The second half of the 2015 legislative session is underway and lawmakers are now considering bills approved by their house of origin. Of the 589 Senate bills introduced, 220 are headed to the House for further consideration and, out of

669 House bills introduced, 174 advanced to the Senate. Bills must be approved by both chambers before going to the governor for possible signature into law. This brief summary highlights several House bills under consideration by the Senate.

Proposals impacting elections

To reduce political influence in the redistricting process, several bills were introduced this session that would lead the way to establishing an independent redistricting commission. This commission would be a free-standing committee that would draw new legislative and congressional districts following the next U.S. census in 2020. HB 1003 would establish an interim study committee on redistricting to evaluate the benefits and best practices involved with changing the method by which congressional and state legislative districts are determined. The proposal was approved unanimously by the House. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate, but failed to receive a hearing.

Currently, the state constitution mandates that legislative districts shall be drawn by the legislature every 10 years after the U.S. Census collects new population data. This process has come under scrutiny for decades. Meanwhile, other states have created independent commissions in efforts to establish fair and balanced redistricting of congressional and legislative districts. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral argument on a case out of Arizona regarding whether or not independent commissions can draw new congressional district maps. The high court’s opinion on the case is expected in June.

Several bills that could negatively impact election administration and voters in Indiana are advancing. SB 466 contains numerous new election requirements, including one that would affect college students’ right to vote by complicating residency rules. HB 1008 is comprehensive legislation addressing numerous election law matters including a provision that would eliminate straight ticket voting as of July 1, 2015. Opponents contend that these bills further complicate election laws, create confusion, and suppress voters at a time when Indiana holds the record for having the lowest voter turnout (only 30 percent) in the nation in 2014. States ranked at the top, including Maine, Wisconsin, Alaska and Colorado, offer options such as same day registration, no excuse absentee voting, and vote by mail.

State budget bill

The House of Representatives approved a $31.5 billion, two-year state budget proposal that increases funding for some K-12 education and allocates more funding for domestic violence programs, community corrections, tourism and transit. In addition, HB 1001 includes $400 million, on top of existing gas tax revenues and federal funds, to boost road construction. The state’s domestic violence programs see their funding double under this plan to $5 million a year, and rape crisis programs are funded for the first time. A provision to fund 2-1-1 services to help Hoosiers in need of assistance is included. Also, there is $80 million over two years dedicated to community-based programs for low-level offenders. Opponents of this proposal pointed to cuts in school funding for urban and rural districts in favor of more funding for suburban districts, charters and private schools that receive state funds from voucher students. The K-12 school funding formula included in the proposal decreases funding for 139 schools in the first year and 89 schools in the second year. The Senate Appropriations Committee began hearing the bill this week. As HB 1001 moves through the Senate, changes are expected.

COMMITTEE APPOINTMENTS

  • TAX & FISCAL POLICY •EDUCATION & CAREER DEVELOPMENT
  • AGRICULTURE/NATURAL RESOURCES, Ranking Minority Member •HEALTH & PROVIDER SERVICES
  • INSURANCE/FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS, Ranking Minority Member

Gaming matters

HB 1540 provides for a number of changes to state gaming laws. The proposal permits riverboats to move inland to adjacent properties meeting certain requirements. In addition, the bill authorizes live table games at the state’s two horse racing racinos. Contention arose early in the House debate on whether or not admission taxes would revert to the state’s coffers or stay in the communities where casinos operate. Ultimately, that discussion will be taken up by a summer study committee where lawmakers will take a closer look at how gaming revenues affect local communities. Additionally, the bill provides greater access to funding for maintenance of the West Baden Springs Hotel, exempts riverboats from the admissions tax with a call for a five percent wagering tax of their gross earnings, and requires the horse racing racinos to pay a Historic Hotel District Community Support Fee to be allocated to communities, schools, and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. The House approved the proposal 76-19 and it is now eligible for Senate consideration.

Organized labor issues

HB 1019 would repeal the state’s common construction wage provision that sets wages on public construction projects, which has been in place for 80 years. Under current law, local boards set the wages for each state or local project costing more than $350,000. Those five-member boards include members from labor unions and an association of non-union contractors and, in turn, they set the wage that a contractor must pay workers for public works projects. Supporters of the proposal argue that the measure would save local units of government millions in construction costs. However, opponents see this legislation as the most recent attack on organized labor and claim that those wages are driving economic development in local areas. The bill was approved by the House 55-41 and it now moves to the Senate for review.

Labeled a “teacher bill of rights” by supporters, SB 538 changes a number of collective bargaining parameters and diminishes the rights of union representatives and members. The proposal would take authority away from the Department of Education concerning teacher salary oversight and give that power to the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, a board that is appointed by the governor. The Senate approved this measure by a vote of 30-19 and it now will be examined by the House.

Upcoming Senate deadlines and events

February 19       Deadline to file committee reports on Senate bills.

February 25       Deadline for final action on Senate bills, Senate-passed bills advance to the House.

March 2            Senate begins deliberation of House-passed bills.

To learn more about bills moving through the Indiana General Assembly, log on to www.in.gov/legislative. Also from here, you can watch the House and Senate in session as well as committee hearings. Stay informed about legislation scheduled for action with BillWatch. This free online program, at www.BillWatch.in.gov, allows you to track up to 10 bills and receive e-mail notifications only when action is taken.

Senate Democrats offer up-to-date information at www.SenateDemocrats.IN.gov. Multimedia updates on the Senate’s daily activities are provided at The Briefing Room (www.INSenDems.wordpress.com) and Twitter at @INSenDems (www.twitter.com/INSenDems).

Visit my web site at www.in.gov/s1 and subscribe to receive periodic e-mails about action taken on major issues. Check out my Facebook profile at www.facebook.com/senatorfrankmrvan.

Personal contact with constituents has a direct impact on legislation considered by the General Assembly and what ultimately becomes state law. Please contact me to express your concerns regarding pending legislation or if I can be of assistance.