Statehouse roundup: police buffer, permitless carry database, wetlands
The first of several transgender-related bills are awaiting votes by their full chambers, and several environmental bills are picking up traction, while a bill to expand access to contraception is hitting a roadblock.
Here's everything that happened last week:
Copy and paste?Indiana among 28 states copying anti-trans bills
Buffer zone around police
A bill that would allow police to create a 25-foot buffer zone around investigating officers has passed the Senate after a 32-10 vote March 22.
HB 1186 would consider a person who “knowingly or intentionally” approaches within 25 feet of a law enforcement officer, after being ordered to stop, as encroaching on an investigation. The crime would become a Class C misdemeanor.
The bill’s critics worry the proposal could be used to prevent civilians from observing police officers, particularly when it comes to officer use of force and brutality.
Helping police in the era of permitless carry
A bill that would help Indiana law enforcement in the era of permitless carry has now passed both chambers after the House voted 85-6 March 22.
SB 136 would make more information available to officers in the field to help them gauge whether someone with a gun has a criminal or court history that suspends their right to have a gun. Officers would have access from data from the state’s protection order registry and detailed information on someone’s criminal justice history.
Right after a disqualifying conviction is decided against a defendant, courts would also be required to report that conviction to state police. Officers will then be able to see that information when they run a quick background check on someone they've stopped or pulled over.
Donating unused prescription drugs
A House bill to establish a prescription drug donation program in Indiana passed the Senate Appropriations committee 11-1 March 23 and now heads to the Senate floor.
Nationally, billions of dollars of medication are destroyed each year when patients, such as those undergoing cancer treatment, either move onto different medication or pass away. House Bill 1017, authored by Rep. Stephen Bartels, R-Eckerty, would establish a repository for these unused drugs, which can then be redistributed to low-income Hoosiers.
Road funding in Indiana
House Bill 1049, which asks a study committee with taking a deep dive into Indiana's local and state roadwork needs, passed the Senate March 21 by a 42-1 vote. It's heading back to the House with amendments.
The Senate also passed Senate Bill 283 by a vote of 48-0 on Feb. 13 that would send about $8 million more road money each year to Indianapolis.
'Don't say gay' bill
House Bill 1608 was originally modeled on Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill but was amended in the House education committee to also prohibit the use of chosen names and pronouns by transgender students without written permission from their parents.
U.S. Congress:A federal bill on hot-button education issues moved forward. How your representatives voted
The bill would also require schools "out" transgender students who make such a request to their parents and allows teachers to continue using names and pronouns that match a student's sex assigned at birth, even if parents have requested otherwise. A Senate committee changed the bill to specify a teacher cannot be disciplined for following their "religious conviction" in ignoring name changes.
It passed the Senate education committee 9-4 March 22 along party lines. It now heads to the Senate floor.
Ban on transgender health care for minors
A House committee on March 21 passed a bill that would prohibit doctors from providing gender-affirming medical care for Hoosiers under the age of 18. IT passed 8-5 mostly along party lines, with one Republican joining Democrats in voting against it.
After four failed amendments by Democrats on second reading, Senate Bill 480 is now waiting for a final vote on the House floor.
Banning gender-affirmation surgery in prisons
A House bill that would prevent imprisoned people from using state tax dollars for gender-affirming surgery passed the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law committee 5-2 March 21.
The Department of Correction doesn't currently provide this surgery for incarcerated people, except in one federal case that settled in 2022. Republicans backing House Bill 1569, authored by Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, say they don't want taxpayer dollars spent on procedures whose medical necessity are disputed. Democrats and LGBTQ advocates point out that major medical associations find gender-affirming health care medically necessary, and whether that care includes surgery is a case-by-case decision between doctor and patient.
Pharmacists may increase contraceptive access
After lawmakers restricted abortion access last summer, House Bill 1568 was intended to increase contraceptive access by allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills, patches and rings to anyone over 18. The bill was heard in the Senate Health and Provider Services committee March 22, but is on hold after lawmakers said they need to work on amendments.
The bill's author Rep. Elizabeth Rowray, R-Yorktown, and other advocates said the bill would reduce unplanned pregnancy rates and allow Hoosiers with limited access to health care have more control over family planning.
The bill had passed the House 86-12 on Feb. 20.
Pet store bans
Senate Bill 134, authored by Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen, would roll back Indianapolis's live animal pet store ban as well as prevent cities from implementing any future bans targeting the sale of puppy mill dogs in stores.
While supporters say this bill protects responsible local businesses, opposition said it will allow illegal breeders to continue and takes a tool away from local governments.
