Business is underway for the 120th Indiana General Assembly. Lawmakers are in the midst of reviewing over 1200 introduced proposals that address a host of complex issues facing the state. Committee hearings are now dominating legislative schedules. Bills are first assigned to committees, and upon approval the initiatives will advance to the full body of their respective chamber for further consideration. This session legislators are focused on several priorities that include establishing a new two-year state budget and determining a long-term funding plan to support the state’s road and infrastructure needs. By law, the legislature must conclude business by April 29. This brief summary highlights some of the recent legislative activities.

State of the State Address

On Tuesday evening, Indiana’s newly-inaugurated governor, Eric Holcomb, delivered his first State of the State address to lawmakers and Hoosiers. Governor Holcomb outlined many of the same priorities he mentioned in his inaugural speech: job creation, road funding, workforce development, the state’s opioid addiction epidemic and government efficiency. Senate Democrats criticized the continuation of an eight-year rollout of tax breaks for corporations and financial institutions while expecting working Hoosiers to pay more for road maintenance through a gas tax increase and higher vehicle registration fees as currently proposed by the House.

Senate Democrat priorities

Senate Democrats recently announced their legislative goals. A few of these include the following:

In support of working families:

  • Increasing the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.62 to ensure all Hoosiers are able to attain self-sufficiency

Roads and infrastructure:

  • Focusing on a long-term, sustainable plan to address the state’s roads and infrastructure needs. As an alternative to generating revenues from increases in gas taxes and registration fees as proposed by the House, Senate Democrats suggest placing a moratorium on numerous tax breaks provided to corporations and financial institutions.

Education

  • Expanding the current five county Pre-Kindergarten pilot program to additional counties to better serve all Hoosiers. Indiana is one of only 10 states that does not invest in fully-funded Pre-K, an investment that has a four dollar return for every public dollar invested.

Addressing drug abuse and addiction:

  • Enabling counties to enact needle exchange programs to combat the state’s heroin epidemic is a good first step, but we must ensure that necessary wrap-around services are available. Legislation to allow the Mental Health and Addiction Forensic Treatment Services Grant to be used for juvenile patients, to create an appropriation to fund the Behavioral Health Professionals Loan Forgiveness Program, to expand HIP 2.0 coverage for telemedicine service, and to use a per diem rate instead of a capped rate for coverage of inpatient detox services are included in these priorities. 

Civil rights protections and hate crimes:

  • In Indiana, most protections for the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community exist in a handful of cities with local ordinances. Senate Democrats are seeking to establish statewide protections for the LGBT community in Indiana’s Civil Rights statutes.
  • To combat the increasing rate of hate crimes in the state, legislation to enhance criminal penalties for crimes motivated by bias is being proposed. Indiana is one of only five states that does not have a bias crimes law. 

Redistricting and election reform:

  • Currently, state lawmakers are charged with drawing legislative districts. Senate Democrats are proposing legislation that will put that duty in the hands of an independent commission to preserve the integrity of legislative elections and ensure fairness and competitiveness.
  • Improve voter access by extending polling hours, allowing for more satellite voting locations and same-day voter registration as well as no-excuse absentee voting.

Use of hemp oil in treatment of epilepsy

Several bills have been introduced this session pertaining to the legalized use of hemp oil. The Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law this week heard Senate Bill (SB) 15, which would establish a hemp oil registry for certain physicians, individuals, and caregivers for the use of hemp oil in the treatment of a child with intractable epilepsy. Several provisions of the bill include civil, criminal, and administrative immunity for physicians, and exempt caregivers and individuals from criminal penalties for possession or use of hemp oil. Emotional testimony provided by parents of children who summer from epileptic seizures related that their children suffer from fewer seizures with the use of hemp oil, and that their quality of life is greatly enhanced. Several experts from other states also testified about the positive results of hemp oil in the treatment of epilepsy and other diseases. SB 15 was held for further study.

Session survey deadline

January 31 is the deadline to complete my legislative survey. If you haven’t already done so, you can enter your opinions on several important issues before the General Assembly by going online to:  www.indianasenatedemocrats.org/S1. Your responses and comments will help guide me as we discuss and cast votes on matters of importance to you, your family, our community and state.  

Upcoming Senate deadlines

January 19 – Deadline to assign Senate bills to committee

February 23 – Committee deadline for hearing Senate bills

February 28 – Deadline for Senate bills to be heard by the Senate

March 1 – Senate begins review of House bills

To learn more about bills moving through the General Assembly, log on to www.in.gov/legislative. Also from here, you can watch the House and Senate in session and committee hearings.