From the start, the mood on the stage Thursday morning at the JW Marriott during the 2019 Indiana Latino Legislative Breakfast reflected the frayed nerves of the Latino population in the state and nation.
As Marlene Dotson, ILI president and CEO, announced the group's legislative priorities—including education, health, immigration, and encouraging diversity—she referenced the ongoing fallout from the Trump administration's family separation policy.
“We're living in very difficult times,” she said. “No children should be living in fear that they will going to be separated from their parents today. These are difficult times, and we have every right to be angry. What we are experiencing today is deeply unfair, unjust, and anti-American.”
The legislative panel was moderated WRTV's Rafael Sanchez, and included Republican House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma, Democratic Minority House Leader Phil GiaQuinta, Republican Majority Senate Floor Leader Mark Messmer, Minority Senate Floor Leader Tim Lanane, and Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster.
After Sanchez welcomed the panel to the stage to the sounds of Miley Cyrus' “Party in the U.S.A.,” he called for civility.
“I say that now because I don't want to have to call you out for incivility, because I will do that,” he said.
IN-STATE TUITION AND FINANCIAL AID FOR UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS
The first question was centered on one of ILI's legislative priorities: Ensuring eligibility for in-state tuition and financial aid opportunities for undocumented students by restoring state statues.
Bosma said he regretted that in-state tuition had not been implemented in the past, but said it would have to be remedied in Congress.
“We'll have to deal with the DREAMer situation at the federal level,” he said, referring to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.
Reardon said a bill which would do exactly that—House Bill 1030, authored by Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago—had not received a hearing.
“We have, in fact, addressed issues in a bipartisan fashion that we didn't wait for the federal government to act on. And, I think this should be one of those,” she said.
Reardon said it didn't make fiscal or moral sense to abandon these students at this point in their lives.
“We have already invested in their education K-12,” she said. “If we allow those kids to continue their education and be contributing members of Indiana society, it's best for all of us.”
When asked what could be done to address the higher instance of infant mortality in some areas of the state, Lanane said education had to be part of the answer
“We need to make sure women understand, everyone understands the importance of pre-natal care,” he said.
In response, Reardon referenced Senate Bill 352, authored by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Rushville, which would have allowed “a minor who is at least 16 years of age and pregnant, in labor; orpostpartum; to consent to health care concerning the pregnancy, delivery, and pospartum care.”
“I would say women do understand. I would say it's a lot of the men in the Senate who don't understand,” she said, of the bill's failure. “These are teens that are alone. These are not teens who can get parental consent. These are people in a bad situation, and they can't even consent to an emergency, lifesaving C-section if they're pregnant and alone.
“We have to make health care decisions for ourselves,” she said.
Bosma retorted by mentioning House Bill 1007, authored by Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, which would require the Indiana State Department of Health to establish a perinatal navigator program.
Indiana—along with South Carolina, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Georgia—is currently one of only five states in the country without a hate crimes law on the books.
In the past bills have failed in committee, but Messmer and Lanane said it was time to move forward.
“I think the tide is generally with the enactment of this type of legislation, but we do get sort of bogged down in some of the details,” said Lanane.
Bosma said he was having a hard time convincing much of his caucus it was a real problem.
“The folks that are here, except for Mark, represent urban or suburban areas,” he said. “Seventy percent of the members of the House are from rural areas, highly rural areas, and in reality they're not hearing about this at home even from business leaders. So, we're trying to educate.
“It's time to address the issue,” he said.
Messmer said in his experience, hate crimes legislation polled well across the state among multiple constituencies.
“It's not an issue need to be scared of,” he said. “Just deal with it.”
DRIVER'S LICENSES FOR UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS
When asked about another of ILI's legislative priorities—allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses or recognize licenses from other states—Bosma once again deferred to Congress on the issue.
“It's not possible under current law,” he said. “This is a thorny issue. This one is difficult. It's a federal issue.”
GiaQuinta said most of the calls he was hearing for this type of legislation were from law enforcement.
“This is a public safety issue,” she said. “We need to make sure people have driver's licenses and insurance.”
SCHOOL SAFETY AND GUN SAFETY
Indiana has seen high profile shootings recently at schools including Richmond and Noblesville.
Bosma said more funding was being allocated for school safety funding, but GiaQuinta said the focus was in the wrong place.
“There are too many bills promoting the use of firearms,” said GiaQuinta. “We should promote gun safety, and not more gun use.”
Lanane said he was not in favor of arming teachers, which many Statehouse Republicans support.
“When I talk to teachers, they tell me they want to teach,” he said. “They don't want to be armed. They don't want to have to be the professionals to stop somebody in that terrible, terrible situation.”
In defense of the idea, Messmer pointed to Jay County Schools, which have installed guns available to trained teachers and staff hidden in biometric safes.
“I represent a rural district,” he said. “We don't have the luxury of having a city policeman or a state policeman 40 seconds away from where my students live.
“In rural America, sometimes that is a choice you have to make,” he said.
Reardon took the opportunity to suggest Indiana should require all licensed gun owners in the state to undergo similar training.
“I'm very happy to hear the endorsement of proper gun training,” she said. “I don't understand why it would be so difficult to train people to use firearms when they get a firearms license. We need to start figuring out how to keep guns out of the hands of people that shouldn't have them.
Bosma said he disagreed that not enough was being done to address gun safety. He referenced the Red Flag Law, which addresses “circumstances where it would be appropriate for a police officer to take custody of a citizen’s firearms, by way of a warrant, or immediately when exigent circumstances are present and it can be clearly articulated the safety of the public was in jeopardy,” according to the Indiana State Police.
“What Trump tried to propose and the NRA freaked out about, we did five years ago,” he said.