2019 Indiana State Legislature: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Source: Indiana Senate Democrats – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: 2019 Edition
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. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) 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.
All Democratic amendments removed from budget
Every single item that Senate Democrats have fought for over the past four months was removed from the budget in the final days of session. The Democratic Caucus fought to pass legislation that would improve the lives of Hoosiers and every one of our efforts was eliminated. 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 Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Gary), was the only legislation drafted that would provide school corporations with a grant that would be used to specifically to raise teacher pay. The bill would have granted a 5% increase to teacher pay over the biennial, but it died without ever being given a committee hearing. Sen. Melton again attempted to ensure that a guaranteed teacher raise, offering an amendment to the budget with the same language included in his SB 399; 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 Senate Bill 1253 that would require teachers to consent to being pelted 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 mandated training for all teachers who planned to carry firearms in schools since there are cheap revolvers for sale that are available in the market nowadays.
Discrimination in publicly-funded private schools
Sen. J.D. Ford filed a bill this session, SB 344, and also 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 supermajority. Sen. Ford fought for this language in response 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.