With the 2019 legislative session in the books, it’s time for the newest edition of  the Senate Democrats’  “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” a look at important bills and proposals that helped or hurt Indiana residents this year.

The Good

Coverage protection for preexisting health conditions

Protecting coverage for preexisting conditions was a key tenet of the Senate Democrats’ 2019 legislative agenda. We are pleased that this coverage protection is included in the state’s budget. In addition, State Senator J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) successfully amended House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1631 to require short term insurance plans to cover preexisting conditions.

Gaming, economic development in Northern Indiana

House Bill 1015, approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives this week, creates a list of changes to Indiana’s gaming laws and allows for a transformational project to take place on Gary’s Buffington Harbor. Every member of the Democratic caucus worked tirelessly to ensure this proposal incorporated the wishes of all stakeholders, while benefiting Hoosiers in communities across the entire state.

Doula service providers

State Senator Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) drafted SEA 415 to provide Medicaid coverage for doula services for low-income pregnant mothers. Though her bill was successfully approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor, the amendment she offered to the budget to provide funding for her proposal was stripped from the budget at the last minute by Senate Republicans. The funding for doulas was only 0.00006 percent of the budget, but Senate Republicans took out the language that would provide funding for these life-saving services nevertheless.

Protecting children from sex offenders

State Senator Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond) authored two bills to protect children from individuals convicted of sexual offenses and child crimes this session. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 258 would ban registered sex offenders from working in child care facilities. His other proposal, SB 501, would require parents convicted of child crimes to be supervised during legal visitation with their children–this language was amended into SEA 323. Both proposals were approved out of the Senate and the House of Representatives and now go to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

State disaster funding

State Senator David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) drafted SEA 513 in an effort to maximize relief to Indiana families in times of natural disasters. This proposal doubles the maximum compensation amount to individuals for property damages from the Disaster Relief Fund from $5,000 to $10,000. The massive floods in recent years left many Indiana families devastated from the destruction that wrecked their homes. This is an important proposal that will help aid Hoosier families when they need it most.

New paramedicine program

State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) authored a bill to supplement the healthcare options for those Hoosiers who rely on emergency services by creating an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) paramedicine program. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 498 will allow paramedics to be reimbursed by Medicaid for primary care they give to patients. The bill also creates grants that could help local towns start their own community paramedicine programs. SEA 498 will help keep Hoosiers from falling through the healthcare cracks.

Loanshark bill SB 613 defeated

SB 613 would have introduced new payday loan products never seen before in Indiana. Indiana has always considered short term loans with rates above 72% to be felony predatory lending. This bill would have allowed interest rates to go from the current limit of 72% to 167%. Luckily, Statehouse Democrats were able to defeat this predatory bill.

The Bad

No medical marijuana

Once again, Sen. Tallian authored SB 357 to create a medical marijuana program in the state. Legalizing medical marijuana was one of the three agenda items for the Senate Democrats. Unfortunately, this bill did not receive a hearing, but Sen. Tallian will continue to fight for alternative treatment options like medical marijuana.

Common-sense gun legislation

Since the start of session, State Senator Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington) has fought to get common-sense gun legislation passed in the Senate. He introduced two gun bills: SB 307 — requiring all gun sales to be conducted through a licensed firearms dealer and requiring background tracks on all individuals purchasing weapons — and SB 309, which would require the safe storage of guns when there is a reasonable expectation that children or dangerous individuals could access it. Both proposals died without ever receiving a committee hearing. Sen. Stoops’ attempts to amend the language from his proposals into other bills were unsuccessful, as they were voted down by the supermajority.

Adoption subsidies

After listening to the pleas of thousands of foster and adoptive families, Sen. Niezgodski filed SB 398 to guarantee adoption subsidy payments for special needs children. This bill was delayed past the hearing deadline by the supermajority, but Sen. Niezgodski was able to get language from his bill inserted into the budget. Incredibly, the supermajority ended up stripping adoption subsidies from their budget altogether, against the wishes of a bipartisan coalition. Sadly, these helpful and necessary adoption subsidies were not signed into law this session.