The bill passed the Senate 29-18 in late February and had its first hearing before the House Agriculture and Rural Development committee on March 20, but the committee is holding it for a vote.
Indiana National Guard
A House bill that has split the usually unified veterans advocacy community is heading to the governor's desk, having been signed by the leaders of the House and Senate. It passed the Senate March 16 by a 34-13 vote.
House Bill 1076, authored by Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers, would strip an Indiana National Guard member's ability to ask for a court-martial trial instead of a non-judicial punishment, which is the punishment a commander can decide after giving the soldier a chance to present their case. Another part of the legislation seeks to grant the adjutant general ― the head of the Indiana National Guard ― the ability to convene higher-level trials for serious crimes such as sexual assault, a power that currently lies only with the governor.
More:Veterans advocates oppose bills removing right to court-martial at Indiana National Guard
Studying how to prepare for renewables and battery
Both Indiana and the country are in the midst of an energy transition toward what are considered cleaner sources of energy such as solar and wind as well as battery storage. While more and more of these renewable energy sources are being deployed, one bill this session is looking to what happens when they've reached the end of their life.
Senate Bill 33, authored by Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, would direct the state's environmental management agency as well as the utility regulatory commission to produce a study on the best ways to decommission and dispose of solar panels and wind turbines. He said this will help the state be ready and have the necessary infrastructure in place. That bill unanimously passed out of the Senate in January. It was amended and passed out of the House Utilities Committee on March 21.
Another bill in the House would better prepare the state for the emerging battery and energy storage industry. House Bill 1173 sets forth some parameters around establishing or expanding battery storage systems in Indiana, and also establishes some training for local fire departments in the event of a fire or emergency at the facility.
That bill was discussed in committee over the course of multiple meetings to get it just right, but it finally landed on a version that saw widespread support. It unanimously passed out of the House on Feb. 14 and then was amended and passed out of the Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation by a 8-0 vote on March 21.
Using best data for floodplain maps
Last year, the Indiana legislature passed a bill that required municipalities across the state to use the best available data and floodplain maps when deciding on building permits. This year, a new bill is trying to roll back that requirement.
Over the last few years, the state Department of Natural Resources has developed and rolled out new maps that are more updated and comprehensive than many of those from FEMA. These maps are to help understand the state's more flood-prone areas and reduce the risk of building in those locations.
While Senate Bill 242 would not eliminate the maps, it would remove the requirement that local agencies and administrators use those maps. Those in support say it could help lessen the burden on homeowners in these areas, but others worry it puts Hoosiers' safety and property at risk.
The bill, authored by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, was heard in the House Natural Resources Committee on March 22 and was passed out by a 11-0 vote.
Wetlands back on the chopping block
Two years after a controversial bill that stripped protections for many of Indiana's wetlands was passed, the important ecological feature is again on the chopping block. The 2021 law removed safeguards for some lower-level wetlands, but kept them in place for those deemed the highest quality with the most ecological value.
Wetlands serve important functions including minimizing flooding, filtering and cleaning water as it soaks into the ground, and providing a habitat for wildlife. Several organizations were surprised March 22 when an amendment was made to Senate Bill 414, a bill about residential sewage, that further reduces wetland protections.
The amended bill would redefine how wetlands are classified, making it easier for developers to build on wetlands, including those that are higher quality. That bill passed out of the House Environmental Affairs Committee on March 22 by an 8-4 vote. It now heads to the House floor.
Protecting firefighters from PFAS
Two bills that would protect firefighters from harmful chemicals have been gaining traction in the House. A group of chemicals called PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," are widespread and long-lasting chemicals used to make products and coatings that are heat resistant and repel water and oil.
House Bill 1341 by Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, has proposed a bill that requires labeling in gear indicating whether it contains PFAS. It passed in the House on Jan. 30 by a vote of 95-0.
A second bill, House Bill 1219 by Rep. Maureen Bauer, D-South Bend, would establish a pilot program to test firefighters across Indiana for their exposure to PFAS. It passed out of the House on Feb. 14 by a 94-0 vote.
Both bills were referred to the Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation and both passed unanimously out of committee on March 21 by a 8-0 vote.
Energy reliability pitted against consumer affordability
As the grid and energy industry undergoes a major transition, many officials are worried about maintaining the system's reliability so customers can count on the lights turning on. A suite of utility-related bills this session is aimed at that topic and helping the state smoothly update and transform the power industry.
Advocates and some lawmakers worry, however, that the proposed changes are giving the utilities more power in a way that could put consumer affordability at risk.
House Bill 1417 would establish a list of various costs that utilities are allowed to defer and then ask customers to cover those costs later. They say this can help utilities pay for unplanned changes that come up in providing service. It passed out of the House by a vote of 68-28 in February and was voted out of the Senate Utilities Committee on March 23 by a vote of 8-3.
