Weekly Statehouse Update: Budget, Gaming, Holcomb Pushes Hate Crimes Law

Mar 1, 2019

The 2019 legislative session’s first half ended as the House passed the budget, the Senate approved a major gaming bill, and Gov. Eric Holcomb stood firm on hate crimes.

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

House Budget

The House approved the $34.5 billion, two-year state budget along party lines. GOP leaders say the spending plan is fiscally responsible and funds their priorities – including increases in education spending that keep pace with inflation, but not much more.

But Democrats say the budget is inadequate when it comes to providing dollars for teacher pay, anti-poverty programs, and health care.

Gaming Bill

One of the most significant gaming bills since the industry’s beginnings in Indiana easily passed out of the state Senate Tuesday. Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) calls his Senate-approved gaming bill a “once-in-a-generation” reset for the state’s casinos.

The measure allows a Gary casino to move to a more attractive location on a major interstate, opens the door to a new casino in Terre Haute, and legalizes sports wagering statewide.

Holcomb Pushes Hate Crimes Law

Gov. Eric Holcomb wants Hoosiers to call their lawmakers to urge them to support a hate crimes bill that includes a list of victim characteristics.

Senate Republicans removed that list and House GOP leaders aren’t inclined to support it. But Holcomb says anything less isn’t good enough.

Underground CO2 Storage

State legislators hope to study carbon dioxide storage in Indiana this summer. A bill to form the committee passed in the state Senate Tuesday. It’s much different from the original bill which would have made it easier for companies to get approval to inject CO2 into the ground. 

The bill to create a committee to study the process now moves on to the state House for consideration.

Foster Parents And DCS

The Senate approved legislation Monday that aims to improve the relationship between the Department of Child Services and the state’s foster parents.

The measure makes several changes to the way foster parents interact with both the agency and the court system. For example, it creates a new definition of a long-term foster parent – someone who’s care for the child for at least 12 months.

Voucher Anti-Discrimination Bill Dead

Efforts at the Statehouse to keep state money out of private schools that openly discriminate failed in the first half of the legislative session, but the lawmakers behind the proposals say they aren't done focusing on the issue.

Roncalli High School in Indianapolis put guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald on leave last year because of her marriage to a woman. The private religious school receives state dollars through the school choice voucher program.

The situation inspired state Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) to file a bill aimed at keeping that funding out of schools that discriminate. His bill never got a hearing before a key legislative deadline this year, effectively killing the measure.

Hemp Regulation

A bill that would regulate hemp production in Indiana has passed out of the Indiana Senate.

Last year, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill doing something similar, but failed to remain intact in the Senate by being turned into a summer study committee instead.

Hemp was removed from the federal controlled substances list in December.

Military Family Relief Fund

The Indiana House unanimously passed legislation Monday to tighten the controls on the state’s Military Family Relief Fund.

The bill is a response to controversy last year at the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

School Mental Health Care

A bill to provide mental health care for Indiana students narrowly passed the Senate this week.  The legislation was written in response to school safety. 

The bill’s author says the creation of an integrated mental health system is a key step in preventing school violence. 

Exonerated Prisoners

State lawmakers want to give exonerated prisoners money for their wrongful incarceration.

The legislation is now in the Senate after its unanimous passage by the House.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Danville) says Indiana should provide exonerated prisoners an option: they can sue the state (as they can now) or take a payout from a fund created by his legislation.

“Dark Box” Tax Assessments

A bill creating a uniform property value assessment passed smoothly through the Senate Tuesday afternoon. The legislation aims to help local governmentsstruggling against retailers who want even lower taxes.

Big box stores have come under scrutiny of governments for using tactics to reduce property tax payments – a move some Indiana cities say is costing them dearly. 

Radon Testing

A bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday recommends schools test for radon. Exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke in the U.S. 

Radon is a naturally-occurring gas that seeps into buildings from the soil. High levels of radon are estimated to cause more than 21,000 deaths every year.