Indiana lawmakers put finishing touches on gun rights legislation

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Indiana lawmakers worked Monday to put the finishing touches on legislation that would end licensing fees for handguns while allowing people to carry firearms in churches on school grounds.

As this year's legislative session entered its final days, lawmakers on both side of the gun debate openly bickered with people who testified both for and against the bill during an intense joint committee meeting that included members of both the House and the Senate.

Law enforcement groups voiced serious concerns about the bill because license fees are a major source of funding for training, including active shooter response training.

Indiana Sheriffs' Association President Tim Troyer chastised lawmakers for failing to offer even a "hollow promise" that training money would be found elsewhere.

"Now, of all times, is not the time to be taking that away," said Troyer, who is also the sheriff of Steuben County.

The end-of-session moves came after GOP leaders in the House and Senate scuttled some gun rights legislation in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, which left 17 dead.

Democrats were itching to debate a raft of amendments to the gun bill, but Republican leaders backpedaled on some proposals while vowing to develop a pared down version that they would slip into an existing bill in the session's final days.

"We are going to work on that over the next 36 hours and see if we can make those concepts reduce them to writing," said House Public Policy committee Chairman Ben Smaltz, an Auburn Republican.

The proposal now would allow Indiana residents to obtain a lifetime handgun permit without a charge. But it no longer includes a measure that would have eliminated some point-of-sale background checks.

The bill would also allow churchgoers to carry guns during worship services and church events held on school grounds. Currently, the governing body of a school or district must give authorization to carry a gun on school grounds. But the bill would exempt those attending church in many instances.

The bill would still allow churches to bar people from carrying guns to services.

The group from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America voiced concern about allowing guns in churches that are also in school properties. They said they would fear dropping their children off to schools knowing there are regular citizens carrying guns there.

Others worried about eliminating funding for local police through the elimination of fees.

Rep. Matt Pierce, a Democrat member of the conference committee, said that there's no guarantee that the Legislature will deal with the funding matter during the next budget year in 2019.

"It's kind of like a promise for something happening later versus actually taking care of it now," Pierce said.

Smaltz said after the hearing that he would consider revising the bill to make the removal of the fee effective in 2019 so that the law enforcement would still have the funding in place for this year.

Both the House and the Senate must sign off on the final proposal before the session ends Wednesday.

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