Another bill, Senate Bill 9, was amended in the House to include similar provisions as HB 1417. It allows utilities to begin doing work related to federal mandates without getting prior approval from the state utility regulator, and later seek recovery for those costs from customers. That language was amended into the bill during the House Utilities Committee on March 14. Within eight days, it passed out of the House, the Senate agreed with the amendments and Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the bill on March 22.
Others are reading:Concerns about blackouts in the Midwest pit renewables against fossil fuels
House Bill 1420 would give utilities first dibs on projects to upgrade and expand transmission infrastructure — which is needed to get the energy from where it's produced to where it's needed. But there are some questions on if this bill closes the competitive bidding process. It passed out of the House on Feb. 20 by a vote of 59-39 and has been referred to the Senate Utilities Committee.
House Bill 1421 would expand incentives for utilities to build natural gas plants by allowing the power companies to bill customers for the cost of constructing the plant while building it, rather than waiting until it's generating electricity. This bill passed was sent to the Utilities Committee in the Senate, which voted it out by a vote of 6-3 on March 9. It was voted out of the Senate on March 21 by a 31-10 vote.
Marion County housing development
House Bill 1157, a bill to expand for Marion County a powerful tool for incentivizing residential housing development, passed the Senate Local Government committee March 23 and now awaits a hearing in the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.
Housing tax increment financing has been used by Indianapolis in four areas since 1988: Fall Creek Place, the Near Eastside, Barrington and Martindale-Brightwood. But it has been extremely narrow in use due to strict eligibility requirements.
The legislation fixes an unintentional limitation of Marion County from using the incentive program that happened because its redevelopment commission is governed by a different set of laws than other counties.
Residential building commission
House Bill 1575, authored by Rep. Timothy O’Brien, R-Evansville, would create a statewide residential building code commission staffed primarily by builders, developers, and Realtors, to let them regulate building safety, with the aim of reducing home building costs. It would have veto power on housing codes over the current Indiana fire prevention and building commission that sets codes for building safety.
Critics have said its problematic that six of the ten seats on the residential building commission established by House Bill 1575 will be for representatives from the homebuilding, apartment or real estate industry, including both the Indiana Apartment Association and the Indiana Builders Association. Organizations responsible for building safety, including the International Code Council, are opposed to the bill, with some saying it would allow unsafe standards by allowing special interests to write building safety regulation.
County health departments
Senate Bill 4, the bill carrying the recommendations of Gov. Eric Holcomb's public health commission to address Indiana’s poor health metrics, had its first lengthy hearing in the House Public Health committee on March 14, but hasn't had a vote yet. Authored by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, the bill passed the Senate Feb. 23.
If funded, it would flood local health departments with more state dollars in exchange for opting into a new set of standards for what services local health departments must offer. It’s an optional program, but state health officials say they hope all 95 local health departments — one for each county, plus Gary, East Chicago and Fishers — will participate.
Highway work zones
Republican Rep. Jim Pressel's fourth attempt at getting the Indiana legislature to establish a pilot program testing speed cameras in highway work zones passed the Senate transportation committee 8-1 March 14 and is awaiting a final vote on the Senate floor ― the furthest his legislation has come.
Under the pilot program outlined in House Bill 1015, those who drive more than 11 mph above the speed limit when workers are present in a highway worksite could be fined up to $150 for repeated violations. Revenue collected would go to the state general fund.
State welfare program
Indiana has one of the lowest income eligibility caps for its federally-funded state welfare program, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, according to Senate Bill 265 bill sponsor Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute.
The bill would raise the income requirement from its current 16% of the federal poverty rate up to 35% by 2027, and up to 50% thereafter. It passed unanimously out of the Senate on Jan. 30 and passed its first House committee — Family, Children and Human Affairs — March 16. It's now awaiting a hearing from the House Ways and Means committee.
The state is currently leaving funds budgeted for welfare on the table because of its restrictive income limits — over $50 million on average over the last five years, according to Ford.
Banning school library books
For several years, lawmakers have been attempting to remove schools from the list of entities eligible for a specified defense to criminal prosecutions alleging dissemination of material harmful to minors.
Supporters of Senate Bill 12 say it's needed to get pornography and other obscene, inappropriate materials out of school libraries and to protect children. Opponents say it amounts to book banning and seems to target LGBTQ youth.
The bill was passed by the Senate Feb. 28 and is awaiting a hearing from the House education committee.
