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Indiana Legislative Update – Sine Die: The Week that was in like a Lamb, and out like a Lion

This week President Joe Biden delivered one of the most consequential speeches of his presidency to more than 32 million Americans who paused their lives to listen to the State of the Union. He touched on many things, such as the national debt, women’s reproductive rights, jobs, prescription drug costs, corporate taxes, crime, covid, childcare, China, and warnings – about a threat to US security from within. Reactions to the speech fell largely along party lines, with stone-faced Republicans at the event still processing the Super Tuesday results confirming that former President Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. At one point Biden said, “My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy. A future based on the core values that have defined America: honesty, decency, dignity and equality. To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair shot. To give hate no safe harbor. Now some other people my age see a different story: an American story of resentment, revenge and retribution. That’s not me.” No doubt, a question voters will decide in November.

Meanwhile back home in Indiana, House members Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) and Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie) and Senators Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) and Greg Walker (R-Columbus) were honored with the Civility in Government Award from the Association of Retired Members of the Indiana General Assembly (ARMIGA),a bipartisan group “joined in fellowship of our common legislative and political experiences as well as our respect for the legislative process.” Legislators who receive these awards are chosen every two years by members of the opposite caucus.

The Civility in Government Award was created in 2015, to recognize legislators who exemplify courtesy and respect toward other legislators and members of the public, consistently exhibit politeness and appreciation for the rights and responsibilities of others, and maintain their composure and a professional demeanor so as to reflect positively on the General Assembly, know for working to find common ground to reach solutions. The award is given every other year with winners chosen by members of the opposite caucus; it symbolizes unity amongst lawmakers and underscores the importance of cooperation in advancing meaningful change for the betterment of all Hoosiers.  

To that end, this year the General Assembly focused on improving Hoosier student reading skills, child-care access, government accountability and protecting Hoosier health. SB1 and SB6 reflect a solemn promise to ensure every Hoosier child learns to read.  Sen Charbonneau’s SB2 reflects a recognition of the vital “infrastructure issue” that expanding daycare and childcare options presents for Hoosiers. And lawmakers tackled the issue of work-based learning in HB1001 and 1243. Lawmakers spent the final day of session hammering out compromises, having saved some of the stickiest issues for last, such as antisemitism on college campuses in HB1002, benefits for state retirees in HB1004, and oversight of FSSA and payments to families of severely disabled children in the state that has garnered national coverage following the revelation of a $1B budget shortfall, a detail some believe the legislature failed to accomplish.  

They say when March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb. We’ve seen both in these first 10 days of March with both spring-like temperatures and late-season snow; sometimes on the same day. The final week of the 2024 legislative session, however, came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion, with lawmakers yelling in Rules committee Friday evening and debate on the House floor calling out the powerful State Budget committee, airing legislative dirty laundry.  

As time passed, even bills that boast unanimous passage, like HB1120, earned bitter complaints from the minority who escorted them on their way to the door, “We are really not doing enough, but I guess a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing,” said Rep Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis). Rep Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) added, “We could have done more. We should have done more, but we didn’t have the will…” The House adjourned sine die (Latin for “without a day [to reconvene]), closing out the 123rd session General Assembly at 8:54 p.m.with Senate complaints trailing deeper into the evening, “This is not the way to do business on the last night.” 

But at the end of the day, goodwill was found despite the lateness of the hour, “Our work here can be exhilarating and it can be infuriating. It can be exhausting, and at its best, when we are at our best, it can be inspiring,” began Sen President Pro Tem Rodrick Bray (R-Martinsville), “I, and I hope all of you, value this work because it is so meaningful. Maybe not every moment of every day and maybe not necessarily every bill, although every bill has meaning and importance to somebody here, I can assure you. But overall, the things that we do when we leave here, we can point to things that are meaningful improvements that will affect Hoosier lives across the State of Indiana. I, for one, am grateful for that. I truly enjoy that about this body. Another thing that I value very deeply is our collaboration and our process, although sometimes that process is a challenge, in particular today we see that. And as we get toward the end of any legislative session, but that’s all right. It is easy to say that the substance of a bill is all that’s important and the substance of the bill obviously is extremely important. I would point out to all of us that the process matters as well. As I have said before, self-governance is extremely difficult and a huge responsibility for all of us. The process that we use is what enables us to take on really challenging issues and make really hard decisions. Easy decisions require almost nothing to do successfully, but the harder the topic – and the more that a topic tears at the fabric of our society, the more important that process becomes. It allows a path for us to debate with civility and with substance, in a way that does not tear us apart. Perhaps on its best day, maybe it brings us together even despite the challenge. Perhaps more importantly, it allows Hoosiers, our constituents, to have confidence in our system even if we disagree with the decisions we make in this building.” And the weary statesman closed with a last look at the clock and a smile, with the announcement of the close of session and Sine Die at 9:34 p.m. 

Despite the flashes of frustration at the Indiana statehouse this week, we were proud. Proud to see our weary representatives represent us well. Proud to see that despite our manifest difference, we still work together. Proud to see government still function in our state. Proud to represent you and be a small part of the process. Proud to be Hoosiers.  

Your updated Bill Track is attached – all of these bills are on their way to the Governor. You can continue to keep an eye on the Governor’s Bill Watch page to see when they reach his desk and begin the 7-day clock for his action. Here are details about those last bills that required a Conference Committee Report to get final language. 

