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Wrap up: Lawmakers debate LGBT rights, meth and more

March 19, 2016
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Protesters filled the Statehouse hallway during an LGBT debate that ended without legislation passing. Advocates say they will be back to push for civil rights next year. (AP photo)

LGBT rights

Advocates for Indiana’s gay and transgender residents and visitors weren’t successful in passing statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, which they said was the major disappointment of the legislative session.

A bill that would have protected gay people but not transgender people died less than halfway through the session in the Indiana Senate, and neither the House nor Senate resurrected it later, despite Democrats’ attempts to introduce nondiscrimination clauses through amendments. Those failed.

Indy Chamber lobbyist Mark Fisher said advocacy groups will spend the next several months focusing on increasing LGBT rights in local communities, and will come back in the 2017 session. “We’re going to really take this to the local level and … support the folks on the ground,” Fisher said. “That will help us sustain momentum heading into the 2017 legislative session. This issue will not go away.”

Education matters

Gov. Mike Pence has signed into law a measure to ensure teachers and schools didn’t face accountability consequences this year due to the 2015 ISTEP test.

Lawmakers also approved several education bills near the end of the session, including repealing ISTEP by 2017 in House Bill 1395 and creating a new teacher scholarship program in House Bill 1002, which would give future teachers $7,500 per year toward their college education if they committed to teach for five years in the state. A bill also passed that would give extra pay to teachers rated as “effective” who mentor others and allow young teachers to receive raises despite poor ratings on their annual reviews.

House Bill 1005 will extend the application period for private school vouchers past its Sept. 2 deadline until Jan. 15. It also removes a provision that requires voucher students to pay tuition for the remainder of the school year if they leave mid-year and go to another eligible school. Opponents say it is an expansion of the program.

Meanwhile, efforts to allow some teachers to receive extra pay outside of union-negotiated agreements died, with House and Senate Republicans blaming their lack of support on “misinformation.”

Farm taxes

Farmers will get property tax relief under Senate Bill 308, which shifts about $136 million in property tax burden onto other classes of taxpayers over three years. The measure would change the formula for calculating the base rate per acre of farmland, the starting point for property tax assessment. Proponents, including the Indiana Farm Bureau, said it would help farmers who say they’ve suffered tighter margins, and help stabilize a dramatically rising farmland tax system.

Marion County judges

Lawmakers were unable to come to an agreement on how to select Marion Superior Court judges and punted the decision until next year. They were charged with coming up with a new system after a federal appeals court ruled the current system unconstitutional. Lawmakers had advanced a “merit selection” process, which would have used a nominating commission to interview candidates. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the bill stalled over “minute details” that the lawmakers couldn’t work out.

Vaping

Indiana’s electronic cigarette industry says two years of legislation has put it in peril. The Legislature approved rules last year to block e-liquid manufacturers from the market unless they’re approved by the state by June 30. The requirements for approval include contracting with a security firm, which most players in the industry here say is impossible because no firms met the rules. This year, efforts to extend the deadline for approval by the state failed. And new language was added in House Bill 1386 to loosen the requirements for the security firm. But critics say the new requirements would create a monopoly in the state, since they say that only one company, Mulhaupt’s in Lafayette, is technically qualified to provide the security services.

Indy 500 alcohol

Lawmakers approved House Bill 1386 allowing fans of the Indianapolis 500 race to purchase a commemorative bottle of wine or liquor at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a way to celebrate the race’s 100th anniversary.

Sunday alcohol sales

The state’s artisan distilleries, such as Hotel Tango in Fletcher Place, will be allowed under House Bill 1386 to sell carryout alcohol on Sunday with state approval.

But a now-annually filed measure to allow general Sunday carryout alcohol sales from groceries, liquor stores and drugstores failed early in the session. Those groups are at odds in part because package liquor stores believe that Sunday sales would unfairly benefit large grocers.

Suburban alcohol permits

House Bill 1386 also allows the state to issue four new three-way permits to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption to applicants in Whitestown, Lebanon, Zionsville, Westfield, Carmel, and Fishers. The total number of permits can’t exceed 24.

Stopping meth production

Senate Bill 80 allows pharmacists discretion in selling pseudoephedrine—an ingredient in meth that is often found in cold and flu medication—if buyers don’t have an established relationship with a pharmacy. House Bill 1157 makes it illegal for someone convicted of a meth-related felony to possess pseudoephedrine-containing medications without a prescription.

'Farm to fork' poultry producers

Lawmakers approved a compromise in House Bill 1267 that let farms obtain limited permits to sell poultry to restaurants, hotels and retail stores if the farm meets certain requirements, including following a food safety plan as well as meeting labeling rules. It allows the state to conduct microbial testing at such farms. Proponents of Indiana’s farm-to-fork movement said they thought the compromise provided “scale-appropriate regulation,” compared with an earlier version that would have required them to meet the same levels of inspection as large producers.

‘Dark box’ property valuation

In attempting to curtail the so-called “dark box” valuation method of commercial properties, which has been costing local governments millions in lost tax revenue, lawmakers passed House Bill 1290. It creates a property valuation method known as “market segmentation,” in which property types would be evaluated based on where they fall into specific market classes. Dark store valuations use closed or sold stores as comparisons in determining the value of newer stores, often resulting in lower tax bills for retail stores by lowering the properties’ assessed values.

Medical malpractice

Victims of medical malpractice will be able to recover more damages and health care providers will have increased liabilities under Senate Bill 28. The measure would increase the current $1.25 million limit on damages to $1.65 million next year and then to $1.8 million after 2019.

Regional cities

After sounding skeptical initially, lawmakers approved funding for a third Regional Cities project. Gov. Mike Pence championed the economic development initiative last year, when lawmakers approved funding for two projects. During a review process last year, however, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. picked three projects. So this year in House Bill 1001, the General Assembly granted the Pence administration another $42 million for the third project.

Daily fantasy sports

The Indiana Gaming Commission would regulate daily fantasy sports games such as those offered by DraftKings and FanDuel under Senate Bill 339, approved by lawmakers. The bill establishes an initial licensing fee for operators of the games of $50,000, in addition to an annual fee of $20,000.

Work-sharing program

There was initial optimism that a “work-sharing” unemployment insurance program might have legs in the Legislature this year. The proposal, which would allow struggling businesses to cut employees’ hours instead of laying them off by supplementing their pay with state unemployment payments, had bipartisan support. So proponents of the bill, including Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar, said he was disappointed the bill “barely got out of the starting gate” due to concerns from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development that the program would be too expensive to implement.

Environmental rules

A bill that would have restricted the Indiana Department of Environmental Management from making rules more stringent than federal standards was amended near the end of the legislative session into something more like a compromise. House Bill 1082 will require IDEM to notify the Legislature of any rules it deems to be more stringent than corresponding federal regulations and prevents the rules from taking effect until adjournment of the following two legislative sessions.

Food deserts

Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 15 that urges the Legislative Council to create a study committee to look at topics related to a food desert grant and loan program. Initially, lawmakers this year hoped to fund such a program, which would provide money to organizations or businesses that want to bring fresh food to underserved communities and neighborhoods.

Employer schedules

Local governments wouldn’t be able to require an employer to provide an employee scheduling policy that exceeds standards laid out in federal or state law under Senate Bill 20 passed by lawmakers.

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The Associated Press, Chalkbeat, TheStatehouseFile.com and Indiana Lawyer contributed.

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