Now that the 2021 legislative session has come to a temporary close, it’s time for another edition of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” where we’ll be discussing legislation that passed or died during this year’s legislative session.
Improvements on police reform
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and worldwide protests this past summer, the Senate Democratic Caucus made it our mission to prioritize criminal justice and police reform this session. Working in support of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus’ agenda, members of our caucus offered several proposals with the intent of reforming our criminal justice system. We were extremely pleased to see House Bill (HB) 1006, a top priority for the IBLC, receive overwhelming support, passing the General Assembly with unanimous consent. This bill contained critical changes to policing in our state, including de-escalation training for officers, a procedure to decertify an officer who commits misconduct, the prohibition of chokeholds under specific circumstances and penalties for officers who turn off their body-worn camera. We celebrate these improvements and will be working hard to continue fighting for legislation to address inequality, injustice and systemic racism in our state.
Bill stripping IndyGo funding dies
Throughout the 2021 session, we saw many bills put forth targeting the Indianapolis community. Fortunately, Senate Bill (SB) 141, a bill intended to implode Indianapolis’ public transportation system by making IndyGo meet impossible and unprecedented fundraising goals, died in the House. This bill would have risked $200 million in federal funding and prevented development of the Blue and Purple lines. Many essential workers rely on public transportation and this bill would have been a disservice to all of those who serve Indianapolis. Other efforts to move the language in SB 141 into other bills also, thankfully, failed.
Juvenile justice reform
A priority for State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) this session was juvenile justice reform. SB 368 expunges certain juvenile offenses, prohibits children from being housed with adults in most situations and sets up a procedure to determine juvenile competency. These are important steps in ensuring that children are protected in our juvenile justice system and are offered a second chance. Additionally, this bill complies with the standards set in the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 and keeps Indiana eligible for federal dollars.
“Constitutional Carry” died
Our country continues to face an ongoing epidemic of gun violence, mass shootings plague our country, and Indiana has been faced with our fair share of the violence. While Indiana Senate Democrats filed several bills aimed at promoting gun safety, Indiana Republicans attempted to eliminate handgun permits with HB 1369. Fortunately this bill did not receive a committee hearing. When so many Hoosiers are losing their lives because of gun violence, we shouldn’t be making it easier for dangerous and irresponsible gun owners to commit crimes.
Historic funding for K-12 schools
Indiana will invest a record $1.9 billion in new money into K-12 schools over the next two years. These funds will ensure that schools can continue to educate our children and adequately compensate our teachers, who have been going above and beyond to ensure our children are education they deserve both before and during the pandemic. This monumental investment in our schools was made possible thanks to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which provided Indiana with an additional $2 billion. We are very happy that after years of advocacy, schools will finally receive the money they need to provide our Hoosier educators with the raises they deserve.
Parents with disabilities
State Senator David Niezgodski’s (D-South Bend) SB 259, which contains language he’s introduced for several years, passed unanimously out of the Legislature. This bill recognizes the parental rights of every parent, including those living with disabilities. Every person who can provide a safe and loving home for a child should have equitable access when seeking to foster or adopt a child. Now that this law is in place, our state will ensure parents with disabilities are treated equally.
Unbalanced education funding formula
Despite record investment in our K-12 schools, the budget still has some major pitfalls. Many of which the Indiana Senate Democrats offered to fix when we offered nearly 40 amendments to the state budget, HB 1001. The most glaring issue with the final budget was the expansion of voucher programs at the expense of public schools. In the current budget public schools only receive 83% of new dollars, despite educating 93% of our students. Our state needs to do better in ensuring that public dollars go towards public schools.
No hearing for disposal of coal residuals
Unfortunately, State Senator Karen Tallian’s SB 367 never received a hearing. This bill would have prohibited the disposal of coal ash in landfills or impoundments near areas in contact with groundwater. These are necessary protections for our environment and it is a shame these protections were not implemented.
SB 187 was created to protect monuments from vandalism. However, legislation targets protesters and will impede freedom of speech. Additionally, this bill allows the state government to withhold funds from local governments who, in their opinion, don’t do enough to protect monuments. This bill is another instance of Republicans taking power away from local government and trampling on Hoosiers’ first amendment rights.
Local COVID-19 restrictions
In response to statewide and local emergency orders aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Republican legislators passed SB 5. This bill limits local health departments’ ability to protect public health. Legislative bodies can still put in place public health orders that are more aggressive than the state’s emergency order, this new legislation will allow any business to operate against the best-interest of public health if they oppose the public health order put in place. This will slow down response times and to quote Gary’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Roland Walker, “people will die.”. SB 5 is bad public policy and should never have made it out of Legislature.
Tax amnesty bill dies
Unfortunately, State Senator Eddie Melton’s (D-Gary) SB 275—after passing the House and Senate—did not receive the final approval in conference committee to advance out of the General Assembly. This bill would have helped struggling Hoosiers by creating a tax amnesty program for participating counties, waiving penalties and interest on delinquent taxes. In Lake County, fees and fines on unpaid taxes are higher than the amount of unpaid taxes. The program would have allowed Hoosiers to more easily pay off unpaid taxes without additional fees, while also helping municipalities receive the taxes they are owed. It is disappointing this additional aid to Hoosiers did not pass.
COVID-19 liability protections
SB 1 provides all businesses with liability protections for any negligence that leads to the spread of COVID-19. Nursing homes and health care providers, whose job it is to protect people from disease, are granted broad immunity under the new law. These protections make it difficult to hold nursing homes accountable for malpractice and neglect, especially when it comes to problems that started before the pandemic. Hoosiers with serious concerns of negligence deserve a legal path to pursue justice, and it’s a shame that this bill blocks that.
Wetlands protections stripped
85% of Indiana’s wetlands have already disappeared and SB 389 threatens our state’s remaining wetlands. Indiana was one of the first states in the country to put into law protections for wetlands not protected by the federal government and we did so with bipartisan support. Now, this bill strips protections for Indiana’s remaining wetlands protected only at the state level. Indiana relies on our wetlands to help prevent flooding and keep our drinking water safe. Environmental groups, hunting and fishing groups and local government groups all over Indiana have come out against this bill. As climate change continues to have devastating effects on our planet, we should be protecting our environment, not taking away the limited protections currently in place.
The Governor’s emergency powers
HB 1123 grants more powers to the legislature during times of emergency, including the ability to call themselves into a special session. Before the bill even advanced out of the Legislature, judges in our state raised concerns with the constitutionality of this legislation—concerns shared by our caucus. Governor Holcomb has already filed a lawsuit against this legislation after Republicans in both chambers overrode his veto of the bill. Currently, Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita is trying to prevent the Republican governor from challenging this bill in court.
Abortion reversal pill
HB 1577 puts women’s lives in danger and risks their privacy. Under this bill, women under 18 seeking an abortion would be required to get their parental consent forms notarized. This forces women to reveal private information to a third party who is not bound by HIPAA. Additionally, this bill requires physicians to inform patients seeking an abortion about a supposed “abortion reversal pill”. However, this pill is pseudoscientific and was described by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as “unproven and unethical” and “not supported by science.” This bill’s sole aim is to limit a woman’s right to choose what they do with their body.
No regulations on gerrymandering
Once again the legislative body failed to pass any legislation that requires transparency and equity in our upcoming decennial map drawing process. How Indiana’s districts are drawn will shape legislation for the next ten years, and Hoosiers deserve to be a part of that process. Leaders should accurately represent their districts and the people that live within them, and it’s shameful that efforts to require fairness and accountability during this process have been rejected year after year. Republicans apparently believe that they should choose their voters.