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Weekly Statehouse Update: GOP Overrides Veto, New Revenue Forecast For State Budget

The Indiana Statehouse  dome.

(Justin Hicks/IPB News)

Republicans override another Gov. Eric Holcomb veto. A new revenue forecast projects billions more for the new state budget. And the latest anti-abortion measure is set to become law. 

Here’s what you might have missed this week at the Statehouse.

Emergency Powers Bill Veto Overturned

The latest veto override puts into law a measure that allows the General Assembly to call itself into special session during a public emergency, giving legislators more power to intervene in the governor’s decisions in times of crisis. 

The measure, HB 1123, stems in part from many lawmakers’ frustration with Holcomb’s executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor says the legislation is unconstitutional.

State Budget

Indiana’s new, two-year, $36 billion state budget is headed for its final negotiation phase after the Senate approved its version of the spending plan Tuesday.

The Senate budget proposal spends more on K-12 education overall than its House counterpart. And it focuses more of those dollars on students living in poverty and less on private school vouchers than the House version.

High school courses in areas including cosmetology and culinary arts will keep their state funding in a version of the budget approved by the Senate after language that would’ve cut their funding was removed from the current budget bill.

Updated Revenue Forecast

An updated forecast of state tax revenues projects Indiana will collect about $2 billion more in the next budget cycle than previously predicted. Lawmakers will take the next week deciding how to spend that money in the new state budget. 

Legislative leaders say they’re focused on their top budget priority – K-12 education – one-time investments and paying down state debt.

Abortion 

Some physicians say HB 1577, which is headed to the governor’s desk, will force them to commit malpractice. It requires them to tell patients about a so-called “abortion reversal” protocol that leading medical organizations call “unproven and unethical.”

COVID-19 Vaccine Passport Ban

Indiana House lawmakers debated a ban on so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports Monday.

Rep. Brad Barrett (R-Richmond), a retired physician, offered an amendment to SB 325 that would bar businesses from asking about a person’s vaccination status. It would also stop them from restricting access to a public area of their business without proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

House Democrats challenged the amendment, successfully blocking even a vote on it using procedural rules.

Additional COVID-19 Liability Protections To Governor

A bill that will give health care providers additional protections from COVID-19 liability lawsuits is on its way to the governor’s desk. Some trial lawyers worry the bill will limit Hoosiers from seeking legal action for their loved ones.

The House version of the bill, HB 1002, expands upon previous legislation Gov. Eric Holcomb already signed that gave civil immunity to businesses, schools and health care providers.

$1 School Building Law

Indiana lawmakers are fine-tuning a state law that forces school districts to offer vacated buildings to charter school organizations, despite an ongoing court challenge from schools.

READ MORE: How Do I Follow Indiana's Legislative Session? Here's Your Guide To Demystify The Process

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The law says a school district has to offer up empty buildings formerly used for classroom instruction, for charter organizers to buy or lease for just $1.

It doesn't mean there's always a buyer or interested party, but lawmakers are now extending the right to a $1 school building to state educational institutions – like colleges and universities – though Senate Bill 358.

Wind, Solar Siting Bill

A controversial bill that aimed to standardize where wind and solar farms could be located in the state was withdrawn in the state Senate on Tuesday. Despite a lot of changes to HB 1381, sponsors didn’t feel they could get the votes needed to pass it.

The idea was to make it easier for renewable energy companies to invest in Indiana. Right now the state is a patchwork of different local ordinances — some counties have banned wind farms altogether.

Online Teacher Training

Experienced professionals may soon have another pathway to become teachers in Indiana, under a bill lawmakers say is designed to help combat the teacher shortage. 

Senate Bill 205 allows people 26 and older with a bachelor's degree to get a teaching license after they finish an alternative training program and pass a state licensing exam. The bill is written to specifically allow an online program called American Board to operate in Indiana. 

The American Board program operates in several other states, and supporters of the bill point out it includes data reporting for the state to evaluate the program's usefulness and quality.

But opponents, including Vigo County teacher and Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute), said new teachers need experience in the classroom before being put in front of students. 

The bill requires a year of clinical training, but only after teachers licensed through the program are hired full time.

Wetland Protections Bill

A bill that would get rid of state protections for some wetlands in Indiana narrowly passed the Senate. There’s only one stop before the controversial bill becomes law — Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

Supporters of the Senate Bill 389 said Indiana’s current wetlands law is too strict — causing home prices to go up and creating conflicts between farmers and state environmental regulators.

The current bill no longer gets rid of all state wetland protections. But, among other things, you wouldn’t have to get a permit to build on the state’s smallest type of wetland or a wetland in a farm field. The bill also creates a task force to study issues with the wetlands law.

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