April 9, 2021

Weekly Statehouse Update: Elections Measure Scaled Back, Handguns Bill Shot Down

Article origination IPBS-RJC
The Indiana Statehouse. - Lauren Chapman/IPB News

The Indiana Statehouse.

Lauren Chapman/IPB News

A bill prioritizing monument protection heads to the governor. A controversial elections measure dramatically scaled back. And legislation eliminating handgun licenses shot down in the Senate.

Here’s what you might have missed this week at the Statehouse.

Protecting Monuments

Local governments must prioritize protecting monuments, statues, memorials and commemorative property – or risk losing some state funding under legislation awaiting the governor’s signature. State police are also ordered to prioritize investigating anyone who even vandalizes monuments, statues, etc. Opponents of the bill, SB 187, say it values those objects over people. But supporters argue “prioritize” doesn’t mean make it the top priority.

Absentee Ballot Applications

A bill in the House Elections Committee would have put many voters at risk for having their absentee ballot applications rejected. That’s if they didn’t correctly match their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number with whichever of those two numbers (and they may not know which) was in their voter file. Organizations including pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly testified against the bill, SB 353. The committee then largely deleted that provision.

Handgun Permit Likely Dead

Legislation that would eliminate Indiana’s licenses to carry a handgun in public has been shot down by Senate Republicans.

Still, legislative leaders wouldn’t rule out reviving the bill, HB 1369, before lawmakers head home.

Two-Year State Budget 

Indiana Senate Republicans unveiled their $36 billion two-year state budget proposal Thursday – making a number of changes to the House’s K-12 funding plan and focusing heavily on one-time spending.

The Senate version of the proposed K-12 funding plan dials back school choice programs favored by the House and increases funding for students in poverty. 

READ MORE: How Do I Follow Indiana's Legislative Session? Here's Your Guide To Demystify The Process

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It also focuses heavily on one-time spending. Ongoing state tax revenue is still recovering from the pandemic. But state budget reserves are back at full strength – and that’s what Senate Republicans want to use for a variety of programs. That includes paying down state debt and a cost-of-living increase for public retirees (the first time that’s happened in many years).

The proposal would spend more than $800 million in federal dollars on programs ranging from $40 million for police body cameras to $160 million for water and transportation infrastructure and $250 million in broadband expansion.

Abortion

Indiana doctors would be forced to tell patients about so-called “abortion reversal” protocols under legislation approved by the Senate Tuesday.

Anti-abortion advocates have promoted for years that the two-step medication-induced abortions can be reversed if interrupted halfway through. The bill, HB 1577, would require doctors to tell their patients about that claim – which American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists call “unproven and unethical.” 

Ban On Natural Gas Bans

House Bill 1191 would now allow universities to put policies in place to make their buildings greener, but cities still wouldn’t be able to do so. 

The bill as a whole prevents cities from banning natural gas and less energy efficient materials when constructing a new home or a building. Climate activists and some other groups were glad similar language that applied to colleges and universities was cut out of the bill, but many groups are still opposed.

Emergency Powers Bill

Legislation headed to the governor’s desk would allow lawmakers to call themselves into special session during a public emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many lawmakers felt sidelined during the pandemic. They didn’t like some of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive orders – like the statewide mask mandate – and wanted a louder voice in the process.

Holcomb already said he’d veto the bill, HB 1123, because the Indiana Constitution only grants the governor the power to call a special session.

Local Health Official Restrictions

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Indiana Republican lawmakers to change the way local health officials are allowed to do their jobs during a public emergency.

Right now, local health officials can impose restrictions that go further than any state orders, like counties keeping mask-wearing mandates in place after the statewide mandate has ended.

A bill, SB 5, approved by the House Tuesday would ban that. Instead, stricter regulations could only be passed by local elected leaders – county commissioners or city councils.

Health Order Exemptions For Religious Services

Religious organizations would be shielded from many health orders in future public emergencies under legislation approved by the House Tuesday.

Gov. Eric Holcomb barred in-person worship services early in the pandemic. And other religious activities – a church-run day care or food pantry, for instance – were restricted more than other “essential services.”

The bill, SB 263, bars the government from restricting worship services at all during a public emergency. And other religious activities couldn’t be restricted any more than essential services.

Teacher Union Dues

The Indiana House made a final vote of approval Tuesday on legislation directed at the Indiana State Teachers Association. Now, with a stroke of the governor’s pen, SB 251 would become a law critics say is an attempt to weaken the state’s largest teacher union.

The legislation mandates that school districts have to get permission from teachers each year before deducting union dues from their paycheck. During the process, teachers must be reminded in large, bold font of their right not to join the union.

Pregnancy Accommodations

A bill telling pregnant workers they can ask for workplace accommodations without retaliation is one step away from becoming law after it passed a final vote in the General Assembly.

HB 1309 doesn’t require employers to provide accommodations, but says they must respond “within a reasonable time.” Critics say it’s a paper tiger: that’s already the reality for pregnant workers and it only gives lawmakers a self-serving win they don’t deserve.

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