On Feb. 28, the Senate passed Senate Bill 350 — a bill that almost died in committee earlier this session. The local government committee started to take a vote on it Feb. 2, but stopped when it became clear the bill would not pass. That allowed its author, Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, to bring it back.
The bill would prohibit local governments from enforcing any sort of ban on services provided by social workers, marriage and family therapists, addiction counselors or mental health counselors — including so-called conversion therapy. That's when therapists or counselors try to change LGBTQ clients’ gender identities and sexual orientations, often through faith-based mental health counseling. Under the bill, it wouldn't matter whether those practitioners are licensed or not.
It's now waiting its first committee hearing in the House.
Lawmakers in both chambers have filed and passed legislation that would prevent the state’s public retirement system from working with banks or investing in funds that prioritize environmental, social or governance policies, including those that have restrictions on certain industries, such as coal or firearm manufacturers.
House Bill 1008 was passed by the House Feb. 27, after getting held up by a fiscal analysis estimated that it would cost Indiana's Public Retirement System $6.7 billion over the next decade. An amendment was adopted, lowering the estimated cost to $550,000 annually. The bill, carried by Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Logansport, is priority legislation for the House Republicans caucus.
A similar bill passed the Senate Feb. 20. Senate Bill 292 was authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle.
Another bill, Senate Bill 268, would require the Indiana Public Retirement System to divest from Chinese companies. It was passed Feb. 28.
House Republicans passed their proposal for the state's two-year $43.3 billion spending plan Feb. 23 and it now heads to the Senate. The two sides will hammer out a final agreement at the end of the session.
Gov. Eric Holcomb's proposed budget request gives significant increases into K-12 schools and higher education and fund a major overhaul of the state’s public health system. The House altered the budget to ramp up the education investment even more, but it pumps the brakes on the public and mental health funding requests.
The House's proposed $43.3 billion two-year budget would also speed up income tax cuts and expand the state's school choice program.
State budget:House GOP goes big on education, cutting taxes, pulls back on health dollars
Funding mental health support
Senate Bill 1, Republican Sen. Michael Crider's mental health bill, passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 13 and is moved to the House.
The bill would establish a framework to strengthen the state's community mental health centers and 988 suicide and crisis hotline. A $30 million appropriation to these clinics was stricken from the bill and will become a Senate budget request instead.
The money would help the clinics receive federal funding opportunities and to send help or provide a safe space when people call the 988 suicide hotline. A House budget request would establish a $1 service charge on phone bills to help fund 988 response services.
Reinventing high school
House Bill 1002, a priority bill for House Republicans, was approved by that chamber's Education committee Feb. 1. The bill to overhaul high school curricula and give students more work-based learning opportunities while in high school is part of an effort to knit closer together high school and employers.
It was voted out of the House Feb. 21 and is waiting to be heard by the Senate Education and Career Development committee.
Exempting military reserves from income tax
A House bill that would exempt active duty military from the individual income tax in Indiana passed its first Senate committee unanimously on March 7. Because it would impact state revenues, it now goes to the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy committee.
The Legislative Services Agency estimates revenue loss to the state would grow up to $22 million by 2028. But House Bill 1034's author, Rep. Randy Frye, R-Greensburg, believes the impact wouldn't be so severe because, as it stands today, these active duty military often abandon Indiana as their home state to avoid the income tax. The Veterans Coalition of Indiana puts the number of veterans who leave the state at 3,400 a year, and says retaining those soldiers and their families would keep dollars in Indiana's economy.
The House passed it unanimously Jan. 19.
Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would give judges the ability to withhold bail for defendants if they pose “a substantial risk to the public," passed the Senate 34-15 on Jan. 26 and now heads to the House.
Currently in Indiana, murder and treason are the only two offenses that bail is automatically withheld. The language SJR 1 would add to the state constitution, authored by Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, is little more than a sentence long and does not give guidance on how judges should determine when to withhold bail.
To become law, it would have to go through two General Assemblies and a voter referendum before being amended into the state’s Constitution. The soonest voters would consider the proposal would be November 2026.
Eliminating physician noncompete clauses
Senate Bill 7, which proposes getting rid of noncompete clauses for physicians, passed the Senate 45-5 on Feb. 7 and is heading to the House.
Authored by Sen. Justin Busch, R-Fort Wayne, the bill's sweeping proposal would go against common industry practice in the hopes of removing barriers to competition and, theoretically, lowering prices for consumers. Noncompete clauses are often written into doctors' employment contracts to restrict them from working at a different hospital within a certain geographic area after they leave their current job to protect the bottom line of the employer they are choosing to leave.
