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House may go along with Senate on bias crimes

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

The Indiana Senate is now busy working on bills previously approved by the House and the House is considering bills from the Senate as the Indiana General Assembly moves into the second half of the session.

The big bill to be considered is the budget bill. State Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, said on Friday that she has not had a chance to see the bill yet, but that 50 percent of the House budget goes to local schools, 12 percent to higher education and 15 percent to Medicaid, which has increased by a percent.

“There is also a big increase in the Department of Child Services funding because they are overrun because of the drug issue,” she said Friday. “When I talk to locals and state people, they tell me the majority of the kids entering DCS and the foster programs are because of drug-addicted parents.”

The original Senate Bill 12, the Bias Crimes Bill, included a list of protected classes that included law enforcement but the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus wanted law enforcement removed, she said.

The Public Policy Committee removed law enforcement, the military, political affiliation and members of groups from the bill. 

“That, for many of us, was a list killer,” she said. “If you weren’t going to include law enforcement, then why have a list? Why not have language that includes everybody? If a judge sees there is bias, he can sentence accordingly.”

The Senate then removed all of the list from the bill.

She said the rumor is the House will make minor changes that might include referencing a list already in State Code in regards to reporting a crime. The Senate may go along with that change.

“The governor (Eric Holcomb) forgot to talk to everybody about that bill before he stuck his neck out so far,” she said. “By everybody, I’m talking about the leadership of the Senate and House. To say the only reason we have to have this is because we’re allegedly one of five states that haven’t jumped in the river, that doesn’t fly with folks in the legislature. There are a lot of things other states are doing that we don’t do.”

Leising said House Bill 1005 to move the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s position to appointment status up by four years so the next governor in 2021 can appoint the person of his or her liking is something she does not like.

“If the vote had been held in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday, it would have been a tie vote,” she said. “The governor’s office will likely do some arm twisting and (Speaker of the House Brian) Bosma is the House author. My angst with it, you potentially have a governor with an agenda for education, and if they appoint a superintendent it will likely be a person who won’t push back. We currently have a State Board of Education who thinks like the governor most of the time so I worry we will have a lot of ‘yes’ people involved in education.”

Gaming is a big issue. The Senate had consensus on gaming that would approve sports betting and allow moving one Gary riverboat casino license to a land casino along an interstate and move the other riverboat one license to Terre Haute, if those residents approve. It would have allowed table games at Shelbyville and Anderson race tracks this year rather than in two years as previously approved, she said. Bosma has expressed concern it is new gambling and may break the bill apart and that would break the consensus.

Gaming is the fourth largest source of revenue to the state, she said.

Leising authored SB 129 to require cursive writing but it did not receive a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.

“I’m going to try to amend it into one of Rep. (Robert) Behning’s bills because he’s the guy that kills it all the time,” she said. “Sen. (Jeff) Raatz is the one that chose not to give it a hearing and I worked on him every week. I think one of his excuses was that Behning (House Education Committee chair) would kill it anyway.”

She said if the bill went to the floor of both chambers, it would likely pass because the reality of students not being taught cursive writing is beginning to be felt. A senator said this week he would change his vote and is now in favor because his intern could not read cursive.

Middle and high school students who serve pages at the legislature are beginning to have difficulty in even printing thank-you notes to their legislator because they spend so much time on the computer and smartphones, Leising said.

The last day for third reading of bills in the House is April 15 and the following day in the Senate. The session must end by April 29.