Legislative session concludes for 2014

Same-sex marriage, guns in schools, expanding protections of the Lifeline Law — the topics handled by the Indiana General Assembly this session ran the gamut.

The legislative session ended just before IU’s spring break. During the course of two and a half months, state legislators considered divisive questions like constitutional amendments and the kinds of decisions that are made unanimously in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

“The work we have done has built on the success of the last legislative session and, I believe, will lead to a more prosperous future for Indiana,” Republican Gov. Mike Pence told the members of the General Assembly in an end-of-session address March 13. “And Hoosiers will be glad to know that most of what we accomplished was passed with broad and bipartisan support.”

Pence detailed successes in pre-kindergarten and the economy, but he didn’t speak about controversial same-sex marriage measures or other, more divisive questions.

Here are the four biggest things that happened — or didn’t happen — in the 2014 session.

Same-sex marriage
One of the session’s most controversial issues was a measure to put language in the state constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

After a similar measure was passed by the last General Assembly, this session’s votes were the last hurdle before the amendment would be sent to voters for final approval. Interest groups throughout the state lined up on either side of the issue, including IU, which opposed the amendment.

But a significant language change in the House, which eliminated provisions banning “a legal status substantially similar to marriage,” means the amendment won’t be presented to voters in November, even though it passed both houses. The earliest voters could see it is 2016.

Supporters argued the amendment, which would solidify existing state law, is important to prevent judges making legal changes as other states have done, including, most recently, Michigan.

Opponents said adding roadblocks for same-sex marriage would be bad for the state’s economy.

Ultimately, few legislators really got what they wanted. The measure passed, but it was significantly weakened.

“I’m a big fan of one-man-one-woman marriage, and I’m a big fan of the language we voted on in 2011,” Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, said before voting yes.

“Sometimes you have to learn to take half a loaf instead of the whole loaf.”

Lifeline Law expansion
The Lifeline Law, which grants immunity for underage individuals who call 911 under the influence of alcohol, was expanded to protect people in more situations.

“It expands your protections if you’ve been using alcohol or drugs and you’re reporting a medical emergency, or you’re the victim of a sexual assault or you’ve witnessed a crime and you’re reporting that crime,” Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, said when the law passed.

Before, Lifeline only applied to medical emergencies.

Additionally, steps have been taken to allow police and prosecutors some wiggle room when considering individuals who call 911 under the influence of illegal drugs.

Throughout the creation in 2011 and expansion this year of the Lifeline Law, university student governments, including the IU Student Association, have been involved by testifying before the General Assembly and working with legislators on developing language.

Guns at school
In the final days of the session, legislators approved a law that allows guns in school parking lots.

Under existing state law, having a gun anywhere on school grounds is a felony, but the new law allows employees and high school students who are members of gun clubs to possess firearms in their locked cars in the parking lot.

The bill passed the Senate 38-10 after conference committee and then the House 75-24.

Backed by the National Rifle Association and gun-rights advocates, supporters said the bill is necessary to protect teachers’ and students’ Second Amendment rights.

Opponents, meanwhile, argued that guns should not be on school grounds or that school districts ought to be given the power to decide whether their parking lots would be gun-free.

Pre-kindergarten vouchers
Indiana approved a program that would use state funds to help low-income families pay for pre-kindergarten education from private schools.

It’s part of a nation-wide consideration of if and how to fund preschool. President Obama discussed it in his State of the Union address this year, and Gov. Mike Pence put the measure forward as one of his primary goals for the session.

The program is a pilot that could be expanded if successful. It would give as much as $10 million per year to needy families, a range of $2,500 to $6,800 per child.

Pence and the state’s Republicans have been advancing a large-scale school voucher program that uses state funds to help pay tuition at private schools in the state, which the pre-K pilot falls into.

“Last year, we expanded opportunities for low-income kids to attend the school of their choice,” Pence said. “This year, for the first time ever, Indiana has funded pre-K education so low-income kids can start school ready to learn.”

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