Brandon Smith, Statehouse reporter for Indiana Public Broadcasting, says when people look back to legislative sessions, there’s usually one issue that defines that session. Two years ago, it was Governor Mike Pence’s tax-cut debate. Last year, it was HJR-3.
“If you think back to 2015 at the Statehouse, the first thing that will pop into people’s minds is RFRA,” Smith says.
The controversy surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act made Indiana a national conversation topic. House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, says there’s no way to undo the damage and Congress’ fix was insufficient by failing to guarantee anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people.
But Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, says the clarification satisfied the groups that had spoken out against the act.
“As we made very clear, Indiana is a very welcoming place and we just have to shout from the balcony about that,” Merritt says.
Though RFRA dominated conversation for about two weeks, the General Assembly tackled a number of other issues over the past four months.
“There are a lot of good things to talk about, including growth in our economy, economic development and giving the Pence administration tools to improve our schools and also grow our economy,” Merritt says.
Congress allotted about half a billion dollars to public education to be divided between four different school systems; public, charter, voucher and virtual charter schools.
When it comes to funding schools, Merritt says the Republican mindset is the money should follow the child, giving more money to schools with more students. He says it fosters competition within the education system and benefits the students.
“I’m comfortable with different types of schools because kids learn differently,” Merritt says.
Pelath says this approach has the opposite effect on students and creates an environment with kids with means are able to follow the money to better schools.
Overall, Merritt says it was a “very successful, productive session.”
But Pelath remembers it differently.
“The session adjourned and it fulfilled its one constitutional responsibility to pass a budget, so it avoids a failing grade on those grounds,” Pelath says. “But other than that it gets the lowest passing grade of a D minus.”