‘Historic’ Police Reform, Holcomb Unveils Funds Proposal

The committee is deleting a “historic” law on police reform. The Holcomb administration unveils the governor’s proposal for the state budget. A guarantee for education funding is moving in both chambers.

Here’s what you might have missed at the statehouse this week.

Police reform

A House committee unanimously passed legislation this week that carries out multiple police reforms – backed by law enforcement agencies and groups that include the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, the NAACP and the Indiana Black Expo.

Changes include: banning chokeholds unless lethal violence is warranted, de-escalation training required, and making it easier to de-certify police officers who commit misconduct (which essentially prevents them from remaining employed).

Holcomb’s proposed budget

Governor Eric Holcomb’s proposed budget would spend $ 1.13 billion over the next two years to largely pay off the national debt – and almost none of that would be a direct relief to Hoosiers struggling during the pandemic.

Holcomb’s proposed state budget increases K-12 funding by $ 377 million over the next two years – that’s an increase from current spending of 2 percent in the first year and another 1 percent in the second year.

Legislative leaders on the Holcomb budget

Indiana Republican lawmakers are not fully convinced of Governor Eric Holcomb’s proposal to spend nearly three quarters of a billion dollars on national debt this year instead of directly exonerating Hoosiers struggling during the pandemic.

Holcomb’s proposal this year would spend $ 702 million from budget reserves to pay debts on capital projects, highways construction, and a teacher pension fund. That will free up money going forward, which has long been a priority for Republicans.

House Republicans will shortly propose spending $ 180 million this year on small business support and summer learning programs.

READ MORE: How Do I Watch Indiana’s Legislative Session? Here is your guide to demystifying the process

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Virtual school finance

And legislation in both chambers would ensure that K-12 schools receive 100 percent of the state funding they expected this year – regardless of whether students were studying in person or virtually.

Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 1003 are nearly identical – both aim to bypass a law passed in 2019 that restricts funding for virtual students.

Jeff Raatz (R-Centerville), chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development, says the workaround only affects money that was earmarked for inpatient schools as early as the 2019 legislature.

“There was no new funding at all, we just are – we had to change the definition so the schools would stay whole and the money was already available,” he said.

Emergency orders

Legislators are debating whether the General Assembly should be given more opportunities to repeal a governor’s public emergency ordinance.

The legislation, which was unveiled in a House Committee on Tuesday, is a direct response to some lawmakers’ frustration with Governor Eric Holcomb during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under current law, the governor can declare a public emergency – such as the pandemic health emergency – for 30 days. There is no limit to how often it can be renewed. Holcomb has done it ten times since March.

Rep. Matt Lehman’s bill (R-Bern) would change that. As part of his measure, Lehman said an emergency order could initially only be renewed after 30 days, when the legislature meets or the governor convenes a special session.

“If this is a good order and needs to be extended, the General Assembly is not forced to act,” said Lehman.

Vaccine deactivation prescribed by the employer

A bill giving Hoosier workers the right to refuse employer-prescribed vaccines was passed in a committee Wednesday morning. It would go further than current federal law and excuse workers based on their conscience.

Currently, federal laws allow employers to have mandatory vaccination guidelines, but workers can opt out if they have a medical disability or are genuinely religious. However, if an employer determines that this poses a threat to others, they can “lock” that employee from the job.

Senator Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), author of the bill, said it went a step further and exempted employees from vaccination based on personal choice.

“The word” conscience “is the essence of the bill,” said Sen. Kruse. “That is the additional part that is not in the existing law.”

Enforcement of the statehouse mask

A Legislative Committee hearing this week was suspended when dozens of people who showed up to testify refused to wear masks – which are required in the statehouse.

Many wore face masks to enter the building, but removed them while waiting to endorse a bill that offered personal choice as a valid reason for refusing mandatory workplace vaccinations. Their behavior directly violated published statehouse security logs, but witnesses say there was no enforcement.

Dr. Amy Beth Kressel was ready to testify against the vaccination law for Eskenazi Health, but said she left before the testimony so as not to wait in a maskless crowd.

People were not allowed to wear masks and basically drive out opposing people, ”said Kressel. “It’s really worrying and I really think it’s a problem.”

House spokesman Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said lawmakers working with government officials have not decided how to enforce the requirement to wear masks.

“Every day I deal with a problem that we didn’t think of, or that we didn’t think of, or that just came about,” said Huston. “So our teams will solve these problems.”

Republican lawmakers decided at the beginning of the session not to require lawmakers to wear masks.

Prohibition of local gas stoves, device bans

A state house bill aims to prevent Indiana cities from banning gas stoves and other natural gas appliances in new homes and businesses. Cities in states like California, Ohio, and Massachusetts have enacted such ordinances due to climatic concerns.

Although natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal, its production can release methane – an even more powerful greenhouse gas. With utilities across the country relying more on renewable energy, electrifying homes and businesses could reduce this pollution.

Jesse Kharbanda is the executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. He said Indiana had a legacy of preferring local control, but in recent years lawmakers have continued to propose bills that would remove control from cities.

“The Hoosier lawmakers are constantly protesting that Washington DC shouldn’t make decisions about what’s going on here in Indiana. It seems really hypocritical to us, “said Kharbanda.

Subtle changes for pesticide abuse

A Senate bill aims to crack down on farmers and others who deliberately abuse pesticides like dicamba while putting people on hiatus with minor pesticide violations. The law was passed unanimously in a Senate committee on Monday.

The legislation drafted by Senator Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) was drawn up in collaboration with various industries after efforts to increase fines for pesticides failed last year. The Environmental Protection Agency defines a pesticide as anything used to prevent, destroy, deter, or reduce pests – including herbicides.

If used incorrectly, the Dicamba weed killer can drift off agricultural fields and kill neighboring plants. Under the bill, someone who knowingly misused a restricted-use pesticide like dicamba could face a $ 1,000 fine.

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