Statehouse update: Teacher evaluations, Christmas, meth disclosure, more

Indiana lawmakers made decisions on a number of bills Monday at the Statehouse. Here's a rundown of many of them.

Teacher evaluations

The House has passed legislation that’s meant to boost graduation rates and college preparation by helping schools hire better teachers.

According to House Bill 1388, schools must provide thorough evaluations of teachers in an effort to raise graduation rates and prepare students for college in Indiana high schools.

HB 1388 requires more teacher evaluations and closer observation of college teaching programs. The bill, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said that’s in part to help superintendents and principals find the colleges that are graduating the best teachers in specific areas of instruction.

The bill would allow researchers and public officials to track teachers and the education programs that trained them by giving them metric ratings. By compiling individual ratings, supporters say it will be easier to compare how different colleges and programs are performing.

Those teachers who received their licenses in the last five years will be the focus.

Behning said the data will help not only K-12 school officials but also colleges because it helps them see where they’re weak or strong and where they might need additional rigor or have implemented good practices.

Under changes made in committee, principals and teachers in virtual charters and private schools receiving vouchers will also be included in the formal evaluations.

The bill passed the House 95-0 and will move to the Senate for more discussion.

Christmas celebrations

The Senate has passed a bill meant to provide legal protections to public schools that celebrate Christmas and other holiday traditions.
The bill passed unanimously and moves to the House for consideration.

Senate Bill 326 requires the State Board of Education to set guidelines for teachers and administrators to observe Christmas without fear of a lawsuit.

If passed into law, SB 326 would allow for Christmas greetings, carols, decorations and other festivities in schools as long as they are coupled with secular displays or recognize multiple faiths.

“Across the country, there are reports of Christmas traditions, like the singing of Christmas carols or even the colors red and green, being banned in schools because administrators fear lawsuits,” the bill’s author, Sen. Jim Smith, R-Charlestown, said in a prepared statement. “We need to provide Hoosier teachers some protections so that these senseless, arbitrary bans do not take hold in our state.”

Meth disclosure

Legislation that would require disclosure of property previously used to produce methamphetamine passed the Indiana House of Representatives on Monday.
The bill, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R- Mount Vernon, requires that property that was once a site for meth labs or a dumping ground for the drug  be listed on a website until 90 days after it was certified decontaminated.

One provision of the bill shifts the control and maintenance of the methamphetamine laboratory website from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to the Indiana State Police.

Rep. Karlee Macer, D- Indianapolis, urged support for the bill during House discussion. The bill passed unanimously and heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Seedling sales

The Senate voted to amend legislation that would originally have let state nurseries sell tree seedlings and other stock directly to out-of-state customers.
Now, Senate Bill 177 would only let the nurseries that are operated by the Department of Natural Resources sell its excess stock to private wholesalers. And the state could only do so at or below its costs.

The change is a compromise between the state and a number of nursery wholesalers, who were concerned about competing against DNR nurseries for out-of-state customers, said Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel.

It passed on a voice vote, making SB 177 eligible for a vote by the full Senate on Tuesday.

During testimony on the bill last month, DNR officials said they now mulch more than 200,000 tree seedlings every year because the agency doesn’t need them for its own properties. The DNR sought the ability to sell those extra trees to out-of-state customers in part to keep its operations financially viable.

But private nurseries say that DNR’s low labor costs – made up of government workers and, occasionally, prison inmate crews – allow the state to sell seedlings at prices private businesses can’t compete with.

Hunting and fishing

The Senate passed a proposed constitutional right to hunt and fish, sending the measure to the House for consideration by a 43-4 vote.

If Senate Joint Resolution 9 is approved this year, it will have to pass the General Assembly again in 2015 or 2016 to go on the ballot for ratification by voters.
“Fishing and hunting are not only important parts of our Hoosier culture and history, but they enrich our economy,” the measure’s author, Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said in a prepared statement.

“An estimated 5,000 jobs revolve around the two sports, and they have a positive fiscal impact of more than $700 million to the state of Indiana,” he said. “To preserve these pastimes, we must take action to protect these fundamental rights for generations to come.”

Steele pushed a similar amendment previously. In 2011, the General Assembly passed an amendment including language that extended the protection to include farmers’ rights. Steele said he changed the amendment to comply with requests from agriculture groups that he said didn’t want to fight for it.

Home health care

The House passed legislation Monday that’s meant to expand the CHOICE home health care program to more Hoosiers by reducing the severity of problems an older or disabled adult must have to qualify.

House Bill 1391 – authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany – would change the program’s eligibility requirements to include clients who are unable to perform at least one activity of daily living, versus the current requirement of having at least two.

That’s meant to give Area Agencies on Aging more authority to spend money on services that will keep a relatively independent person in his or her home. For example, an agency could use CHOICE funding to pay to move a washer and dryer from a basement of someone who is at risk of falling, Clere said.

Supporters say the goal is to provide earlier services to clients so that they remain independent and need less help overall.

CHOICE – which stands for Community and Home Options to Institutional Care for the Elderly and Disabled – is a state-funded program that provides health care and living assistance to Hoosiers in their homes so they are less likely to move into nursing homes. The program does not receive a federal Medicaid match and is open to those at least 60 years of age or those who have a disability.

HB 1391 would also reduce the value of assets, excluding homes and vehicles, that a participant can own and still receive CHOICE services. The amount would drop from $500,000 to $250,000.

However, unlike Medicaid, which requires that participants spend down their assets to zero, HB 1391 would allow participants to reserve a $10,000 safety fund for participants in case of emergencies.

The bill passed the House 96-0 and will move to the Senate for more consideration.

Cardiac arrest in sports

Lawmakers are moving legislation that requires athletes, coaches, and parents to be informed about the signs of cardiac arrest.

House Bill 1290 – authored by Rep. Ron Bacon, R-Chandler – is designed to increase awareness about heart problems among student athletes and aims to protect those who show symptoms of cardiac arrest.

The bill requires a coach to remove a student from play if he or she shows signs or symptoms of cardiac arrest. High school students could return to practice or a game after a parent provides permission. College students could return after a health care provider gives permission.

It also requires schools teach how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation – or CPR – and use an automated external defibrillator.

The bill requires state K-12 education and higher education officials to provide guidelines and information sheets to schools, parents, athletes and others about the problems with sudden cardiac arrest.

And House Bill 1290 adds athletic trainers to the definition of “health care provider,” which gives them authority to OK students to play after injuries.

The bill passed the House 87-9 and will move to the Senate for further discussion.

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