License reinstatement fee program

State Senator Greg Taylor’s (D-Indianapolis) SB 210 would have created a program to help individuals with a suspended license get their license reinstated for a reduced fee. The reduced cost would have allowed more individuals to be able to afford the fee, resulting in the state actually seeing some of those dollars and less people driving without a licence. Unfortunately, the proposal was never given a committee hearing in the House of Representatives and died.

Redistricting reform

A bill with bipartisan support, SB 105, would have established redistricting standards for congressional and state legislative districts. It also would have required the General Assembly to publicly explain why it deviated from these standards when drawing districts. Even with bipartisan support, this bill was not given a hearing in the House of Representatives. Therefore, no redistricting standards made it into law this session.

The Ugly

Bias Crimes

This session, Governor Holcomb made it a priority to pass bias crimes legislation. With the governor’s support, Senate Democrats were confident that Indiana would finally get a comprehensive bias crimes law on the books. Sen. Taylor worked with the Republican author of SB 12, the bias crimes bill chosen to advance in the Senate, to get a clear, concise proposal containing a list of protected characteristics, passed out of the Senate Committee on Public Policy. Once the bill reached the floor, however, the supermajority removed the list from the bill’s language. Despite protests by the Democratic caucus, Republicans chose to advance the watered down bill. After receiving backlash, however, Republicans took a different route, amending bias crimes language into an unrelated SB 198. Though the language included a list of protected classes, it left out age, sex and gender identity. Democrats fought to get these important characteristics added back into the bill with no success. Governor Holcomb, who promised to pass an inclusive and comprehensive bias crimes bill, mysteriously had a change of heart and decided that a non-inclusive bill that was ageist, sexist and transphobic was sufficient and signed the bill into law once it reached his desk.

Democratic amendments removed from budget

Nearly every item that Senate Democrats have fought for over the past four months to include in the budget was removed in the final days of session. Those efforts included protecting the Lake Michigan shoreline from erosion, providing adoption subsidies for foster parents to keep kids out of foster homes, relief for Hoosiers unable to pay interest fees on property taxes and funding the Mortgage Foreclosure Program requested by Indiana’s Supreme Court to help Hoosiers not lose their homes.

Shifting funding away from public education

The Statehouse Republican budget prioritizes private and voucher schools over public schools. Many schools in urban or poorer communities saw cuts to their complexity funding, and many of those that saw their total dollars increase, still did not receive increases that match the inflation rate. Moreover, funding for private and charter schools saw large increases, sometimes as much as 10 percent.

No teacher pay raises

This year, the General Assembly appeared to be in agreement that raising the salary of Indiana teachers was a priority. Despite that, only Indiana Democrats actually drafted and fought for legislation that would allocate new dollars to accomplish this goal. SB 399, drafted by State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary), was the only legislation drafted that would provide school corporations with a grant that would be used to specifically raise teacher pay. The bill would have granted a 5 percent increase to teacher pay over the biennial, but it died without ever being given a committee hearing. Sen. Melton again attempted to ensure a guaranteed teacher raise, offering an amendment to the budget with the same language from his SB 399 and a fully, comprehensive plan to raise the funds necessary; it was defeated along party lines. Another Senate Democratic amendment to the budget would have placed a tax on cigarettes and mandated that some of the proceeds be used to raise teacher pay. The amendment was also defeated along party lines.

Attempt to legalize the shooting of teachers

In March, Indiana made national news when several news articles reported that teachers were left with bruises and welts after being shot with rubber pellets during school shooting simulations. To address this issue, language was added to SB 1253 that would require teachers to consent to being shot with pellets during training. This came after language, added in committee, banning the practice altogether was removed from the bill. Unfortunately, the new proposal requiring teachers to consent failed to become law after Republican author Representative Jim Lucas stopped it from progressing due to other changes in the bill — changes that would have paid for mandated training for all teachers who planned to carry firearms in schools.

Discrimination in publicly-funded private schools

Sen. Ford filed SB 344, and  offered an amendment to the budget to bar private schools receiving state voucher funds from discriminating against their students, staff and teachers. Both his bill and his amendment were defeated by the Republican supermajority. Sen. Ford fought for this language in response to news that Roncalli High School, which has received over $6.5 million in tax dollars, is terminating the employment of two employees simply because of their same-sex marriages.