Sunday, February 11, 2018 1:00 am
Lawmakers have a shot at second half comeback
The halfway point in the General Assembly's current session finds lawmakers on pace to accomplish – well, not much.
In the first five weeks:
• A half-hearted but worthwhile measure to consolidate the state's smallest townships died without a vote in the House.
• A bill that would have extended protections to student journalists was killed. With a 47-45 vote, it had the support of a simple majority of House members but fell short of the 51-vote constitutional majority required.
• Senate Bill 65, requiring parents to “opt in” to approve a student's participation in a course on sex education, advanced on a 37-12 vote after Eric Miller's Advance America organization rallied its followers with a video message suggesting Indiana kindergartners are exposed to lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity.
• Indiana's status as one of five states without a hate crimes law was preserved after a measure authored by Republican Sue Glick of LaGrange died in committee without a vote. Fearing backlash similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle in 2015, Gov. Eric Holcomb reportedly told legislative leaders to pass a bill that included protection for gender identity – or nothing at all.
• Lawmakers declined to allow undocumented Indiana students to pay in-state tuition at Indiana's public colleges and universities, making the state one of only three not to allow some of its college-bound residents an opportunity to earn an affordable degree at home.
• An effort to amend 2017 legislation discouraging the development of solar energy died. The fix would have made it easier for schools and churches to finance solar installation projects and, in turn, create savings for taxpayers and congregations.
It wasn't all bad. Lawmakers also:
• Passed a redistricting reform bill that sets up minimum standards for drawing legislative and congressional electoral districts. It still leaves legislators in charge of selecting their own voters, but it's a start.
• Addressed a miscalculation in the school funding formula. Senate and House versions of the funding fix will have to be reconciled in the second half of the session to account for an additional 6,000 students enrolled in public schools.
• Advanced legislation to legalize the sale of cannabidiol. Lawmakers thought they had done so last year, but Attorney General Curtis Hill objected, arguing the bill authorized the use of CBD oil or tablets but not their sale.
• Approved bills lifting the Prohibition-era ban on Sunday alcohol sales. Because the House and Senate versions of the legislation are identical, it's likely – but not a slam dunk – that Hoosiers will be able to buy alcohol at a retail location on Sunday, July 1, when the new law would go into effect.
• Pulled a provision that would have allowed public schools to hire unlicensed teachers.
It's an underwhelming agenda so far, marked mostly by fixes, long-overdue legislation, missed opportunities for real redistricting reform and more. Hope springs eternal, so let's hope lawmakers push for a more productive finish by March 14.