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General Assembly still in early stages

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

One month into the 2019 Indiana General Assembly session, bigger issues are still being considered.

State Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, is working on bills she authored that she believes benefit her constituents and will let others work on high-profile bills.

There are three bills in the House for hate or bias crimes, House Bills 1020, 1093 and 1159. All three are in the Courts and Criminal Codes Committee.

“The governor came out pretty strong for that but neither of the legislative leaders jumped on board,” she said. “I have prosecutors worried that if one passes that it is sensible and usable, and that they’re not passing something just because we’re one of handful of states that doesn’t have it.”

She said one senator, an attorney, suggested retitling the current section of the code and call it “Bias Crimes” because judges already can add time to sentences for those situations.

Leising authored Senate Bill 170, which has passed the Senate, requiring the Department of Child Services to report child fatalities before Sept. 1 of each year for the preceding calendar year and include information concerning whether the death occurred while the child was placed in foster care or after the child, who was once placed in foster care, had been returned to a natural parent.

She said 59 deaths occurred in the last full year of data DCS had available, but those deaths occurred in fiscal year 2016, July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017. That lag time is too much, Leising said.

“I could not tell in the report whether the children were under the watchful eye of DCS or they had been and returned to homes,” she said. “My bill says they have to use more current data and by Sept. 1 they must report the results of the previous calendar year so they still have nine months to accumulate the data.

“I also want to know if our department is doing a good job or not. If there were 59 kids dying in our schools, we’d have a fit,” she said. “That’s a lot of kids dying of abuse or neglect.”

SB 278 requires the Indiana State Department of Health to set up review committees in counties or a region to study infant mortality in the state.

This is a similar to the maternal mortality bill approved last year to study why Indiana has so many mothers dying in pregnancy and at child birth. The Indiana infant mortality rate is terrible, just like the maternal mortality rate, Leising said. It is the seventh worst in the nation.

SB 351 changes the term for graduates of Purdue University’s veterinarian tech program. They would be referred to as “veterinary nurses” rather than “vet techs.”

Graduates of the program have complained that many people confuse them with “techs” who work on computers. Some medical nurses have opposed the change.

Leising is chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, which heard the bill. She also heard a presentation from the College of Veterinary Science that a new teaching hospital is needed at the West Lafayette Campus.

The school currently uses the original 1950s hospital. The most recent accreditation process in the fall of 2018 indicated the school may not receive accreditation the next time if a new hospital is not constructed, she said.

SB 532 would required the State Board of Education to create a new licensing test by July 1, 2020. 

Leising said the state moved from a national examination about five years ago to a customized state exam. The pass rate for math and science for middle school teachers is under 30 percent on the first attempt.

The Education Committee approved the bill with support from the teachers’ associations and universities.

“I have superintendents tell me they have openings they cannot fill with properly licensed teachers so they have to hire, in some cases, substitutes,” she said.

And Leising’s annual bill to require cursive writing in schools has not received a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.

“More and more people are telling me how their kids can’t read cursive and they can’t read signatures,” she said. “My intern, I realized, she was struggling to read my notes in cursive.”

The bill has never received a hearing in the House Education Committee after passage in the Senate.

Legislative breakfast set for Saturday

A legislative breakfast focused on educational issues will start at 9 a.m. Saturday in Whitewater Career Center, 1300 Spartan Drive.

Three legislators representing Fayette County in the Indiana General Assembly have confirmed their attendance, according to Leslie Jacobs, the organizer. The three are state Rep. Cindy Ziemke, Sen. Jean Leising and Sen. Jeff Raatz.

The event is a regional legislative forum organized on behalf of the Indiana School Boards Association. Jacobs, president of the Fayette County School Corporation board, is active in ISBA legislative affairs.

The public may attend the event, which will include light refreshments.