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Senate approves dozens of bills as deadline looms

March 1, 2016

The Indiana Senate, facing the chamber's deadline to pass legislation, approved dozens of bills Tuesday addressing everything from more stringent abortion regulations to the desire by some law enforcement officers to be interred with the cremated remains of their police dogs.

Less than two weeks remain in the 2016 session, and many major proposals expected to play a role in Gov. Mike Pence's re-election pitch to voters — such as a plan to fund Indiana's poorly rated infrastructure — have yet to be agreed on. The Senate on Tuesday cleared out the last of the measures it had on the calendar, with some going straight to Pence's desk for possible approval. The details of other more contentious bills will be negotiated between House and Senate leaders in the coming days in the hopes of reaching agreement.

The proposal allowing the cremated remains of police dogs to be scattered over officers' graves sailed through the Senate on Tuesday and is on its way to Pence's desk.

The abortions restriction bill sparked heated debate before senators voted 37-13 in favor of the measure, which would ban abortions sought solely due to a fetus' genetic disability, gender or ethnicity.

"We as Republicans always talk about less regulation, less regulation, less regulation. Except when it deals with the most personal decisions of somebody's life," said Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, who was one of the only Republicans to oppose the measure.

The fate of the bill, which would also require aborted or miscarried fetuses to be cremated or interred, remains uncertain. A similar measure already cleared the Senate but didn't receive a hearing in the House. To keep the idea alive, anti-abortion senators amended a bill previously approved by the House to include the same language they passed on Tuesday. The measure now returns to the House for consideration.

Social conservatives say the cremation and interment provisions provide the only dignified and humane way to dispose of fetus, but Democrats argued the bill would require women to lie to their doctors if they do not want to carry to term a fetus with Down syndrome or another disability.

A less divisive measure approved on a 49-1 vote would exempt police departments at private colleges, including Notre Dame, from following the same crime reporting requirements as public colleges.

The bill by Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, comes amid a court battle between ESPN and Notre Dame over the university's refusal to release records about possible crimes involving student athletes. Indiana's 11 private colleges with police departments, including Notre Dame, do not have to follow the same reporting requirements as other departments.

Critics including the Hoosier State Press Association say the bill doesn't actually do anything other than codify into state law existing federal laws.

Changes were made to the bill, so it returns to the House. Sen. Sue Glick, R-Howe, said it will likely be amended again to address criticism that the bill doesn't require private college police departments to disclose enough information.

Another measure approved Tuesday would force Indiana law enforcement agencies to publicly release body-camera video if the recordings might show officers using excessive force or violating someone's civil rights.

The measure by Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, was approved on a 49-1 vote.

It now goes back to the House, which earlier approved a different version of the bill, to sign off on the Senate's changes.

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