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Senate approves child care proposal as House punts on health care merger oversight

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Senate approves child care proposal as House punts on health care merger oversight

Feb 27, 2024 | 6:30 am ET
By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz Whitney Downard
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Senate approves child care proposal as House punts on health care merger oversight
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Indiana lawmakers moved numerous bills Monday at the Statehouse. (Getty Images)

Senate Republicans on Monday pushed the legislature’s latest effort to improve child care access for Hoosier families closer to the finish line. But Democrats say the bill loosens regulations for providers and could put children at risk.

The House, meanwhile, withdrew cost-controlling legislation increasing oversight of health industry mergers and acquisitions. Committees additionally advanced bills limiting land ownership by certain “foreign adversaries” and protecting election workers from threats and injury.

Child care shortage

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said Hoosier families are spending nearly a quarter of their incomes on child care. It should take up no more than 10% to be considered affordable, according to federal guidelines.

Senate approves child care proposal as House punts on health care merger oversight
Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, speaks on the Senate floor during the 2024 session. (Courtesy Indiana Senate Republicans)

House Bill 1102‘s provisions, he said, “are necessary if we’re to begin to address the problem of such a shortfall of seats that we have.”

Under the bill, unlicensed home providers would be able to care for up to seven children — an increase from the previous limit of five children. The limit doesn’t include children related to the provider.

That’s above the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s recommended caregiver-to-child ratios: one adult for four infants under a year old, and one adult for six toddlers between one and three years old.

Other child care centers would see license renewals every three years instead of every two years. Programs operating out of a private or public school would also be exempt from licensure, so long as they comply with health and safety regulations. 

Democrats have opposed the bill, arguing that it focuses on deregulation over investment.

Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, said lawmakers should have boosted pay for child care workers or increased eligibility for child care vouchers instead of relaxing caregiver-to-child ratios. He also advocated for greater security measures at home child care settings, like background checks for other adults in the home.

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“Without proper and reasonable oversight to ensure the safety of children, we can unwillingly be allowing opportunities for child predators, sex abusers (and) violent felons to be in a home with children – without their parents’ knowledge,” Ford said. “Parents deserve to know their children are safe.”

Senators approved the bill on a 40-9 vote, along party lines.

The House must consent to changes made in the Senate to send the legislation to Gov. Eric Holcomb. Otherwise, they’ll negotiate a final draft in a specialized conference committee.

Merger notification bill withdrawn – for now?

Rep. Donna Schaibley pulled back a bill that would have required health care entities making an acquisition valued at $10 million or more report such a purchase with the attorney general’s office, which would conduct an antitrust review. 

The Carmel Republican introduced the bill, which has faced little opposition from lawmakers in the legislative process until now, but later withdrew it from consideration after bipartisan pushback.

More than two dozen other states already require such a report, 13 of which also stipulate that the office must approve the acquisition. Indiana didn’t include the latter — which concerned members of both parties.

Senate approves child care proposal as House punts on health care merger oversight
Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, speaks on the House floor during session. (From Schaibley’s official Flickr)

Schaibley said the bill’s contents came from an interim committee, where national experts testified that Indiana’s consolidated health care market increased prices. When Senate Bill 9 went through the committee process, stakeholders acknowledged that the bill would have been more effective decades ago, before Indiana’s health care monopolies emerged. 

Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, criticized the standalone bill for being “cherry-picked” out of a comprehensive set of recommendations and said it would require private businesses to hand over sensitive information to the attorney general.

“If this had been part of a comprehensive overview, perhaps this could be something we could stomach,” Hatfield said. 

Republican Rep. Peggy Mayfield, of Martinsville, expressed reservations with the bill’s impact.

“I appreciate the years — literally years — of work Rep. Schaibley has been putting into these transparency bills. … I’m not so sure that the way the bill is currently worded actually gets to the point that she’s trying to make,” Mayfield said. “I am cautious about voting for a bill that in my view is vague enough that I don’t know if it addresses the issues.”

When asked whether she thought the bill could move before deadlines later this week, Schaibley said she “hope(s) so.”

The deadline to move the bill out of the House is Monday.

Committee moves land ownership limits over enforcement concerns

Legislation banning citizens and companies from six “foreign adversary” countries from owning or leasing certain plots of land got a mixed reception in a Senate Agriculture Committee on Monday, but passed unanimously. 

“We don’t want some little glitch to hold the bill up because we’ve got a lot bigger fish to fry,” said Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, who chairs the panel. 

She pledged to “try and get that language right.”

Senate approves child care proposal as House punts on health care merger oversight
Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, speaks in the Senate Chamber during session on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

House Bill 1183 bars entities affiliated with China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela from acquiring or leasing agricultural land — and mineral, riparian and water rights.

A substantive amendment taken Monday exempts renewals for leases made before July 1, 2024 from the ban, as long as the acreage doesn’t change. That edit was made to accommodate Syngenta, a Switzerland-based agrichemical company acquired by ChemChina in 2017.

The bill was also amended to prohibit such foreign adversaries from owning or leasing land within 50 miles of a military installation, and 10 miles from an Indiana National Guard armory or maintenance facility.

Residential property was excluded, Leising said, to allow people like foreign university students to rent apartments.

The legislation additionally requires entities buying land to sign affidavits affirming that they’re not banned from making the purchase.

Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office would be tasked with investigating suspect transactions. Land purchased in contravention of the law would be put in receivership and divested.

Rep. Kendell Culp, R-Rensselaer, emphasized that while Canada is by far the largest foreign owner of farmland in the United States, Chinese interests — and the amount of nationwide acreage acquired — are “growing at an alarming rate.”

He feared that control could risk the state’s food security, and the country’s national security.

Senate approves child care proposal as House punts on health care merger oversight
Chistopher Daley (submitted photo)

The legislation would therefore cover much of the state, according to a map distributed to committee members and viewed by the Capital Chronicle.

But some had concerns.

Maggie McShane, of the Indiana Realtors Association, said she supported the changes but still feared real estate professionals would be on the front lines of enforcing the legislation. She said such professionals are barred from even asking a buyer’s nationality, in accordance with nondiscrimination laws.

Chris Daley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said the bill punished people escaping “oppressive regimes” and noted that it takes years to become a U.S. citizen.

“Because this bill is so incredibly broad, you are telling (those people) they are no longer welcome here, except for as employees of someone else,” Daley said. “They cannot participate as owners of businesses if that includes renting or owning the storefront.”

He added that litigation had put enforcement of a similar Florida bill on hold.

Protecting election workers

Members of the House Courts and Criminal Code committee advanced a bill that will provide support to election workers as the number of willing volunteers dwindles. 

“Not only has it become increasingly and exponentially more difficult for Indiana’s clerks to recruit and retain new poll workers, but our current and experienced poll workers are expressing concern for their personal safety and well-being at a time when clerks are preparing for what is likely to be history’s biggest election to date,” said Nicole Browne, Monroe County’s clerk.

Browne also serves as the president of the Association of County Clerks and chairs the Association of Indiana Counties’ legislative committee. 

Senate Bill 170 would make it a Level 6 felony to threaten, injure or interfere with an election worker doing their duties. The bill would take effect immediately, rather than the traditional July 1 start, meaning it would be in place in time for the May primary elections this year.