws are made. Pay attention.
Stephen J. Beard, Indianapolis Star
Indiana lawmakers are past the halfway point of a legislative session dominated by controversial social issues.
Here’s what happened last week at the Statehouse, as lawmakers get a slow start to the second half of session.
Automatic taxpayer refund
At the request of Gov. Eric Holcomb, lawmakers are working to expand who can qualify for this year’s automatic taxpayer refund, triggered by higher than expected state revenues. Those without a tax liability would qualify.
House Bill 1013, which would name the mastodon Indiana’s state fossil, is sailing through the Statehouse. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources unanimously passed the measure on Feb. 7. It now awaits consideration on the full Senate floor. If it passes, it’ll go straight to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.
Already Indiana has a state snack, popcorn; a state bird, the cardinal; a state insect, Say’s firefly; and a state flower, the peony. But it’s one of five states without a state fossil.
Transgender sports ban
On Feb. 9, the Senate’s education committee heard testimony on House Bill 1041, which would prohibit transgender girls from playing girls sports at the K-12 schools level.
Changing agenda: How Indiana Republican lawmakers changed their sights from gay rights to trans issues
It was passed along largely party lines by the House Jan. 27 and now awaits a committee vote.
School funding fix
At the start of the fall semester, COVID-19 cases among Indiana students were surging. Thousands of students tested positive and even more were identified as a close contact and told to quarantine at home. Schools worried that these quarantines could lead to cuts in state funding if students were counted as virtual.
Legislative leaders assured schools in September that they would pursue a fix, ensuring schools are fully funded for the fall semester. Senate Bill 2 allows the Indiana Department of Education to consider a student’s attendance over the entire first semester when determining their in-person status.
It passed the House Education Committee on Feb. 9, but still has to pass out of the House Ways and Means committee before it can move to the House floor for a vote.
A House bill that lays the beginnings of a regulatory framework governing the expansion of electric vehicle charging in Indiana and who would pay for it, has passed its first hurdle in the Senate.
House Bill 1221, which garnered support from state electric utilities, auto manufacturers and clean energy advocates, comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law promising Indiana $100 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure projects. It passed out of the Senate Utilities Committee unanimously on Feb. 10.
It allows electric utilities to create pilot programs deploying charging infrastructure for “public use” electric vehicles, such as public transit, school buses and emergency vehicles, and recover the cost of those programs by charging higher public rates. T
House Bill 1004, which would allow judges to resume sentencing people convicted of low-level felonies into state prisons, moved through the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law on Feb. 8.
A legislative priority of Indiana House Republicans, the bill arrived in the Senate after being approved by the House with a 90-3 vote. Backers from both parties have pitched the bill as a way to ease jail overcrowding, which is a rampant problem in Indiana. They also say the bill would provide some people with greater access to drug and mental health treatment inside state prisons because many rural county jails lack those services. The bill is widely supported by county officials and law enforcement, but even some supporters noted it would reverse past attempts by the legislature to be less punitive on crimes driven by mental health issues and drug addiction.
More: To fix jail overcrowding, Indiana lawmakers look to send more Hoosiers back to prison
The bill is now headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee for review of the potential financial impact on the Indiana Department of Correction, even though officials have indicated the change likely would result in a cost savings for IDOC. That’s because the state now pays counties to house those prisoners at a daily rate significantly higher than the cost of holding them in state prisons.
A bill that supporters say would make it easier for exonerees to receive compensation for being wrongfully incarcerated advanced in the Senate last week, but Democrats say they remain concerned about key components of the legislation.
Republican Sen. Mike Young, chair of the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law, and other supporters of the bill have raised concerns about the optics of paying taxpayer dollars to someone who’s been charged with a violent crime.
More: Bill setting bar for innocent people to receive compensation approved by House, heads to Senate
“This is unconstitutional on its face … You’re actually taking property from someone because they’ve been charged with a crime,” Sen. Greg Taylor said during a committee on Feb. 8. “Whether or not they’ve been charged with an additional crime should be irrelevant. They’ve earned the money. These people have sat behind bars unjustly. I think we’re missing the whole foundation of why we have this legislation.”
Young said the government is not taking the money away; it is merely suspending the payments until the new charges are dismissed or the person has served time.
