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Bills, bills, bills. What could still pass — and what might die — in Indiana’s 2024 session

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Bills, bills, bills. What could still pass — and what might die — in Indiana’s 2024 session

Feb 23, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Casey Smith Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
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Bills, bills, bills. What could still pass — and what might die — in Indiana’s 2024 session
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Checking in on key bills as the latest legislative week winds down. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Another round of deadlines looms over numerous bills still in limbo at the Indiana Statehouse.

Among the measures awaiting further action are those dealing with property taxes, 13th checks, foreign ownership of agricultural land, limits to the governor’s executive powers and expanded firearm carry rights in the state capitol complex.

The House has until Tuesday, Feb. 27 to vote bills out of committee and until March 4 to approve Senate bills by the full chamber. 

Senators must clear bills from committees by Thursday, Feb. 29 and send them back to the House by March 5.

A handful of bills have already been approved and sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk. So far, the governor has signed into law only one, which rolled back state wetlands protections.

On Thursday, the House sent another one his way, voting 53-34 vote to approve a measure that blocks cities and towns from banning the retail sale of dogs and adds breeder inspections and guidelines. 

House lawmakers could abandon some bills

Hearings are scheduled next week for several Senate bills still in the House. That includes a GOP priority proposal, Senate Bill 2, to relax some staffing requirements for child care workers in the hopes of growing the workforce.

Although assigned to House Ways and Means, it’s not yet clear whether the committee will hear bills on “magic mushrooms” research, tax exemptions for child care providers and stricter oversight of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC).

A separate proposal to empower certain Hoosier elected officials and their office employees to carry handguns inside the Indiana Statehouse and neighboring Government Center is in trouble. The House Public Policy Committee is set to meet Tuesday morning, but Senate Bill 14 has not been placed on the agenda. The measure advanced from the Senate last month in a 40-9 vote, largely along party lines.

A bill to limit the governor’s emergency powers also awaits a hearing in the House Public Health Committee. Senate Bill 234 would limit a Hoosier governor’s ability to extend a state of disaster emergency after 30 days. A longer disaster declaration would require approval from the General Assembly. 

Rep. Brad Barrett, R-Richmond, who chairs the health committee, did not reply to the Capital Chronicle’s request for comment about the bill on Thursday. 

Meanwhile, House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said a Senate bill putting school boards “in the driver’s seat” on “human sexuality” instruction would not get a hearing, effectively killing the bill.

“I just don’t have time,” Behning told the Capital Chronicle. He further emphasized that school boards are “already required to adopt curriculum.” 

Behning said, too, the General Assembly has in previous years “empowered parents in a very significant way of controlling the content of the curriculum itself.”

“I think there are a lot of protections in place, and we don’t really need that,” he said of Senate Bill 128. Language from the proposal could still be amended in elsewhere, though.

Also still to advance from the House chamber is a contentious higher education bill that seeks to push speech in college classrooms toward “intellectual diversity.” Senate Bill 202 was voted out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday along party lines despite mounting pushback from Democrats and college faculty.

Huston said Thursday he’s had “lots of conversations with universities” about the bill and “has heard a lot of positive feedback from people.” He pointed to several changes made to the bill on Wednesday that make the proposal “significantly better.”

“This bill will find the right spot,” the House speaker said. “I’m sure we’ll have lots of discussions about this coming week.”

“There’s an ideological imbalance … we’re just thinking of balance, and talking to folks in higher ed, they want to strike that balance, too,” Huston added. “This is what this language gets towards. It’s not trying to make an overcorrection or anything like that. It’s a very measured approach, making sure universities are taking that measured approach.”

Another widely-debated measure, Senate Bill 1, is also on deck in the House chamber. The priority legislation seeks to remedy Indiana’s literacy “crisis” by changing requirements for the statewide IREAD test and toughening the state’s third grade retention policy. 

An amendment offered in House Ways and Means on Wednesday would have removed mandatory retention from the bill. Several Republicans and Democrats spoke in favor of it before the chair withdrew the amendment. It will be offered on second reading as early as Monday.

Senators have more time to push bills

Across the hall, there’s less of a rush – for now – with a few more days before deadlines.

A House Republican priority bill on antisemitism is still on track to meet those cutoffs, after edits Senate leaders said made it more palatable; that chamber killed a similar bill last year.

Indiana law already bans discrimination on the basis of race and “creed,” which means religion. House Bill 1002 specifies that antisemitism — bias against Jewish people — is religious discrimination and is not allowed within the public education system.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray denounced antisemitism in comments to reporters Thursday, but said there were also “some concerns” about the bill as originally drafted. A Senate committee on Wednesday removed language referring to an external organization’s “working definition” of antisemitism, which included contemporary examples of bias.

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“What if that (working definition) changed? Is there confusion about whether then has our definition changed in code?” Bray added.

He was “hopeful” the amended bill would survive the legislative process — which would require House consent to the changes. Bray said the “conversation was ongoing” with the House.

Two different approaches to pension bonuses for public retirees could also see movement.

The House has heard Senate Bill 275, a long-term plan giving guaranteed 13th checks or cost-of-living adjustments to retirees, but still needs to complete a financial vetting. The Senate, meanwhile, hasn’t heard House Bill 1004, a priority bill giving retirees an ad hoc 13th check. An identical bill died last year without a Senate hearing.

But Bray said he expected to see the latter on a committee agenda next week. He also said he was hopeful the House would move his chamber’s take on the topic.

For his part, Huston told reporters his caucus wouldn’t green-light changes to benefit bonuses without “delivering an immediate return” for retirees.

Capital Chronicle reporter Whitney Downard contributed reporting.