Indiana legislators made a number of game-changing adjustments to key bills this week, including some of the most controversial proposals for this year's session.
For better or worse, the two chambers are in the home stretch — Monday, April 18, marks the deadline for Senate committee hearings on House bills, followed by Wednesday's cutoff for Senate consideration of House proposals. Business must conclude by midnight on April 29, unless Gov. Mitch Daniels calls a special session, which may be likely given the slow progress of nailing down a state budget for the next two years.
Garnering the most media attention were amendments to the Arizona-esque immigration bill, SB 590. The loudest objections to the original bill seemed to come from the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association (ICVA) along with several other businesses around the state. Indianapolis' Convention Center has reportedly received phone calls from potential clients concerning the bill's progress. Several have threatened to take their planned conventions to other cities if the legislation is enacted. Lawmakers apparently heeded their warning, removing some of the harsher provisions.
To protect the city's reputation and avoid detrimental loss of business, legislators removed a particularly contentious bit that would have required police officers to ask persons of interest for proof of immigration status, as well as the English-language only section. The bill now focuses more heavily on imposing tax penalties for businesses employing undocumented immigrants.
A WTHR report Thursday quoted Rep. Bill Davis (R-Portland) to summarize the significance of these adjustments:
Davis says the bill now focuses on "the things that we have control over. Employers, unemployment, education, those types of things where we're gonna ask that employers verify the employment of their employees, that people who are in our higher education [who] are using state tuition are here legally; we took out of the bill language that was a concern for those who haul children. They may be hauling them for hire because that's their business but they're not hauling them just to be hauling them. We didn't want folks caught up in those kinds of things. We're gonna make sure we focus on issues that the state has control over, and that we can make an effect on and that we can make a difference."
Davis believes the revised bill is more in line with Gov. Mitch Daniels' agenda.
"I think that the governor also wants us to be focused on the things that Indiana has some influence on," he said.
The Senate has already approved the bill, voting in favor 31-18; a House committee followed suit Friday morning with a 6-5 vote.
The General Assembly also turned its attention to the hotly debated issue of Hoosier women's reproductive rights. Wednesday saw a Senate panel's approval of the controversial bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and would require doctors to inform patients that the procedure could result in infertility. Notably missing from this version of the bill was the provision demanding that physicians tell women seeking abortions about a link to breast cancer.
"Requiring a physician to inform a woman about the relationship of abortion and breast cancer," Dr. Larry Einhorn told the committee, "is illogical and scientifically incorrect."
He said it would be a "cruel and egregious deception" to tell women who developed breast cancer that it might somehow be linked to their decision to have had an abortion.
Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, offered the amendment that eliminated that language.
"We listened to what some physicians have said about the breast cancer issue and decided it would be best to take that out," said Miller, a co-sponsor of the bill.
The bill must still be approved by both the full Senate and the House before landing on the governor's desk to be signed into law.
Key education bills also received the amending treatment. The House Education Committee moved forward SB 1, which would hold teachers accountable for student performance and test scores using annual faculty evaluations. Schools would then be empowered to withhold salary increases should teachers earn poor ratings.
Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee approved HBs 1003 and 1369 — the first would allow the use of state taxes to provide vouchers for students to attend private or religious schools, while the latter would repeal a standing prerequisite that superintendents have five years of successful teaching experience under their belts.
The Senate approved HB 1002 with a 29-20 vote after making significant changes to the legislation which would allow for significant expansion of charter schools in Indiana. According to a wrap-up on the blog of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus:
Included in the Senate changes is the elimination of teacher approval needed for a traditional public school to be converted to a charter school. The bill now allows conversion of a traditional public school to a charter school by either a school board decision or if 51 percent of the parents sign a petition requesting the conversion. The Senate amended language providing new charter sponsorship privileges to state universities and private colleges or universities, limiting that privilege to only those schools with education programs. The Senate also added education service centers to the list of entities that can sponsor new charters and increased from 75 to 90 the percent of teachers at a charter school who must be licensed.
The limit on virtual charter schools (schools where courses are taught primarily online) was eliminated and state funding available to those schools was increased. In addition, the bill now allows the sponsorship of a charter school to be transferred if the school remains in the lowest performance category for 5 years. Opponents expressed serious concerns about how the expansion of charter schools could negatively affect the future of traditional public education in Indiana.
The House will now reconsider the bill with the Senate's changes.
To keep track of these and other bills as they move through the legislative process, check out the General Assembly's website, and keep an eye out for NUVO's comprehensive recap in May.