Lawmakers look to finish session early
Hoosier lawmakers are planning to end the four-month-long annual meeting of the Indiana General Assembly early this year. The 2017 legislative session will wrap Friday, eight days ahead of the April 29 mandatory adjournment deadline.
Gov. Eric Holcomb signed another heap of bills ‘ 56 to be exact’ ‘ into law last week; however, key legislation such as road funding and the state’s two-year budget was still to be worked out at press time.
Closest to reaching a compromise looks to be House Bill 1001, the state budget, which will take effect July 1, with both chambers approving budgets totaling about $31 billion that spend less than the state is expected to take in and maintain a reserve of about $1.8 billion.
The differences the conference committee will continue to put to bed this week include state police pay, roughly a $300 million increase in education spending, the school funding formula in general and how much money to spend on pre-kindergarten.
Speaking of education, Hoosier lawmakers have yet to figure out how to replace the ISTEP standardized test, with the two big issues being whether Indiana will use a national, off-the-shelf test that will allow comparisons to other states’ performances and whether the state will break away from tying test results to teacher evaluations and raises.
As far as road funding, the debate between the House and Senate over whether all road-related tax revenue should be spent only for roads will determine whether Indiana has about $700 million a year in new money to improve its infrastructure or $1 billion. The Senate remains unconvinced that all gas sales tax should be directed to roads, leaving a $300 million hole in the general fund ‘ the state’s main spending account ‘ which the House planned to fill with a $1 per pack increase in the state tax on cigarettes.
However, last Wednesday, when the Indiana State Budget Agency released its updated revenue forecast, it announced that economic growth in the state is expected to add $201 million more to the state’s forecasted revenue during the next two fiscal years. With news of the additional revenue, the increased cigarette tax won’t be as necessary.
Despite this growth, State Rep. Rim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has said it’s important to remain cautious because there is always uncertainty when it comes to the economy.
‘As the Indiana General Assembly nears the end of the 2017 legislative session, we will reflect on (last Wednesday’s) revenue forecast as we finalize the next two-year state budget and invest in our priorities, including K-12 education and our roads,’ he’s quoted.
On the other hand, both the House and Senate agree that Hoosiers should pay higher fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees and possibly tolls in the future.
Lawmakers also are trying to push through legislation dealing with a portion of Indiana code on liquor licenses before Friday’s deadline, with the main concern being the prohibition of alcohol sales in gas stations after Ricker’s convenience stores in Columbus and Sheridan started using a restaurant liquor license to sell carry-out beer. Owner Jay Ricker found a loophole in the law prohibiting convenience stores from selling cold beer in which restaurants are allowed to make such sales, so he added seating and Tex-Mex food to two of his convenience stores and put cold beer on the menu.
While Holcomb defended the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, House and Senate leaders criticized the ATC for giving Ricker’s its license and pledged to fix the issue.
As reported by the IndyStar, Senate Leader David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said, ‘We’re trying to put a fence around what is existing right now so that we don’t have a carry-out liquor store or convenience store on every block in every town in Indiana right now.’
Lawmakers have proposed a provision that requires those selling carry-out beer to have 60 percent of sales be from in-house alcohol consumption.
The 56 bills signed into law by Holcomb last week include:
Senate Bill 344, which provides that an alien who is illegally or unlawfully present in the United States and knowingly or intentionally possesses a firearm commits unlawful possession of a firearm by an alien, a Level 6 felony.
Senate Bill 13, which repeals the statute prohibiting the use of a firearm as a security to secure loans.
Senate Bill 382, which provides that an individual may request an indication of the individual’s status as a surviving spouse of a veteran on the individual’s driver’s license or state identification card.
‘More than half of the bills I signed (Thursday) earned unanimous support by our state lawmakers,’ Holcomb said. ‘I am proud of the Hoosier spirit of collaboration and civility we’ve seen so far, as well as our combined focus on the most important issues facing our state.’
To view the full list of signed bills, visit www.in.gov/gov/2923.htm.
As of press time, several other bills have already been sent to the governor and await signature, two of which come from Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem. The first requires DNA collection of individuals arrested for a felony, while the second requires parental notification in some cases when a minor seeks an abortion without parental consent, a legal route known as judicial bypass.
Senate Bill 322 requires all individuals arrested for a felony to submit a DNA sample via cheek swab along with fingerprints, photographs and other data during the booking process. Once probable cause has been determined, the DNA profile will be run through the state’s Combined DNA Index System and compared to other profiles in the database.
‘DNA profiling is an accurate, widely used tool that will help law enforcement solve crimes and convict those who are responsible,’ Houchin said. ‘SEA 322 will give law enforcement the tools necessary to bring more criminals to justice for their crimes and bring peace to victims and their families.’
If signed by the governor, Indiana will become the 31st state to allow DNA samples to be collected and used to solve and prevent crimes. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that such legislation is constitutional.
The abortion measure by Houchin, Senate Bill 404, has been heavily amended since its introduction, which originally mandated parents receive legal notice when their child pursues a judicial bypass and provided an opportunity to object in court. House changes stripped that provision and requires a judge to consider notifying parents.
If signed into law, the bill would still require a physician to obtain permission from a parent or guardian before performing an abortion on a pregnant girl younger than 18. However, if the girl wants to keep the pregnancy a secret, she would have to go before a juvenile court judge who could waive parental notification if it was in the girl’s best interest.
Holcomb has not taken a public position on the bill.