More:Eyeing health care costs, Indiana lawmakers want to ban doctor noncompetes
The physician shortage and health care affordability is in such disarray in Indiana that Republican senators moved the bill forward despite some describing it as "extreme" in its current form.
Decriminalizing HIV exposure
A bill seeking to bring Indiana law up to speed with medical science on the spread of HIV passed the House 78-19 and moved to the Senate.
Laws on the books since the 1980s single out people living with HIV and give them stiffer penalties for certain acts, from donating blood or semen to spitting on another individual. The modern scientific consensus today is that HIV cannot be transmitted through spitting, and people living with HIV can safely give blood if they're being treated and have an undetectable trace of the virus.
House Bill 1198, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, would eliminate those stiffer penalties — felonies — for people living with HIV.
Housing infrastructure loan fund
House Bill 1005, a bill to establish a revolving fund for local governments to provide infrastructure for housing development passed out of the House 91-6 on Feb. 7. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Water pipes, sewage lines, sidewalks, and other critical infrastructure are some of the costly things that housing developers need to build new homes. The fund aims to support this and lower the cost of building new housing, as part of a Statehouse push to address Indiana’s housing shortage. The fund will be administered by the Indiana Finance Authority.
More:'Windfall profit': Lawmakers who build homes file bills to help their industry
Residential tax increment financing
In an effort to address the state's affordable housing shortage, a bill that removes requirements for using tax increment financing for housing development passed out of the Senate 28-19 on Feb. 2, moving onto the House. Senate Bill 300 strikes the requirement that school boards affected by tax increment financing programs approve them before they can happen.
It removes the current requirement that an area have less than 1% of its total houses be equal to the average of new houses be built in the previous three years before it can establish a TIF area.
Opponents said that the bill does not require the new homes to be affordable, takes away the right of school boards, which rely upon property taxes, to oppose TIF districts.
School dress codes
Senate Bill 380, which seeks to remind schools they have the right to create and enforce dress codes to curb distractions in the classroom, passed the Senate on Feb. 7 and is awaiting a House education committee hearing. Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, said he wrote the bill in response to concerns he heard from school employees and parents about students dressed as “furries.”
The term generally refers to people who dress in full-body fur suits, similar to sports mascot costumes, but seems to be applied more broadly in this case to refer to kids wearing cat ears and/or tails at school. School officials surveyed by IndyStar say, though, this is not a problem for them.
The rumor mill:Here's where the false 'litter boxes in schools' claim came from, and why some believe it
Holding nonprofits accountable
A bill to expand the Attorney General's legal authority to hold nonprofit corporations accountable for mismanagement passed out of the House 77-19 on Jan. 30. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.
House Bill 1075 comes after Attorney General Todd Rokita's prolonged fight last year against a negligent nonprofit corporation landlord that failed to pay water bills despite collecting tenants' rent in Indianapolis, leading to the water utility company cutting off water to apartments.
A similar bill, Senate Bill 278, was heard in the Senate Judiciary committee on Jan. 25 to criticism from committee chair Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, who said it might harm small nonprofits that are well-intentioned but poorly managed. It passed out of the committee on Feb. 15 and unanimously out of the Senate on Feb. 28. It now moves to the House for consideration.
Others are reading:AG Todd Rokita faces probe by state disciplinary commission. Here's what comes next
Protesting outside homes
On Feb. 21 the Senate passed by a 29-16 vote Senate Bill 348, which would make protesting or picketing outside a residence with the intent to harass a class C misdemeanor. Protestors would face arrest if law enforcement asks them to leave and they ignore the command.
A Class C misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in prison and a $500 fine. It's the least severe misdemeanor possible in Indiana.
The bill, authored by Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, is now in front of a House committee.
Indiana could pass a first-of-its kind bill to tax semi-trucks running on alternative fuels to make up lost revenue INDOT uses for roadwork. House Bill 1050, authored by Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, would also increase a registration fee for hybrid and electric vehicles.
The bill rolled through the House 92-5 on Feb. 20, passed the Senate transportation committee 8-1 on March 14 and is now headed to appropriations.
Food delivery apps
Heading to the full Senate is a bill requiring food delivery apps to receive permission from local businesses before listing them as a pickup location and imposing penalties for violating their consent.
House Bill 1279, authored by Rep. Robb Greene, R-Shelbyville, sailed through the Senate Commerce and Technology committee 10-1 on March 16, with one lawmaker calling it "one of the best bills of the session." The House had unanimously passed the bill in late February.
Local businesses owners said it will help them have more control over their product and reduce issues that apps like Grubhub and Postmates cause.
Contact IndyStar state government and politics reporter Kayla Dwyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @kayla_dwyer17.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Statehouse roundup: Here's what happened March 20-24