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Weekly Statehouse Update: Holcomb’s Teacher Pay Plan, School Mental Health Funding

The Indiana Statehouse in the winter with no snow.

The Indiana Statehouse. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

The governor unveiled a teacher pay plan for 2021. The House made changes to its bill to raise the smoking age. And a Senate committee advanced a school mental health measure.

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

Holcomb’s Teacher Pay Proposal

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proposal, unveiled in his State of the State address, would use one-time dollars to pay down part of a teacher pension fund. That would free up $50 million a year, which the governor says should be directed toward boosting educator salaries. But that won’t happen until 2021 because Republicans say they don’t want to re-open the budget this year.

Tobacco Bill Changes

Changes in a House bill this week seek to address recent vaping deaths. The provision would ban the sale of tobacco products with vitamin E acetate, identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a primary cause of lung injuries that have killed dozens of Americans who vape.

The Senate version of this bill dramatically increases fines – something some Republican senators balked at. Still, the measure unanimously cleared the committee and is headed for the Senate floor.

School Safety Legislation

And a Senate committee advanced one of Holcomb’s agenda items – a requirement that, beginning next year, any school that applies for school safety funding from the state must have a relationship with a mental health care provider.

Lead Line Replacement

A bill that will help smaller utilities address lead in drinking water passed out of a state Senate committee on Thursday. It would allow those utilities to replace lead pipes owned by their customers. 

Long-term exposure to lead can cause a host of problems, especially in children — including trouble learning, behavioral issues, and poor kidney function.

But many homeowners don’t have the money to replace the last section of lead pipe leading to their homes. If a utility only replaces the pipes they own, it can disturb the homeowner’s lead line and cause more contamination.

Indiana Black Legislative Caucus Outlines Priorities

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus wants the state to push forward measures that will improve prescription drug costs, children’s health and jail overcrowding.

The caucus is also prioritizing legislation that would require lead testing in all Lake County schools, a region experiencing a lead contamination crisis.

Caucus members acknowledge their priorities might not pass this session but emphasize the importance of initiating debate.

Dementia Protection Bills

Advocates are pushing for two proposals that would offer more protections for people living with dementia. One bill, Senate Bill 249, would make it easier to charge someone with a felony for financial exploitation. According to current law, financial exploitation must be committed against someone age 60 years or older and reach $10,000 before automatically charged as a felony. The new bill would lower the amount to $750 and remove the age restriction.

Another, Senate Bill 265, would expand Indiana’s Medicaid Advisory Committee to include a member to represent individuals living with dementia.  

Hold Harmless Moving Toward Holcomb’s Desk

Both chambers of the General Assembly approved legislation Monday to press pause on state school accountability as Hoosiers transition to a new state exam.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have now approved identical pieces of the legislation, with it just steps away from landing on the governor’s desk. It will allow schools to use their state letter grades from 2017-2018 until the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

Lake Michigan Beach Access

A House bill seeks to challenge an Indiana Supreme Court decision that secured the public’s right to use Lake Michigan beaches that are in front of private property. 

The bill — authored by Rep. Doug Miller (R-Elkhart) — would allow lakefront property owners the rights to prevent the public from accessing more of the beach as long as those rights were stated in the most recent deed to the property.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel), says the committee will watch another bill regarding Lake Michigan beach use — Senate Bill 325 — closely as it makes its decision. The bill upholds what was established by the Indiana Supreme Court. 

School Deregulation Receives Mixed Response

Rep. Jack Jordan (R-Bremen) wrote a bill that would let school districts apply for waivers to suspend a range of state requirements, with a similar proposal from lawmakers in the Senate. They would allow schools to potentially bypass parts of mandatory curriculum outlined in state law, the length of the school year, and other items included in Indiana’s wide-ranging education policies, as long as they can prove it will benefit students.

Groups representing school administrators and school choice advocates voiced support for the measures at committee hearings this week. Many say it can offer much needed flexibility for districts to boost student success and ease regulatory burdens. 

But the Indiana State Teachers Association is telling lawmakers to proceed with caution. The proposed process would leave it to the State Board of Education to approve or deny waiver applications submitted by districts.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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