As we approach the end of the first month of the 2019 session, more and more bills are being brought in front of the Senate. Several bills heard avid debates during committee meetings and on the Senate floor this week. Here’s your week in review:

Voluntary family leave insurance program

On Wednesday, State Senator Karen Tallian’s (D-Ogden Dunes) proposal on family leave, Senate Bill (SB) 496, was heard in the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee. Sen. Tallian’s proposal would address a growing call in the state for support of working families; her bill would create a voluntary, paid family leave program that families could rely upon to care for sick family members or newborn children. “This is a chance for Indiana to join five other states, as well as the District of Columbia, and become a leader in providing support for working families,” Sen. Tallian said. “It’s time we fight for our workers and stop letting our fellow Hoosiers fall through the cracks.” SB 496 was tabled in committee until next week, awaiting amendments to better define the program’s parameters.

Civics test as graduation requirement

Last Thursday, Senate Republicans voted to pass SB 132. It would require high school students to pass an exam identical to the Civics Test administered to individuals seeking citizenship in the United States, in order to graduate. Though the bill is touted as a way to ensure that students understand their government, it would do nothing beyond adding to the long list of exams that students must already pass to graduate. A decline in graduation rates is also at risk, since students would not be eligible to graduate if they failed the exam. State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) adamantly opposed the bill and cited its unnecessity, as high school students are already required to take and pass civics classes to graduate. Despite his expressed concerns about the proposal, it was approved with a vote of 31-17.

Waiver of interest and penalties

On Monday, the Senate voted unanimously to approve State Senator Eddie Melton’s (D-Gary) SB 523 which would allow counties to establish a property tax amnesty program. This program would give taxpayers the opportunity to pay back late taxes without the added burden of high interest rates and penalty fees. “The amnesty program would give Hoosier taxpayers a small break to help them get back on track and in good standing with their property taxes,” Sen. Melton said. “This would be life changing for many people in our state.” SB 523 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Employment of minors

A week ago, the Senate Democrats were horrified at testimony surrounding SB 342, State Senator Chip Perfect’s proposal to eliminate the state’s child labor laws. The bill has gained wide media coverage for its seemingly unethical conflict of interest with Sen. Perfect’s own business, which utilizes teen workers. In the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee, Sen. Tallian, along with other Senate Democrats, fought ardently against the bill and were able to put Sen. Perfect on the defensive. Sen. Perfect has agreed to only create a study committee about the issue, which would, for the time being, ensure that he does not reap any personal gain from his own legislation. “I am proud that the Senate Democrats saw this proposal for what it is and fought passionately against it,” Sen. Tallian said. “Our opposition has guaranteed that, for now, Indiana’s necessary child labor laws remain intact.”

Consent to pregnancy services of a minor

Members of the Senate had a contentious debate on the Senate floor Tuesday over a proposal that would allow a pregnant female, 16 years or older, to receive medical treatment without written or verbal consent of a parent or guardian. Oftentimes, young women entering a hospital to give birth are denied treatment until they are in an emergency state putting both their life and the life of their baby in jeopardy because their parents are unavailable to provide consent or are otherwise absent from the life of their child. Indiana’s infant mortality rate is the 7th worst in the nation and SB 352, co-authored by State Senator Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis), is an attempt to lower this abysmal rate and protect Hoosier women and their children. The proposal failed 24-25 but without a majority “no” vote (26 or more), the language wasn’t decisively defeated. SB 352 will be up in front of the Senate once more in the coming days.

Prekindergarten pilot program eligibility

On Thursday, the Senate moved SB 338, authored by Sen. Melton, to the next step in the legislative process. SB 338 would remove a federal requirement that mandates that guardians of children wishing to enroll in our state’s prekindergarten pilot program must be employed. This requirement bars guardians who are disabled or grandparents who care for their grandchildren and are retired from allowing their children to receive a vital early education. SB 338 awaits a final vote in the Senate before moving to the House of Representatives.

Tax increment financing

On Tuesday, a proposal authored by Sen. Melton was approved with a vote of 35-13 in the Senate and now moves to the House for further consideration. SB 83 would allow a redevelopment commission to use up to 15 percent of property taxes to repair public ways, sewers, central water and sewer systems, roads, sidewalks and levees. This bill will have a great impact on the further development and upkeep of Indiana’s public spaces.

Public Defenders

On Monday, Sen. Taylor’s SB 488 was unanimously approved in the Senate and referred to the House of Representatives to be deliberated further. The proposal would permit the Indiana Public Defender Commission to establish guidelines and requirements for the creation of a multi-county public defender’s office. This would be beneficial to smaller counties that don’t have the resources to maintain their own offices. The proposal would also create a joint board for the new multi-county offices and would place restrictions on the individuals allowed to serve on the board.