  • Criticized in the final hours by the minority caucus for the “unnecessary expansion of a program” to include siblings of special needs students, Rep Chuck Goodrich’s (R-Noblesville) IHB1001, a Republican priority measure, updates the Career Scholarship Accounts that support high school students pursuing work-based learning opportunities. The bill helps pay for students to pursue internships and apprenticeships, and in the final draft allows students to use up to $625 to pay for driver’s training if the employer provides a match. The measure, cleared the Senate 39-8 along party lines and passed out of the House unanimously, “I have enjoyed the debate with Rep Goodrich,” said Rep Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis). “He’s created a discussion about something that’s very important: what do we do about technical education in Indiana.” Despite transportation being cited as a “major hindrance to kids getting internships,” funds may not be used to purchase vehicles. A new scholarship account in the bill created called the “Training Grant Program and Fund” will now provide training grants to non-college bound students, to be appropriated until next year’s budget as monies from 21st Century Scholars and Frank O’Bannon grants may not be used for work-based training.
  • HB1102 never gained the broad support for the childcare changes it proposed as some Democrats thought the bill might go too far and risk child safety. The final version of the bill increases the maximum number of unrelated children allowed in an unlicensed (but registered) home care setting; increases the time between license renewals for other providers, and provides additional options for school-based childcare settings. The final changes garnered some Democrat support to achieve bipartisan passage, but not unanimous.
  • The final version of SB8 took the bill back to the initial goals of the bill to increase access and affordability to higher education by requiring all IN High Schools to offer the College Core classes (some via online classes hosted by the Commission for Higher Education) to allow HS students to earn credits before college. The bill also expands the opportunity for Ivy Tech & Vincennes U to allow more transfer programs and the “degree in 3” years programs. It also establishes a “careful study of the feasibility and advisability of allowing 4-year campuses to offer Associates Degrees.”
  • In the aftermath of the October 7th attacks in Israel, and a 400% increase in antisemitic incidents in the Hoosier state, Indiana lawmakers waded into the fray with HB1002. Though the Senate had removed mention of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism adopted by over 30 counties, following concerns that the language would “chill free speech” on college campuses, the definition was revived in an abbreviated form, without explicit mention of the examples in the wake of debate and compromise. Sen Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis), a fierce advocate of the bill who revealed “I did not have the greatest of childhoods and when my time of need came as a freshman in high school, a Jewish family became my parents, so I was honored to carry this bill,” said Freeman. “This is a very strong statement that the state of Indiana finds it abhorrent that anyone would ever engage in any type of antisemitic behavior.” 
  • Last year, the US Air force told North Dakota lawmakers the Fufeng Group is a “significant threat to national security” and rejected their proposal to build an “agricultural facility” approximately 12 miles from a U.S. air force base. Sen Jean Leising called on lawmakers to pass HB1183 which stops Fufeng’s pending plans to locate less than 10 miles from a U.S. military base in Indiana and “on top of one of the most critical rail lines in the country.” Bill author, Rep Kendell Culp (R-Rensselaer) said foreign ownership of U.S. land has been growing at 2.2M acres a year since 2015.” The bill limits foreign ownership of Indiana farmland and prohibits individuals or companies from foreign adversaries, identified by the U.S. federal government, from ownership within 10 miles of a military facility. The bill was amended to exclude Americans with dual citizenship to adversarial countries from the bill, but attempts to create carve outs to accommodate Indiana Economic Development projects in the works with “11 Chinese companies, many of them in strategic locations,” were rejected. “Adopting this bill will kill what is potentially a great project, and a number of jobs,” pleaded Sen Rodney Pol (D-Chesterton).
  • The SB4 Conference Committee Report includes language from SB137 and SB297 it establishes a process for the identification and return of unused government funds to the General Fund, “anticipated to save taxpayers $40M.” The “taxpayer-friendly” bill provides that if a proposed rule has implementation and compliance costs of at least $1,000,000, it must be approved by the budget committee before it can be implemented.
  • The final SB15 removed the enhancements to the benefits available to the children of service-level, disabled veterans and goes back to just the requirement for the Dept. of Labor to consult with the Office of Veterans’ Affairs to create a poster that outlines benefits and services available to veterans to be displayed by any employer with at least 50 employees. The goal is to increase awareness of benefits available to veterans.
  • SB148 author Sen Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) says she hopes the bill will “provide good clean data” to help DWD evaluate the effectiveness of programs through requiring employers to provide an employee’s current standardized classification code and starting compensation on an employee’s withholding allowance certificate. The info will go to the state’s management performance hub, and made available to the DWD and Governor’s Workforce Cabinet. The bill passed the House unanimously and was returned to the Senate with amendments.During the conference committee the bill was amended slightly for clarification.
  • HB1243 is House Education Chair Rep Bob Behning’s (R-Indianapolis) Various Education and Workforce-related matters bill. The pieces most applicable to E-REP include requiring DWD to collect real time data on workforce to give better advice to students as they make future career plans; adding computer science and data literacy classes and for computers science to become a requirement for graduation; attempts to create transparency and apply a “little more heat” on the waiver option for schools that fail to spend 62% of state funding toward teacher salaries; increasing transparency in the amount of student fees schools are charging families. Rep. Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) provided the lone dissenting vote on the Conference Committee Report as it passed to the Governor.

“When the Republican administration makes a billion-dollar mistake, the Republican legislature has a choice to make.  They can try to get to the root of it, and hold people accountable, or they can bury the issue,” railed Rep Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis), calling SB256 in its final form a cover up after an amendment calling for fiscal transparency that was unanimously approved in the House was removed in conference committee, “Refusing to even attempt to uncover how this mistake occurred and prevent something of this nature from happening again shows that the wrong choices have been made.”  Following removal of Rep Porter and Sen Yoder as conferee and advisor, the CCR passed 57-39 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate.