Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Friday that he is calling lawmakers back to the Statehouse for a special session that will begin May 14, aimed at completing a handful of Republican priorities that died in March during a chaotic finish to this year’s regular session.
Republican Statehouse leaders said they reached an agreement with the GOP governor to focus on passing a handful of bills during what they anticipate to be a one-day session. That includes measures to bring the state into conformity and compliance with federal tax code changes, make an additional $5 million available for school safety improvements and legislation that would give Ball State University control of Muncie schools.
“I’m calling lawmakers back to take action on the critical issues of school safety and federal tax conformity,” Holcomb said in a statement. “And, with sharp focus, I’m confident they can finish this work in a single day.”
The schools takeover bill, in particular, elicited howls of complaint from Democrats. They argued the GOP-dominated legislature is further meddling in local school affairs without giving time for a takeover plan approved just last year to produce results.
“We are finding out that one of the bills to be considered in a special session brings a return of the heinous state (schools) takeover,” House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin said. "You are talking about the latest step to take the education of our children out of the hands of local school boards and parents and placing it under the control of Big Brother."
In addition to allowing for Muncie schools to be taken over, the bill would further reduce the authority of the Gary school board. Both districts were previously overseen by local officials who mismanaged money. The measure also would provide a framework for dealing with other school districts with financial troubles and make collective bargaining in Muncie optional.
The GOP has commanding super majorities in both chambers — holding 70 of 100 House seats and 41 of 50 Senate seats — but tempers flared in the session’s final week as they struggled to come to agreement. They scrambled to unsuccessfully ram through bills as the clock neared a statutory midnight deadline to adjourn for the year on March 14.
The special session is estimated to cost taxpayers about $30,000 a day.
“We are not thrilled that we’re back. But we're going to do it quickly,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
Bosma and Senate leader David Long, Fort Wayne, are encouraging rank-and-file lawmakers to donate their pay to charity, but will leave it up to individual lawmakers to make that decision.
One major issue Republicans won’t be addressing during the special session: widely reported problems with the state’s child welfare agency.
Advocates say the state’s beleaguered Department of Child Services is underfunded, overworked and struggling to handle a surge of child welfare cases brought on by the opioid epidemic. Holcomb previously said any DCS-related issues that arise from a report to be issued in June by a consultant “will be able to wait until 2019.”
In December, the agency's well-respected former director resigned, penning a blistering resignation letter that accused Holcomb’s administration of service cuts and management changes that “all but ensure children will die.”