A bill that would "pause" the state's energy-efficiency program was sent to the governor's desk Monday, but Indiana lawmakers were still mulling over other tough issues, including the proposed relaxing of gun regulations, as they entered the final week of their 2014 session.
Senate lawmakers on Monday approved by a 37-8 vote placing the state's energy-efficiency program on hold for a year while they study the costs and benefits. That measure now heads to Gov. Mike Pence for consideration.
Supporters of the program, including businesses and environmental groups, say it employs hundreds of workers and saves money for consumers who receive free, in-home energy audits. But opponents of the Energizing Indiana program, led by the state's utilities and major manufacturers, have criticized it as a wasteful tax that is hurting the state's economy.
Senate Utilities Chairman Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, originally sought to exempt utilities and manufacturers from the tax that funds the program, but House Republicans changed the measure to eliminate the program altogether. Merritt said he would like a year to study the effectiveness of the energy audits.
"This allows us to look at Energize Indiana. Then the Legislature and the Pence Administration can say it's a terrific program, or maybe it's not," Merritt said.
The Energizing Indiana program has cost ratepayers $500 million since 2009, and will cost as much as $1.9 billion more by 2019, Merritt said.
The legislation, Senate Bill 340, would require the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to analyze the program's costs and benefits, and issue a report to the General Assembly by Aug. 15 of this year.
Guns near schools
Meanwhile on Monday, House and Senate negotiators spent the morning grilling an opponent of a guns measure that would allow parents to keep guns in their cars while on school property.
A bill to allow properly stowed and hidden guns in school parking lots drew heated debate in a final round of negotiations Monday. The original bill would have banned gun buy-back programs, but a Senate committee effectively gutted the measure and only would prohibit use of state or federal funding for the programs.
Testimony grew tense when members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America spoke against the bill, which they say will create easier access to guns that could be used in school shootings.
"I don't know that there is a compromise when you're talking about guns at schools," said Nikki McNally, Indiana chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
"There was such strong opposition from educators and mothers alike that I don't think there's an in-between."
Drugs tests for food stamps
In addition, a vote on a contested bill to test certain welfare recipients for drugs is expected Tuesday. Bill author Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, now must reconcile his original plan to screen and potentially drug test any recipient of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families with changes made in the Senate.
The measure now only would drug test applicants with past drug convictions, although McMillin said his final draft will consider whether the bill could face constitutional questioning.
Another bill to drug test welfare recipients was ruled unconstitutional in Florida in December 2013.
Lawmakers spent the day moving between brief meetings of conference committees throughout the Statehouse and meetings of the entire House and Senate.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, cautioned his members that they were bumping up against a fast-approaching deadline for action. He noted 105 different measures were still pending as of Monday afternoon.
"I would encourage you to very quickly wrap up your discussion with your colleagues on bringing these bills to a close," he said.