Indiana lawmakers send final bills to Holcomb’s desk

March 15, 2018

Indiana’s legislative session descended into chaos in its final minutes as Republicans who dominate the Statehouse struggled to pass bills ahead of the midnight deadline Wednesday.

That killed a number of key bills in a session that was more notable for big ideas deferred and bills that lawmakers pulled the plug on than for big-ticket legislation.

Still, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed some noteworthy legislation into law. And lawmakers sent several bills to his desk before they adjourned for the year to focus on campaigning in November’s elections.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that were considered this session:

Workeforce Development: Improving the state’s job training and workforce development programs was supposed to be a major issue this session. Holcomb even said it was his primary focus. Instead, lawmakers downsized their ambitions. They approved legislation that will reorganize the board that oversees those programs and broadened eligibility requirements for some worker training grants. Democrats likened it to rearranging patio furniture.

Cannabis oil: A bill that allows for the widespread sale of a cannabis-derived oil was approved and sent to Holcomb. Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is believed to have therapeutic benefits, and it lacks the compound in marijuana that will get you high. Last year lawmakers passed a law allowing people with some types of epilepsy to use it, but confusion over the law led to a state crackdown.

Abortions: A measure requiring medical providers who treat women for complications arising from abortions to report detailed patient information to the state was sent to Holcomb. Though the bill is not as expansive as Indiana abortion laws passed in recent years — some of which have been successfully challenged in court — the governor has not indicated if he will sign it.

Alcohol: Call it the biggest achievement of this year's legislative session if you want. Holcomb signed a bill last month allowing people to buy carryout alcohol on Sundays at liquor stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and big box retailers across the state. It overturns a prohibition on the retail sale of alcohol that has existed in Indiana since statehood.

Guns: Several weeks ago Republicans in both chambers appeared to be reaching a consensus on legislation that would eliminate handgun license fees. But that changed in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left 17 dead. House Republicans pushed proposals to allow guns at churches located on school grounds and eliminate fees. But Senate Republicans refused to go along with that and the bill died on the session’s final day.

School safety: Lawmakers failed to deliver on Holcomb’s request for $5 million for school safety improvements, which the Republican requested after the Parkland school shooting. Another $1 million would have gone to the Department of Education to audit every Indiana school’s safety plan this year. The Senate approved the measure on a 40-5 vote, but the House did not get to it before the session ended.

School funding: A stopgap bill that will cover an unexpected shortage in public school funding is on its way to Holcomb's desk. The measure, a priority for Republicans, will provide up to $25 million this year and $75 million next year to make up the funding shortfall. Republican leaders say they did not plan on a surge in public school enrollments, which prompted the shortfall.

School takeover: An effort to allow Ball State University to take over Muncie schools and further reduce the Gary school board died in the session’s final minutes when the Republican majorities ran out of time. Both districts were previously overseen by local officials who mismanaged money. The measure would also have provided a framework for dealing with other school districts with financial troubles.

Sex education: A measure allowing parents to review sex education curriculum in public schools and have their children “opt out” of such classes is heading Holcomb’s way. It will require schools to make two attempts to notify parents about planned sex education instruction. Conservative groups would have preferred an earlier version of the bill that would have required parents to “opt in.”

DACA: Emergency legislation approved by the Legislature could lift a prohibition on immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children — often referred to as “Dreamers” — from obtaining state professional licenses. The governor has said he supports the bill. The issue cropped up unexpectedly this session after the state’s public licensing agency changed its interpretation of a state law and started withholding licenses. Under the bill, participants in former President Barack Obama’s program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, would be able to get licensed for dozens of professions including cosmetology, nursing and real estate.

Hate crimes: Indiana remains one of only five states without a hate crimes law after a bill died in the Senate without a vote in January. The measure would have allowed judges to stiffen sentences for those convicted of so-called crimes of bias, notably against transgender people. Influential social conservatives opposed the measure because they felt it would give special recognition under the law to a particular class of people.

Payday lending: A measure that would have legalized payday lending at rates of up to 222 percent was killed amid opposition from veterans and faith groups, including House Speaker Brian Bosma’s own church. The bill was approved by a close margin in the House, but died in the Senate.


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