This story was published in Capitol Watch, a supplement to Indiana Lawyer daily.
In the first week after the Indiana General Assembly returned, lawmakers addressed several bills during two key committee meetings particularly relevant to the state's legal community.
On Tuesday, the Senate Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters committee met for the first time and discussed four bills:
- SB 26, targeting the child solicitation penalties when someone displays intent to physically meet with a child in person or by a computer; that bill was withdrawn because of its fiscal impact, but Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, plans to reintroduce it this session.
- SB 29, which protects county clerks from being personally liable for acts or omissions occurring while they're doing their duties, as long as negligence or intentional disregard for their responsibilities wasn't in play. The committee passed it 10-0 and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.
- SB 71, which targets the unlawful termination of a pregnancy in cases where someone operates a vehicle while intoxicated and causes the fetus' death. Senators unanimously referred the bill to the Corrections and Criminal Matters subcommittee for further review.
- SB 81, which creates a 20-member Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee that would take effect in July to replace the current Sentencing Policy Study Committee set to expire at the end of 2010. The bill passed 7-3, though Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, didn't attend to vote, and Sens. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, Michael Delph, R-Carmel, and Brent Waltz, R-Indianapolis opposed it. They expressed concerns about how much authority the governor should have in appointing some committee members, such as judges who might sit on the panel.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee met for the first time this session and discussed at length one single piece of legislation: SB 163, a catch-all bill aimed at tweaking state statutes on the child support collection process. Several components include matching state statute with what federal law says on income withholding and participating in family assistance programs.
The bill also addresses medical costs in relation to how child support is calculated, and allows various state agencies or boards to suspend licenses if payments aren't made. Most aspects involve the Indiana Department of Child Services. Of the various provisions, the most controversial aspect of the legislation involves a "gaming interference" provision that would allow the state to seize delinquent child support on certain larger casino wins. The bill would put casinos in charge of checking gamblers with single-game winnings of at least a certain amount - possibly ranging from $1,200 to $1,500 - against a list of parents who are at least $2,000 behind in child-support payments.
Currently, about 165,000 noncustodial parents fit that description and owe more than $2 billion in back child-support payments, according to the state agency handling most of the child support collection task.
DCS Director James Payne told lawmakers that the legislation would be a similar setup to how all banks are currently required to do periodic checks against a database for anyone who owes child support, and how the insurance industry voluntarily participates in a similar check when handling insurance award payouts. Other states, such as Colorado, use this method, and lawmakers questioned whether this would be beneficial to the state or overly burden the gaming industry.
"We recognize this could be a burden on the gaming institutes... but this is important to make sure these kids get the support legally owed to them," Payne said.
The Casino Association of Indiana feels the legislation unfairly targets the state's gaming industry and would cause a 2-minute delay on casino floors while names of winners are checked against an electronic list of people who owe child support. That could mean more than 13,000 work-hours annually, just for the checks. This would result in widespread waits and could cause gamblers who might be impacted by this bill to go outside Indiana to gamble, according to the group's director Mike Smith.
"With our tax burdens, we are paying our fair share to have the privilege of operating in Indiana," he said. "We just ask not to be additionally burdened."
Some lawmakers suggested increasing the amount of winnings that would trigger a database search. Sen. Bray said he wants to get this legislation to the floor for consideration as soon as possible, though it's currently scheduled for more discussion at the Jan. 13 meeting.