Four issues have dominated the 2016 legislative session: LGBT rights, road funding, drug abuse, and ISTEP+ scores. Gov. Mike Pence (R) addressed all four during his State of the State Address last night.
Here’s what you need to know:
In the State of the State Address Tuesday, Pence said he would not support any legislation that would take away Hoosiers’ rights to religious freedoms. Democrats and LGBT rights lobbying groups have criticized Pence’s speech, accusing him of punting the issue and favoring religious rights at the expense of LGBT protections.
In November, The Senate GOP introduced a bill that includes protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It exempts religious institutions – including churches, religious schools, and religious nonprofits.
Senate Democrats unveiled their own LGBT rights strategy last October, which would add four words to the list of people protected by the existing state civil rights law: “sexual orientation and gender identity.”
In early January, Senate Republicans proposed an “alternative” bill, which leaves out gender identity. Both bills – the original and the new alternative – are expected to receive hearings later this month.
“The question before you as the elected representatives of the people of Indiana is whether it is necessary or even possible to reconcile these two values in the law without compromising the freedoms we hold dear,” Pence said in his address.
Everyone seems to agree that infrastructure is a priority for the 2016 legislative session, but there are several different proposals for funding road and bridge updates.
House Democrats introduced their plan in November. The proposal does not raise taxes, but does divert sales tax revenues on gasoline and special fuels to road maintenance.
Governor Pence’s four-year, $1 billion plan would use $241 million from the state’s budget reserves to immediately fund state road and bridge maintenance. It would also provide $240 million through bonding.
Pence referenced several measures that have been proposed to combat drug abuse in Indiana.
Senate Republicans are pushing to make it easier to convict drug dealers. Pence seems to agree: “Let’s get even tougher on drug dealers in this state.”
“But we cannot just arrest our way out of this problem,” Pence continued, possibly referencing a proposed expansion to thethe Lifeline Law that would add immunity from drug charges, and two bills introduced before the session this year that aim to cut down on meth production by regulating sales of products with pseudoephedrine.
Pence affirmed many of the legislative actions concerning education issues that lawmakers laid out so far this session.
StateImpact Indiana’s Claire McInerny reports that Pence echoed the sentiment behind two bills, HB 1003 and SB 200, aimed to curb consequences of this year’s low ISTEP+ scores for teachers and schools.
“Accountability is important, but testing must be reliable and the results fairly applied. Let’s take a step back from ISTEP and improve on the test we use to measure our kids and schools every year,” Pence said during his State of the State speech. “Let’s also take action to ensure that our teachers and schools are treated fairly with the results of the latest ISTEP test.”