INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers wrapped up a breakneck session late Thursday – leaving in its wake hundreds of new laws for Hoosiers to hail or disparage.
It’s been a grand slam, boasted House Speaker Brian Bosma.
There were clear hits, arguable misses and some that just can’t be categorized quite yet. But we’ll try anyway.
Here is your guide to the highlights of the 2014 legislation session:
Child-care rules – Lawmakers finally succeeded in passing basic safety rules for all child care centers receiving taxpayer dollars. Licensed facilities already have to meet minimal requirements but hundreds of private day cares, including child-care ministries, do not. Dozens of children have died in day care in recent years. And Gov. Mike Pence said definitively he will sign the legislation into law. I don’t think we have any higher obligation in this state than to our little ones, he said, noting If you receive taxpayer dollars you ought to live up to certain standards. Some of the changes include meeting basic nutritional and safety standards.
Transportation spending – Legislators tasked at least $200 million – and up to $400 million – to immediate major state highway expansions. Supporters said this allows Indiana to be eligible for more than $1.6 billion in additional federal funds, supporting at least 40,000 Hoosier jobs. Bosma said those are good jobs for the middle class. The bill allows $200 million to be spent by the Indiana Department of Transportation immediately. The rest could be freed up next year depending on how state tax collections hold up for the state budget.
Single county executive – Allen County will get its chance to debate a new form of county government with a referendum on the subject this fall. After years of trying, lawmakers finally passed the bill, which will act as a sort of pilot for other major counties that might be interested in the change. Voters will choose whether they want to move to a single county executive system instead of having three county commissioners. Also included in the change is a larger county council with fiscal and legislative powers. The structure is similar to how a mayor and city council run a city.
Pre-kindergarten – Indiana joins about 40 other states by investing state dollars in preschool education for the first time ever. The $10 million program is for a five-county pilot aiding several thousand low-income children. Private donations of up to another $5 million could be raised. It was one of the only major bipartisan agreements, though House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath compared it to planting a sapling when full landscaping is needed.
Gay marriage fight – Much of the session was overshadowed by the divisive fight over whether Indiana should ban gay marriage in its Constitution. Opponents regularly flooded the Statehouse in the first half and the second half of the session drew supporters as well – sometimes both of them standing side by side in the halls with competing signs and chants. The process it took in the House was awkward and uncomfortable for Bosma, who was forced to move the bill out of a committee where it stalled and otherwise would have died. Republicans were pitted against one another – some wanting to keep the language the same and vote on it this year; others wanting to neuter the proposal and delay the issue. The Senate handled the bill more smoothly, but it still led to a now-famous Senate Twitter tirade and discipline for a Republican who was stripped of leadership posts and forced to sit with the Democrats. This matter of marriage is going to continue to dog the people of Indiana because politicians decide to enflame their differences, Pelath said. It really sucked the oxygen out of the session. The constitutional provision is likely to come up again next year.
Energy efficiency out – Lawmakers snuffed out a fledgling state energy-efficiency program started under then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, much to the anger of a host of environmental groups that opposed the move. Energizing Indiana so far has saved $2 for every $1 put into the program, which involves energy audits, efficient light bulbs and more. But Republicans said ratepayers are footing the bill for the program, which would likely grow in the future. Now industrial users will save from 1 percent to 3 percent on their energy bills, and supporters said businesses will continue to have their own energy efficiency programs. Pence is still considering whether to sign the bill.
Time will tell
Guns at school – A bill allowing guns to be kept in locked vehicles on school property spurred heated exchanges at the end of the session between lawmakers supporting the Second Amendment and Hoosiers who don’t believe it’s appropriate to have access to guns at schools. Supporters said the law simply allows teachers, parents and other Hoosiers with valid carry permits to have the guns in their vehicles as they drive to and from work without committing a felony. It’s still illegal to take a gun in a school building. Education groups around the state lined up against the bill – an extension of the parking lot law passed a few years ago disallowing businesses from banning guns on their property. Democrats against the bill warned there could be tragic consequences from the decision if guns are stolen out of the cars or someone reacts angrily during a dispute and retrieves a firearm. This is a law that will no doubt be monitored closely for any future events.
Criminal code changes – For more than five years, lawmakers have wrestled with overhauling the state’s criminal justice system. The goals were to make the sentencing for crimes more proportional; make the most serious offenders serve longer terms and free up prison space by handling lesser offenses and nonviolent Hoosiers on the local level with probation and community corrections. But there are so many facets to the bill it’s hard to predict how they will all work together once the bill goes into effect. For instance, lawmakers hope local judges take advantage of suspending more sentences or modifying sentences later. But there is no way to guarantee the results. It will likely take several years for cases to wind through the system before any solid conclusions can be drawn.