Indiana House Republicans plan to rally behind a collection of bills in the 2023 session that emphasize fiscal responsibility, expand Hoosiers’ access to health care and increase work-based learning and school choice programs.
The House GOP are also calling special focus to a bill that seeks to authorize child support for pregnant women.
House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, outlined his caucus’ priorities Thursday, days after Senate Republicans released their 2023 agenda. Both chambers agree reducing record-high health care costs and ensuring sound, prudent spending of state dollars is paramount.
But GOP lawmakers in the Senate left out any education topics from their priority list this session. It also remains unclear if either chamber will support a proposal from Gov. Eric Holcomb to eliminate K-12 textbook and curricular fees for all Hoosier students.
“We’re going to spend about half the state budget on education,” Huston said during a news conference Thursday. “Where it goes and how it goes … I just want to make sure our caucus and our committee has an opportunity to weigh it all out.”
Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, of Fort Wayne, said the House Republicans’ 2023 agenda adds up to the “same stale ideas” as in years past.
“Over a decade of Republican policy and underinvestment has left our people, our most precious resource, with historic public health and education crises,” GiaQuinta said in a statement. “Those same policies are not going to lead us out of 10 years of wandering in the desert.”
More work-based learning — and even more school choice
Proposed changes to high school curricula are laid out in HB 1002, authored by Rep. Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville.
The bill seeks to expand work-based learning in Indiana high schools, like apprenticeships and internships. In addition, the bill would create a framework for students to earn a post-secondary credential before leaving the K-12 system.
Huston said the bill is part of a caucus plan to allow more of that work-based learning to count towards a student’s graduation requirements.
“We can ensure that whether kids are going to go into a post secondary workforce program or they’re going to go to a two- or four-year college, that we can give them the skills that they need to begin to be impactful in the workforce,” Huston said, stressing the need for more flexibility . “Experience needs to be relevant, and it needs to be applied.”
The House Republicans’ budget will also continue a years-long push to continue expanding the availability of state dollars for Hoosier students to attend private schools.
Under Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, which allows families to receive vouchers to attend private schools, the current annual income limit for a family of four is about $154,000—equal to 300% of the amount required for a student to qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program.
Huston said that income ceiling could increase even more this session.
“We believe – and I’ve always been, I think, consistent in that … parents should have an opportunity to send their kids to a school that best meets their needs,” he said, adding that he “would love to see” the program become universal. “We’ll see if it does.”
Around 44,000 students took advantage of a voucher during the 2021-22 school year, at a state cost of about $240 million.
Making sure state investments ‘focus on returns’
A bill filed by Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Logansport, would ensure that Indiana’s public retirement fund investment strategies “remain focused on maximizing returns and not on political and social issues,” Huston said.
“They need to stop working with certain banks and investment firms where they focus on those types of policies,” he said, pointing to Vanguard, for example, which recently withdrew from an investment industry initiative on climate change.
“My focus is on the fact that their job is to invest and maximize returns. Our job is to create public policy,” Huston said. “If they want to create public policy, they should run for elected office.”
State law already requires the Indiana Public Retirement System to focus solely on maximizing financial benefits, as opposed to anything else. Huston said Manning’s bill “clarifies and ensures that is the policy.”
Expanding resources for women and children
Huston said the House GOP will also prioritize HB 1009, authored by Rep. Elizabeth Rowray, R-Yorktown, which would allow child support payments to start at conception. Huston said he believes unborn children are owed a duty of support from both parents.
The bill would allow for additional recovery of Medicaid expenditures for pregnancy and childbirth expenses by expanding the period for which child support can be ordered to 40 weeks prior to the birth of the child, according to the bill.
The caucus will additionally tackle high health care costs, Huston continued. It’s an issue that Holcomb and Senate Republicans have prioritized, too.
The House speaker said he is “largely disappointed” in the “lack of action” by Indiana’s insurers and nonprofit hospitals to address high health care prices, especially after calling on them in December of 2021 to develop a plan to reduce costs for Hoosier patients.
Specifically, HB 1003 and HB 1004 aim to increase competition in both the provider and insurance marketplaces. The measures also seek to require more transparency around prices charged by non-profit hospitals.
“We’re talking about making sure that we have robust sets of options for people to go to, you know, more transparency, and if you’re above a certain price, that there will be penalties,” Huston said. “We need to see more competition in the marketplace, and we’re looking at incentives to make that happen.”
House Republicans will also try to earmark more state dollars to help communities across the state increase access to affordable housing. HB 1005, filed by Rep. Doug Miller, R-Elkhart, would build on some of the recommendations from last year’s housing task force.
Also important on the House GOP agenda is a bill that would ensure individuals with mental health conditions receive treatment in local hospitals, not jails. Another priority measure, HB 1007, which Huston said would support a “diverse and robust energy plan that ensures reliability and affordability.”
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.