Week in Review at the Indiana General Assembly

INDIANAPOLIS—Mid-session deadlines were met this week as lawmakers worked to complete action on bills moving through their house of origin. More than 1,200 bills were introduced in January, and about 400 of those proposals are moving through the process. Approved Senate bills now cross over to the House for further review and vice versa. Legislation approved by the second house with no amendments advance to the governor for final deliberation. Amended bills must return to the house of origin for consideration of all changes made. This brief summary highlights some of the Senate action taken so far.

Education issues

Efforts by the governor and Republican lawmakers to strip Democrat State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz of her ability to steer education policy in the state are included in two bills,  Senate Bill (SB) 1 and House Bill (HB) 1609. Both bills have similar provisions to remove Ritz as chair of the State Board of Education and allow board appointees to elect the chair. Despite the fact that over 1,000 people gathered at the Statehouse last week in support of Ritz, SB 1 was approved by a vote of 33-17, and HB 1609 passed the House 58-40.

SB 470 allows private schools receiving state funds from voucher payments to be exempt from administering the ISTEP test and instead take another nationally recognized assessment of their choice. With the continued push to remove restrictions on additional voucher enrollments, the voucher program, enacted four years ago, has exploded into the largest in the nation. SB 470 gained Senate approval.

SB 500 gained approval and deals with education deregulation and makes comprehensive revisions to the Indiana Code relating to all aspects of the administration of schools, school corporations and the education of students from pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

SB 130 was approved and requires school corporations and accredited nonpublic elementary schools to include cursive writing and reading in its curriculum.

SB 269 would have required students to pass the U.S. Civics Test before graduating high school. Due to concerns that too much testing is already required, the Senate defeated the bill by a vote of 17-33.

Election matters

Comprehensive legislation that would negatively impact election administration and voters is moving through the process. SB 466 contains numerous new election requirements, including one that would affect college students’ right to vote by complicating residency rules.  SB 201 would eliminate straight ticket voting as of July 1, 2015. Although this bill did not receive a floor vote, similar language is included in HB 1008, which has passed the House. Opponents contended that these bills would further complicate election laws and suppress voters at a time when Indiana has the lowest voter turnout in the nation.

Religious freedom legislation

SB 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, allows additional protections for individuals, businesses and churches that decline services based on religious beliefs. Opponents of the controversial legislation expressed concerns that the bill would offer legal protection to business owners who refuse to provide services for certain individuals, including same-sex couples. The bill was approved by a vote of 40-10.

SB 127 allows faith-based recipients of state funds to hire employees based on religion. The bill would also permit religious organizations to require employees and applicants to conform to religious tenets. Supporters explained that employers of religious organizations should be able to hire their employees based on credentials and beliefs. Opponents expressed concerns that the bill is an overreach and goes beyond what’s stipulated by federal law. The Senate approved SB 127 by a vote of 39-11.

Women’s health issues

SB 334, a proposal prohibiting women from seeking abortions after receiving potentially life-threatening diagnoses passed the Senate largely along party lines. The bill would prevent women from moving forward with an abortion based on gender or disability diagnoses. Opponents noted that this measure would force families dealing with a diagnosis of severely disabled fetuses to make decisions that could put the life of both the fetus and mother at risk. Also, opponents said families facing this difficult decision should be able to make it under consultation with their physician and without government intervention.

SB 329 would establish a right, beginning January 1, 2016, for a pregnant woman who has an abortion to determine the final disposition of the aborted fetus. The bill requires that a pregnant woman be informed orally and in writing before an abortion is performed that the woman has a right to determine the final disposition of the remains, options for disposition, and available counseling services.

Constitutional amendments

SJR 19 would add a balanced budget amendment to the state constitution. Opponents expressed concerns that the constitution already prohibits the state from taking on debt, and taking this action would reduce flexibility and restrict the ability of budget negotiators to make adjustments during economic downturns. SJR 19 was approved by a vote of 47-3. Amendments to the constitution must pass two consecutively-elected general assemblies and then must be approved by voters. This resolution has not been approved by a previous general assembly.

SJR 2 provides that the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife is a valued part of Indiana’s heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good. This proposed amendment has been agreed to by one general assembly.

A resolution stipulating that the General Assembly may not pass a law that unreasonably abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ or refuse to employ effective agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices, failed to pass the Senate by a vote of 22-28. Opponents argued that passage of SJR 12 would result in unintended consequences, including excessive protections to industrial farming operations, such as large scale concentrated animal production.

Senate calendar

March 2            Senate begins deliberation on House-passed bills. April 16                        Conference committee process begins.

April 29             General Assembly must conclude business by midnight.

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. Stayinformed about legislation scheduled for action with Bill Watch. 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 on these bills.

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

Personal contact with constituents has a direct impact on legislation considered and what ultimately becomes law. Use the following contact information to express your comments and concerns regarding pending legislation:

Mailing address:           Statehouse, 200 W. Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Telephone:                   Call direct: 317-232-9847 or call toll-free: 800-382-9467, ext. 2-9847

Email address:             s1@iga.in.gov


NOTE: A photo of Sen. Frank Mrvan can be downloaded at:  https://www.indianasenatedemocrats.org/wp- content/uploads/2014/11/Mrvan.jpg

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