A previous version of the bill would suspend payments to someone who is incarcerated for a separate offense. Young added an amendment clarifying that the payment suspension applies to people who’s been charged, whether or not they’re still incarcerated or are able to make bail.
Affordable housing development tax credits
Riding on bipartisan support, Senate Bill 262, which would create a statewide affordable housing tax credit system, passed out of the Senate unanimously on Jan. 24 and now moves to the House for consideration. A similar bill incentivizing affordable housing development had previously passed in the Senate in 2020, only to never be called for a vote in House Ways and Means Committee.
Indiana has a severe lack of affordable housing, advocates say, and the bill would funnel federal tax credits to affordable housing developers seeking to develop units for low-income renters. With broad-based support from both the association representing landlords and tenant advocates, the bill is touted as a much-needed first step to fixing the state’s housing affordability crisis.
Banning ‘slumlords’ from buying property at foreclosure and tax sales
A bipartisan bill that would allow sheriff foreclosure sales to be conducted online was successfully amended on Jan. 26 to include a “slumlord provision,” as bill co-author Rep. Mitch Gore, D-Indianapolis, called it. House Bill 1048 would ban landlords who have ongoing housing code violations against them or who are tax delinquent from purchasing foreclosed properties at sheriff sales.
Supporters of the bill say it will be a significant step to ensuring that bad actor landlords are not able to acquire more property and cause more damage to low-income renters. Moving sheriff sales online would make it easier for out-of-state or even out-of-country landlords to purchase foreclosed properties in Indiana and bill advocates say the prohibition is necessary to guarantee irresponsible landlords do not take advantage of this avenue.
Compensating landowners for eminent domain
When local governments want to build a new highway or a road, they often must acquire property owned by private owners through eminent domain. Currently, they must only pay at least the appraised market value of the property, although that can be — and often is — contested by the property owner through legal settlement or litigation.
Senate Bill 29 would raise the compensation owned to those property owners for condemnation — or the taking of their property — to 120% of the appraised market value. It passed out of the Senate by a vote of 40-7 on Jan. 24. It now moves to the House’s committee on local government for consideration.
Advocates of the bill, including the Indiana Farm Bureau, say it advances property rights of landowners who deserve fairer compensation for the taking of their land. But its opponents worry it could increase the cost of building critical public infrastructure.
On Jan 25, the House unanimously passed House Bill 1214, which would allow tenants to request court expungement of eviction filings in cases where the eviction is dismissed, the judgement is in favor of the tenant, or if no action was taken by the landlord or property manager in 180 days.
Tenant and landlord advocates alike support the bill as a major, much-needed solution to the problem of tenants being unable to find housing, because eviction filings on their record deter potential landlords from renting to them.
However, housing advocates are concerned by a prohibition in the bill against any mandatory eviction diversion programs in the state. Indiana’s current eviction diversion program is voluntary and participation has been extremely low. The bill is now awaiting consideration in the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.
Senators passed a bill that would establish a pilot program using speed cameras in highway work zones by a 35-14 vote Feb. 1.
Lawmakers have attempted similar legislation for several years; this is the farthest a bill has gotten.
A senate bill seeking to slim down the state’s statutes on turn signal compliance is headed to the House.
Senate Bill 124 proposes getting rid of the statute that requires a turn signal 200 feet before making a turn or changing lanes, or 300 feet on a highway. A separate statute that simply says drivers must use turn signals “before” making the movement remains intact. The bill’s author, Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, argued the 200-foot rule is unreasonable for many urban areas and can lead to arbitrary or preemptory traffic stops.
The Senate passed a bill seeking to establish a commission that would study and advocate for the expansion of passenger rail in Indiana by a 35-10 vote on Jan. 27.
Though the Senate has demonstrated over the years a disinterest in passenger rail, as one senator put it during the hearing, Republican chairman Michael Crider said he chose to hear the bill because of the potential influx of federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Indiana can compete for $12 billion of federal-state partnership grants available to bolster or establish inter-city rail service.
The bill includes an amendment prohibiting the commission from studying or promoting passenger rail in Marion County. The Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance, a supporter of the bill, does not believe the amendment would impede efforts to improve service to the Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati-Louisville region, since these are regional projects and not Marion County projects.
Vaccine mandates and an end to the emergency
The House approved a House Republican priority bill that would require private businesses that have COVID-19 vaccine mandates to grant employees exemptions for medical or religious reasons by a 58-35 vote Jan. 18. The bill awaits consideration in the Senate where Republicans have indicated they are reluctant to take away the businesses’ ability to be flexible.
Under House Bill 1001, employers also must give employees the choice to get tested weekly instead of vaccinated. Likewise, businesses would have to allow exemptions for those employees who have “natural immunity” from previously contracting COVID-19.
The bill also makes changes to state law requested by Gov. Eric Holcomb in order to enable him to end the state of emergency in Indiana, while still allowing for children to get the COVID-19 vaccine outside of a doctor’s office and enabling the state to qualify for certain federal funds.
A bill pertaining to the emergency order, Senate Bill 3, passed the Senate on Jan. 27 by a vote of 34-11 and now awaits consideration in the House.
Digital billboard in Marion County
A bill that would allow the Marion County Fairgrounds to install a digital billboard makes its way to the House Committee on Local Government after passing the Senate on Jan. 31.
House lawmakers passed a bill on Jan. 31 by a 66-28 vote that would limit who can vote absentee by mail on Jan. 31.
Under House Bill 1116, Hoosiers must confirm they are unable to vote during all of the days available for early, in-person voting and on Election Day in order to qualify to vote absentee, unless they meet other specific requirements. Currently someone can vote absentee if they won’t be available just on Election Day itself.
The Senate passed a bill by a 27-22 vote on Feb. 1 to enable lenders to offer a higher interest loan that the state currently would classify as felony loan sharking.
The bill now awaits consideration in the House.
Marion County Sheriff spending
A bill that would have restricted the Marion County Sheriff’s Office ability to spend money from its commissary fund passed the Senate Jan. 27 by a 35-11 vote.
Senate Bill 307 requires the department to present a quarterly update regarding purchases out of the fund. It awaits consideration in the House Committee on Local Government.
Democrats have voiced concern against the bill, which applied only to Marion County. Sheriff Kerry Forestal told lawmakers that his office already delivers a report every six months for the city-county council detailing spending from that fund.
Township trustee discipline
Township boards would have the power to remove a neglectful township trustee under a bill that now makes its way to the House Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform after passing the Senate on Feb. 1.
The bill follows a series of issues that townships throughout Indiana have had issues with their elected trustees — lawmakers heard from employees in the neighboring Fairfield and Wabash townships in Lafayette and West Lafayette. The employees reported having issues with their trustees, citing instances where one failed to file an adopted township budget with the state and another faced multiple counts of felony theft.
The legislation allows for a township board, county executive or county fiscal body to petition a court to have a trustee removed from their office.
Lawmakers are waiting to significantly restrict abortion access until after the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on on a controversial Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, but they are moving forward a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to be asked if they are being coerced into doing so.
Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates and other opponents argue the bill’s requirements are “redundant and unnecessary,” and do not target the root issues of domestic and sexual violence
Call for Constitutional convention
The Senate passed a joint resolution on Jan. 18 directing Congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution fixing the number of Supreme Court justices at nine.
The resolution now awaits consideration in the House. Indiana’s Congressional delegates can simply choose to ignore Senate Concurrent Resolution 2, and aren’t obligated to offer a Constitutional amendment.
Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, is pursuing a bill to fix what she sees as a major loophole in Indiana rape law. Indiana law states that intercourse is only considered rape if it’s done by force or if it occurs with someone who is mentally incapacitated or unaware that it’s happening.
It doesn’t explicitly address what happens if someone simply doesn’t consent. Negele’s bill, House Bill 1079, would clarify that someone commits rape if there is a “lack of consent, expressed through words or conduct.”
The House passed the bill by a 86-3 vote on Jan. 20. It now awaits consideration in the Senate where it’s met resistance in the past.
Permitless handgun carry
The House approved a bill by a 64-29 vote on Jan. 11 that would repeal the state’s handgun permit requirement completely, despite resistance from multiple police organizations.
The bill now awaits consideration in the Senate, where it has met resistance in years past.
Emergency executive orders
Republican lawmakers substantially altered House Bill 1100, which once would have limited the emergency powers of Gov. Eric Holcomb.
That bill would have prohibited an executive order issued by the governor from being effective for more than 180 days unless lawmakers approve it. The provision though was stripped out of the bill in the House Ways and Means committee. It later passed out of the House on Jan. 27 by a 61-29 vote.
