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House panel OKs locked-car guns in school lots

Also advances bill allowing ID of abortion-doctor's backup to remain private

INDIANAPOLIS – A House panel tackled the controversial topics of guns and abortion Tuesday – passing tempered legislation affecting both.

The House Public Policy Committee vastly amended Senate Bill 229 regarding firearm buyback programs. It originally prohibited local law enforcement agencies from conducting programs where citizens are encouraged to turn in guns without penalty in exchange for a reward.

But an amendment added Tuesday allows the buyback programs to continue as long as the agency isn’t using public funds. Private grants are allowed to cover costs of such buyback programs.

The bigger news, though, was the addition of an amendment regarding guns on school property.

Right now state law prohibits anyone from bringing guns onto school property – which includes parking lots and buildings. It is a felony if someone is caught.

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, offered an amendment involving language from his failed House bill partially lifting that restriction.

Under the language added to the bill, Hoosiers with proper carry permits could keep firearms out of sight in locked vehicles on school property. It is still a felony to carry the firearm into the building. And if the gun is in sight in the vehicle, it is a misdemeanor.

As a compromise, Lucas said no students would be allowed to do so unless they are members of a shooting club and have permission from the principal.

He argues this allows Hoosiers who legally carry guns for self-protection to do so without committing a crime.

Nicki McNally, of the Indiana chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, testified against the provision.

“Our country has reached epidemic levels of gun violence,” she said. “The answer to combating gun violence is not to have more guns, readily accessible, in easy reach.”

She said someone could act impulsively and use guns from vehicles.

But Lucas said this is just a common-sense step in line with the Indiana Constitution.

“Firearms aren’t the evil thing. It’s the action of the person,” he said.

The amendment and bill passed 8-2, with two Democrats voting against it. That included Rep. Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne, who said he thinks the bill sends a green light about bringing guns to school.

“I’m worried about what may happen in the future,” he said.

The committee also passed a bill further regulating abortion doctors – but with amendments.

Senate Bill 292 aims to clean up a loophole in existing law. Right now abortion doctors in Indiana must have admitting privileges at a local hospital or have an agreement with a backup doctor who has admitting privileges.

But that information isn’t currently collected by the Indiana State Department of Health.

The legislation originally would have required that information to be submitted and made the name of the backup doctor – who is not performing abortions – to be public.

“ISDH can determine if providers are in compliance,” said Cindy Noe, of Indiana Right to Life. “Right now there is nothing in writing. Literally these agreements could be a handshake over a punch bowl at a Christmas party.”

Cathie Humbarger, of Allen County Right to Life, testified that Allen County’s own admitting privilege ordinance requires that information to be submitted to the county health department.

This year the abortion doctor in Allen County lost his backup doctor and cannot currently perform abortions.

An amendment added Tuesday still requires the information to be provided to the state, which can confirm compliance. But it allows the department to redact personal information about the backup doctor.

Some in opposition to the original language were concerned that those physicians would be subject to harassment and protests.

The bill – as amended – passed 10-1. The lone vote against came from Republican Rep. Sean Eberhart of Shelbyville.

“We continue to make it more and more difficult with unnecessary regulations for a woman to choose a legal procedure,” he said.

Both bills now move to the full House.