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Weekly Statehouse Update: New Secretary Of State, Police Reform To Holcomb’s Desk

Indiana Statehouse

The Indiana Statehouse (WFIU/WTIU)

Indiana has a new secretary of state. Landmark police reform is headed to the governor’s desk. And legislation on the governor’s emergency powers was significantly scaled back.

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

New Secretary Of State Holli Sullivan

Rep. Holli Sullivan (R-Evansville) was sworn in as Indiana’s new Secretary of State after the governor appointed her to replace retiring Secretary Connie Lawson. Sullivan, who served in the General Assembly since 2014, wouldn’t say whether she plans to run in next year’s statewide election to keep her new position.

Lawmakers Aim To End Session Early

Indiana legislative leaders say they want to end the 2021 session more than a week early. And they plan to take the unusual step of moving up their deadlines to do so.

State law says the General Assembly has until April 29 to finish its work, but legislative leaders hope to wrap things up by April 21.

Landmark Police Reform

The Senate unanimously approved a police reform bill supported by groups including the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, the NAACP, the Indiana Black Expo, state public defenders and prosecutors, and every major law enforcement organization in the state. 

The bill, HB 1006, includes new training requirements and a ban on chokeholds unless deadly force is warranted. It also makes it easier for police who commit misconduct to be removed from the force.

The bill now heads to the governor for his signature.

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

Governor Emergency Powers

And legislation addressing the governor’s emergency powers – which were used extensively throughout the pandemic – now primarily just allows legislators to call themselves into special session during a statewide public emergency, after changes to HB 1123 were approved in a Senate committee Thursday. 

There are questions, though, whether that violates the Indiana Constitution.

Virtual School Funding

The Senate approved the final form of Senate Bill 2 Tuesday, after lawmakers in the House gave their final approval on the legislation last week. 

The fix comes after concerns schools would lose state funding for students who have been forced online because of the pandemic. 

The bill now heads to the governor for his signature.

Unemployment Fraud

Legislation aiming to crack down on fraud in Indiana’s unemployment system passed a Senate committee vote on Wednesday, but it's unpopular with those who worry applicants making simple mistakes could get caught in the crossfire.

House Bill 1152 would add penalties for people who don’t disclose income or falsify facts when seeking unemployment benefits. Business groups including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indiana Manufacturers Association support the bill as they say fraud negatively affects employment. 

Pesticide Misuse

A bill that would change the fines for misusing pesticides is headed to Governor Holcomb’s desk. It passed with all but four votes in the House on Monday.

Senate Bill 227 aims to crack down on people who misuse things like dicamba — a weed killer that’s been known to drift off of farm fields and kill neighboring crops. Under the bill, someone who knowingly misused a restricted-use pesticide could get a $1,000 fine.

IU Professor: Pesticide Bill Won’t Stop Dicamba Drift

An Indiana University professor questions whether a bill aimed at curbing the misuse of a controversial weed killer will solve the problem. Dicamba has been known to drift off of the farm fields where it’s applied and damage neighboring crops.

Marc Lame teaches environmental management and spent a decade helping farmers in Arizona control pests and weeds. He said the $1,000 maximum fine that Indiana’s proposing in Senate Bill 227 is much lower than some other states.

Illinois has a maximum of $10,000 and Missouri's is $25,000 for repeat offenders. Four years ago, Arkansas also upped its maximum fine from $1,000 to $25,000.

“The farmers found that the fines were so low that, you know, it was worth the hassle to just pay the fine and not have a problem with weeds in their fields," Lame said.

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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