Opponents still have concerns about the bill: it would still limit government agencies’ ability to implement more stringent rules than those that are either approved by lawmakers or in place at the federal level.
The House passed a Republican House priority bill that would cut taxes for businesses and individuals by a 68-25 vote Jan. 20. It now awaits consideration in the Senate where it’s expected to meet some resistance.
Under House Bill 1002, the individual income tax all Hoosiers pay would be reduced from 3.23% to 3% by 2026. The bill would also reduce the taxes businesses have to pay on equipment, repeal the Utility Receipts Tax and Utility Services Use Tax and expand sales tax exemptions for property used in the production of goods.
By fiscal year 2025 — even before all the taxes have been phased in — the state is expected to lose out on more than $1 billion due to the tax cuts, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.
The bill also would ensure Hoosiers without a tax liability could qualify for the automatic taxpayer refund this year.
Two Republican-led bills that would reshape how bail is administered for those accused of violent crimes across Indiana were referred Jan. 31 to the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code after passing through the Senate Jan. 25.
Senate Bill 6, which would require someone accused of a violent crime to pay in full the minimum cash bail for “an offender’s most serious offense,” is the first in a package of five measures targeting crime in Marion County. The amended version of the bill lays out a minimum bail schedule for felony charges. For someone previously convicted of a violent crime who is charged with another violent crime, bail would double.
Similarly, Senate Bill 8 aims to restrict how charitable bail funds help low-income people who are in custody and awaiting trial. That legislation would, in part, prevent nonprofit organizations from bailing out people accused of felonies — limiting them to depositing bonds of up to $2,000 “for an indigent person charged with a misdemeanor.”
The proposals are driven in part by recent instances in which people out on bond were later accused of committing a homicide. Opponents of the bills say the legislation is based on incomplete data and unfairly targets poor people.
Targeting crime in Marion County
Proposals from Senate Republicans’ crime package that increase oversight of pretrial monitoring and aim to zero in on high-crime areas in Indianapolis were also referred to the House Courts and Criminal Code committee in late January.
Senate Bill 7 from Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, would create a Marion County crime reduction board led by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and composed of law enforcement agencies from around downtown Indianapolis. The measure has received support from police. It passed the Senate on a 40-7 vote on Jan. 25.
Greenfield Republican Michael Crider’s effort to establish a grant program that would give funding to law enforcement agencies in Marion County to target high-crime areas through Senate Bill 10 garnered bipartisan support in the Senate.
And a measure from Sen. Kyle Walker, R-Lawrence, that would create a new set of standards for the electronic monitoring of people on pretrial release or probation was also referred to the committee.
Under Senate Bill 9, those who tamper with or disable an electronic monitor could have their bail revoked and would be prohibited from returning to electronic monitoring. If someone being monitored becomes unaccounted for, the measure holds, the monitor’s supervising agency must notify both law enforcement and the victim of the person’s crime within 15 minutes.
Indiana lawmakers have filed a number of bills inspired by the critical race theory debate that has been raging at school boards around the country.
Under the proposals, schools would also be required to create a curriculum review committee, composed of parents, teachers and community members and post all materials, lesson plans and educational activities, aside from tests on a portal that would allow parents to review the material and opt out of certain items. It would also allow for parents and school employees, in certain cases, to sue schools, school districts or state agencies that are found in violation of the law.
SB 167 received a lengthy hearing Jan. 5. Senate Republicans killed it Jan. 14. HB 1134 passed the House Jan. 25.
Material harmful to minors
Senate Bill 17 would remove a protection for K-12 schools and public libraries from the state’s law against distributing “harmful material” to minors.
It passed the Senate on Feb. 1 and heads to the House.
If House Bill 1093 passes, schools would not receive a letter grade from the state for academic performance this year. Traditionally, schools receive an A through F grade based on their students’ scores on state tests and several other metrics. This will be the fourth year that schools have either been held harmless or not received a letter grade.
In the 2018-19 school year, schools received a hold harmless after the state changed standardized exams from the ISTEP to the ILEARN test. The pandemic canceled state testing the following year, in the spring of 2020. The null grade was issued for last year, in recognition of the pandemic’s impact on education over the last two years. With the pandemic continuing to disrupt education, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the Indiana Department of Education requested the legislature allow for another null grade.
HB 1093 passed the House unanimously and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at 317-432-9270. Follow her on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.