Statehouse update: School safety, Common Core, teacher incentives, abortion and more

January 30, 2014

Numerous bills were discussed, argued and considered by lawmakers Wednesday at the Indiana Statehouse. Here's a look how some of them fared.

School safety

A Senate committee passed a bill that would create a division of the Department of Education that focuses on making school buildings safer.

The bill’s author, Sen. Lindel Hume, D-Princeton, is using Senate Bill 344 to establish the Division of School Building Physical Security and Safety, which would create and maintain school safety guidelines.

A school district could ask the division to evaluate the facility and make safety recommendations for renovations or repairs.

The bill was amended to make access to the division available to all schools, including charters and private schools. It moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Common Core standards

A Republican-backed bill to void Common Core standards for Indiana passed the Senate Education Committee, 8-3, with opposition from Democrats.

Under Senate Bill 91 – authored by Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis – Indiana would revert back to education standards in place prior to June 30, 2010, when the State Board of Education first approved and started phasing in Common Core.

Last year, lawmakers voted to pause Common Core and ordered state education officials to study whether to continue the implementation or switch to Indiana-written standards. Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the state board have been working through that process. SB 91 would end the study and order Indiana-written standards.

Teacher incentives

A bill intended to attract teachers to underperforming public and charter schools passed a Senate committee. However, the Senate Education Committee stripped the funding from the bill until a later, to-be-determined date.

Senate Bill 264 – authored by Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City – creates a program to provide a $10,000 annual stipend to teachers for the first two years the teacher is employed at a school that meets certain criteria.

The schools must have received a D or F grade from the state for two consecutive years or have a population with 50 percent of students at or below the federal free or reduced lunch guidelines.

To qualify for the stipend, teachers must qualify as “effective” or “highly effective” on their teacher evaluations.

John O’Neil, a lobbyist for the Indiana State Teacher’s Association, said the legislation is “unfair to other priorities in a non-budget year.”

Gun buy-backs

The Indiana Senate has approved a measure banning gun buy-back programs.

The measure would ban local governments and police departments from conducting the buy-backs. Republican Sen. Jim Tomes said he proposed the ban because guns that would be bought through the programs could be sold for more money on the open market.

But opponents of the ban say the state is taking away local control on the issue. Democratic Sen. Earline Rogers of Gary said the programs are needed to curb violence by permanently removing the guns from the streets.

The Senate voted 28-21 Wednesday in favor of the ban. The proposal moves to the House.

Abortion regulations

A pair of bills that would affect abortion regulations in Indiana passed a Senate committee.

Senate Bill 228, authored by Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, would create a summer study committee to study whether women are being coerced into having an abortions and whether clinics should have to report such actions to law enforcement.

The Senate Health & Provider Services Committee amended the bill to include a study of women who were coerced into not having an abortion.
The committee passed the bill 9-1. It now moves to the full House for consideration.

The second bill, Senate Bill 292, would require facilities where abortions are performed to have an emergency hotline. The bill also would make it easier for women to contact a hospital after an abortion by requiring it to provide the physician’s contact information, as well as the back-up physician’s information.

The bill passed the committee 8-2 and moves to the full Senate.

Sex trafficking

A Senate committee passed a bill that would help clubs cut down on human trafficking.

Senate Bill 272, authored by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, would allow the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to revoke, suspend, or refuse to renew the alcohol permit of a person who provides adult entertainment if an adult performer has ever been convicted of a criminal offense.

The commission would also be able to revoke the retailer’s permit if the criminal offense was committed on the premises of the permit holder’s establishment, such as human trafficking at a strip club.

The bill passed unanimously and now moves to the full Senate.

Veteran  brain injuries

The Indiana Department of Health would be directed to study whether the state should implement a program to help veterans suffering from brain injuries under a bill that passed a Senate committee.

Senate Bill 180, authored by Sens. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, and Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, would require the health department to focus on treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries, as well as ways to improve the state’s access to those treatments.

According to military data, an average of 20 veterans commits suicide every day. Many of these deaths have been linked to both PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

One of the treatments the health department would be directed to study is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the therapy for various other health problems, but not yet PTSD and TBI. Indiana has 32 facilities offering the treatment.

Recycling efforts

The full House passed a bill Wednesday that will require recyclers to fill out annual or quarterly reports on their activities as part of an effort to boost the state’s efforts to keep less waste from going to landfills.

The author of House Bill 1183, Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, said businesses that aren’t designated as a recycler can also fill out a report voluntarily.
The bill establishes a state goal of recycling at least 50 percent of all municipal waste by 2019. However, Wolkins admitted that goal will be hard to reach.

“Fifty percent is a very, very high mark,” Wolkins said. “California and Massachusetts recycle everything compared to us and they only recycle about 40 percent of municipal waste.”

The bill passed unanimously and will now be considered by the Senate.

Mobile phone monitoring

An Indiana legislator wants to make it illegal for police to use the Stingray – a device capable of wirelessly monitoring cell phones – without a warrant. SB 64 passed committee unanimously and moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, authored Senate Bill 64 because he said he was scared by the possibilities of the Stingray and doesn’t believe the new technology is “right.”

There is currently no law limiting the police and government from obtaining civilian cellular information. The Stingray is capable of downloading and monitoring calls, texts, pictures and apps – virtually all data coming to and from a cell phone – without the person ever knowing.

Waltz said there’s no evidence this is a problem in Indiana, but other states have abused the technology.

Abandoned homes

Statewide tax sales of vacant and abandoned properties will be reformatted under a proposed Senate bill that would mean new owners for the homes – or demolition of the structures.

Sen. James Merritt Jr., R-Indianapolis, the author of Senate Bill 422, said vacant and abandoned homes “poison the neighborhoods of Indiana.”

The bill passed the Local Government Committee 7-1 and goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Mental health experts

A bill that would eliminate the need for a psychiatrist in court cases dealing with insanity passed a Senate committee. The bill moves to the full Senate.
Senate Bill 88, authored by Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, would amend part of a current statute that requires psychiatrists to determine insanity in criminal cases.

The new bill would instead allow Indiana courts to choose two or three psychiatrists, psychologists, or physicians for that purpose, rather than forcing the use of at least one psychiatrist.

This bill would not apply to cases involving murder, or those involving sentences of life without parole or the death penalty.

Dr. Steven Ross, a member of the Indiana State Board of Psychology, and a psychiatrist in Fort Wayne, testified in favor of the bill. He said current statute puts a strain on both criminal courts and psychiatrists.


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