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School-focused bill continues to full Senate

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An amended version of House Bill 1193, which came about as a result of a juvenile justice conference in August, passed out of the Senate's Judiciary Committee 6-1 Feb. 10. One major change in the bill approved by the committee was the deletion of the section about training for police officers who deal with juveniles on a regular basis.

"The training is probably the most important thing in this bill," said Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, following the hearing.

Lawson authored the bill after working with conference coordinators, including JauNae Hanger, a former commissioner of the Indiana Commission on Disproportionality in Youth Services and former chair of the Indiana State Bar Association's Children's Rights Committee. The bar sponsored the juvenile justice conference last summer.

The other part of the bill, which would create a working group that will study how training efforts would make a difference and what other efforts could be made, remained intact.

The working group would include school system representatives, parents, law enforcement officers, professors, teachers, social workers, attorneys, and other stakeholders.

Hanger said even without training in the bill, the work group would be a helpful way to gather data and present constructive suggestions for schools and the officers who regularly work in school systems.

At the committee hearing, debate about whether to include mandatory training centered around the fiscal impact, reported to be approximately $40,000. While some committee members discussed whether the money could possibly be found in funds that had not yet been assigned to certain programs, experts testified that the funds have to be used in appropriate ways, which could possibly include training.

The length of time it would take to have officers go through training to work with juveniles - approximately two hours - was also debated because of the already full training schedule.

Lawson, an experienced officer herself, disagreed with some of the comments. She testified that part of an officer's training includes specialized instructions to handle DUIs, traffic accidents, and narcotics, and that adding juvenile interaction into that mix shouldn't cause too much of a problem.

Committee members also expressed concern that schools might not want to be assigned one more responsibility when it comes to how superintendents and principals operate their schools regarding discipline.

Judge Steven Teske of Clayton County, Ga., a national expert on how zero tolerance in schools has affected the juvenile justice system, testified for the bill. He also testified for the House Judiciary Committee Jan. 12, and was a keynote speaker for the August conference. At both hearings, he presented data about his county as it related to zero-tolerance policies and alternatives to out-of-school suspensions for students. His presentation appeared to leave an impression on committee members.

His data showed obvious decreases in misdemeanor arrests after the school system, juvenile court, and police department signed an agreement in 2004 that would allow for alternatives to suspension. Judge Teske said most of the misdemeanor offenses that caused students to miss school prior to the alternatives were relatively small things like mouthing off or fights between students. Felonies, which included bringing guns or drugs to school, also decreased nearly 50 percent in his county as a result of alternative punishments.

Judge Teske's data also addressed disproportionate minority confinement, or DMC, something the federal government considers when doling out money to law enforcement agencies that receive federal funds. DMC occurs when a person who is a minority is significantly more likely to have a harsher penalty for the same offense as a person who is not a minority.

Not sufficiently addressing this could result in fewer funds. But addressing it more than other jurisdictions could ultimately lead to more funds, according to those who testified at the hearing.

The bill could also benefit the state in another way: If passed, Indiana would be the first state to have legislation that addresses the roles of school resource officers, educators, mental health professionals, social workers, and others who regularly interact with elementary school, middle school, and high school students.

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