January 7, 2022

Weekly Statehouse update: Vaccine mandate ban, curriculum and classroom transparency

Article origination Indiana Public Media
The Indiana legislative session kicked off this week with bills on handgun licenses, vaccine mandates, and school curriculum.  - Lauren Chapman/IPB News

The Indiana legislative session kicked off this week with bills on handgun licenses, vaccine mandates, and school curriculum.

Lauren Chapman/IPB News

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Lawmakers wasted no time getting to work as the 2022 session of the Indiana General Assembly got underway. 

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

HB 1001: Vaccine mandate ban clears legislative hurdle

House Republicans’ top priority this session is a bill that effectively bans private companies from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. That measure cleared its first hurdle this week, passing a House committee. The committee added in language that allows Hoosiers who are fired because of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate to still collect unemployment benefits.

SB 167: Mixed opposition to bill limiting conversations on race, politics in schools 

A Senate committee took nearly eight hours of testimony this week on a controversial bill that focuses largely on how schools present lessons on topics like race, religion, and politics. It also aims to create greater transparency and oversight for parents on school curriculum. 

READ MORE: Indiana bill to limit conversations on race, politics in schools receives mixed opposition

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As written, it would require that schools create curriculum review committees led by parents, and post learning materials – including lesson plans or syllabi – online. The bill also would require that schools receive parental consent before providing ongoing mental health, psychological or social emotional support for students.

One of the main features of the bill is that it would prohibit eight different concepts focused on sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation – from discrimination based on those traits to students' feelings about their own identity and past actions by people who might share some aspect of it. 

Many are concerned the measure will make teachers’ jobs significantly harder. Others say the bill doesn’t go far enough in imposing penalties.

SB 2: School funding fix for COVID-19

Lawmakers took the first steps to fast-track an education funding fix for schools.

Senate Bill 2 was prompted after school leaders grew concerned they would miss out on funding as quarantines and COVID-19 infections forced many students online as the school year began.

Indiana law says schools get less funding for students who receive instruction online more than 50 percent of the time. A student's status is usually determined between the start of the school year and what's called the ADM count date – which landed on Sept. 17.

It was approved by the committee unanimously. 

HB 1077: Eliminating handgun licenses

And House Republicans are making another go at eliminating Indiana’s requirement to get a license in order to carry a handgun in public. After a party-line vote in committee, that bill is headed for the House floor.

Governor unveils modest 2022 agenda

Gov. Eric Holcomb will push lawmakers to reduce the tax burden on Indiana businesses in the upcoming legislative session. And he’s open to a discussion on other tax cuts – but not eager to do so this year.

Holcomb unveiled his modest 2022 agenda Monday.

Indiana’s business personal property tax is a levy on business equipment. Holcomb’s proposal would essentially eliminate a minimum level that all businesses pay for that tax on new equipment. He said it will help Indiana better compete for companies to move to the state.

Senate Republican priorities

Senate Republican leader Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said his caucus’s agenda this year is focused on “nuts and bolts” measures.

That agenda, released Tuesday, contains three items: an expansion of the state’s automatic taxpayer refund, ensuring schools don’t lose funding because of quarantined students and helping end the public health emergency.

Bray said those measures "need to get done."

House Democrat priorities

Indiana House Democrats want the legislature to spend some of the state’s $4 billion surplus this year to help support struggling Hoosiers.

Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) delivered a speech to the House on the opening day of the 2022 session Tuesday.

Republican leaders are resistant to spending any new money this year, noting that 2022 is a non-budget session.

But GiaQuinta said Hoosiers deserve to have the state invest in them – whether by helping them with medical debt, child care costs or student loans.

House Republican priorities

Indiana House Republicans’ 2022 agenda is led by efforts to cut $1 billion in taxes and curb COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Those are also items that don’t have ringing endorsements from either Senate Republicans or the governor.

The House GOP’s tax reform package is a mix of business, utility and individual tax cuts, eventually costing the state more than $1 billion a year. Senate Republicans and the governor have balked at such a price tag this session, expressing concern for revenue stability and future spending needs

Cannabis legislation

State lawmakers from both parties will again propose legislation to legalize cannabis for medical use. This year the goal is to at least get a public hearing on the topic. A 2018 summer study committee heard hours of testimony on medical use.

A survey conducted by Old National Bank and Ball State University in 2018 found that about 8 in 10 Hoosiers support legalized cannabis in some form.

Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymor) both said at conference in December they would push legislation to legalize cannabis for medical use.

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