Indiana legislators will spend part of the summer studying how to restore the public’s trust in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, an agency that’s been accused of mismanagement and overcharging customers.
It’s one of 40 topics study committees will consider in advance of the 2016 legislative session. Changes to the state’s smoking ban, a new testing program for students, and measures to address so-called “food deserts” will also be considered.
“Each year during the legislative session, a number of issues arise that require further in-depth study and discussion before potentially being addressed with legislation,” Senate President Pro Tem. David Long said Thursday in a written statement. “Interim study committees provide a valuable forum for these discussions to take place so that legislators can take more informed action in the next legislative session.”
The Legislative Council—a group of eight leaders from the House and Senate—approved the study committee topics.
The BMV is among the most controversial of the issues. In a 40-page report released this month, the auditing group BKD listed eight key areas in which the BMV administration has been lacking. Most of the issues focused on ineffective or outdated technology used to manage BMV information.
In addition, BMV officials have acknowledged overcharging fees to thousands of Hoosiers.
Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, said the study committee will give the public a chance to explain how those overcharges have affected them.
“I am glad that our leaders understand that we need to play an active role in formulating the types of reforms that can help restore the public’s trust,” he said.
The Interim Committee on Roads and Transportation, he said, will study three key issues:
— ensuring the BMV is implementing the reforms contained in the BKD report;
— creating a regular system of auditing done by an outside firm;
— simplifying the BMV fee system;
Meanwhile, the Interim Committee on Public Policy will focus on whether to expand the state’s smoking ban, which currently exempts bars, casinos and private clubs.
The committee will also consider the subject of e-cigarettes, how they affect smokers’ health and whether they should be included as part of the smoking ban.
“The topic was assigned for them to make their case, which they did unsuccessfully during the session,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma about the tobacco companies.
Earlier in the session, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller wrote a letter to e-cigarette marketing and advertising company Altria Group Inc. emphasizing his concern that e-cigarettes are following in the footsteps of traditional cigarettes. He said nearly 2 million middle and high school students had tried the product, which has raised concerns among some lawmakers.
The Interim Committee on Education will focus on school testing and, in particular, whether the ISTEP program should be replaced with a new standardized exam.
The discussion comes as the state is implementing new curriculum standards and revamping the current ISTEP test. The committee will weigh the options of revising or creating a whole new test for the state.
In addition, the Interim Committee on Agricultural and Natural Resources will discuss the local farm and food product economy—and how to prevent food deserts.
“A food desert is a part of any community where people don’t have easy access to such things as fresh fruit, produce and meats, fish and poultry,” said Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, in a statement Thursday.
And he said that affects Hoosiers’ health. “Indiana ranks 8th in the nation in levels of obesity among its population,” he said.
The study committee will provide an opportunity to take positive steps for providing nutrition in urban communities, he said.
The Interim Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code has several key issues.
Lawmakers will look at the struggle offenders face when they are released from prison and the hardship they experience when searching for a job. The committee will study the possibility of establishing a program to encourage employers to hire them. They will also discuss retrieving DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony.
The Committee on Government will study body camera videos on police officers and whether the resulting video should be subject to public records requests.