By the end of Indiana’s legislative session on April 29, lawmakers approved 252 out of the 1,154 total bills filed.
The General Assembly convened starting Jan. 9. During the 110-day session, lawmakers discussed issues including education, gender and sexuality, with passionate input along the way from teachers and advocates.
Many of the bills are awaiting a final signature from Gov. Eric Holcomb. The governor must sign or veto all bills within seven days of their passing; if he fails to act, the bill automatically becomes law on the eighth day.
Here is a recap of some notable legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly this session.
Gov. Eric Holcomb’s budget
Holcomb is expected to sign the state budget after the legislature approved it last week in a 70-27 vote in the House and a vote of 39-10 in the Senate. The two-year, $44.5 billion spending plan offers $1.487 billion more for K-12 education, reduces individual income tax rates to 2.9% by 2027 and gives statewide elected officials pay raises of anywhere from 39 to 60% , among other measures.
K-12 textbook fees
Prior to the budget being passed, Indiana was one of seven states that allowed schools to charge families for textbooks and curriculum materials – but not anymore. A $160 million annual line item passed with the state budget ensures families do not have to pay student textbook fees in K-12 public schools. Parents can request reimbursement of fees charged for learning materials.
Private school students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches will also be able to have their fees waived.
Holcomb’s new budget effectively bans the use of state funds for the Kinsey Institute, an IU organization that conducts research about sex, gender and reproduction.
In a letter to faculty and staff April 28, IU President Pamela Whitten stated her support for the Kinsey Institute. Whitten disagreed with the decision to ban funding, according to the letter, but said IU will conduct a legal review to ensure the university stays consistent with state law. The university will continue to support the Kinsey Institute financially through grants and philanthropy.
Lorissa Sweet, R-District 50, the author of the budget amendment, called Alfred Kinsey a child predator while introducing the amendment to the state budget in February. Sweet said Kinsey experimented on children. However, no evidence to support this has been produced, and the Kinsey Institute, which was established in 1947, has disputed this claim since the 1990s.
According to a statement from the institute, data for Kinsey’s research was collected through interviews with adults who recalled their sexual memories during childhood and teachers and parents who observed sexual behavior in children. There is no evidence Kinsey witnessed or allowed any sexual activity involving children.
21st century scholars
Holcomb’s push for education also includes signing House Bill 1449. Authored by Rep. Earl Harris, D-District 2, HB 1449 will automatically enroll all Indiana students into the state’s 21st Century Scholars Program. The 21st Century Scholars Program is a statewide grant that funds low-income students to attend two- and four-year colleges and universities.
Under the bill, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education is required to work with the Indiana Department of Education to identify students who qualify for the program and notify students and parents of their eligibility. To qualify, a student must be a resident of Indiana, be enrolled in 7th or 8th grade and reside in a household where income is not higher than the federal cutoff for free and reduced lunch. Currently, to enroll in the program, a student’s parent or guardian must apply online.
Students must consent to participate in the program and can opt out at any time.
Ban on gender-affirming care
Holcomb signed Senate Bill 480 – authored by Sen. Tyler Johnson, R-District 14 – into law April 5, which prohibits transgender minors from accessing medical care like hormone therapy, puberty blockers and surgeries. The bill also orders those already taking medication to stop doing so by the end of 2023.
The ban would originally take effect July 1. However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit in federal court April 5 to stop the bill from going into effect, alleging SB 480 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The ACLU of Indiana also claims the law violates the Medicaid Act and the Affordable Care Act because it blocks medical services that would be authorized and reimbursed by Medicaid.
Pronouns in classrooms
House Bill 1608, authored by Rep. Michelle Davis, R-District 48, requires schools to notify parents when a student asks for changes to their name or pronouns. The bill also prohibits school staff members from instructing students pre-kindergarten through third grade on human sexuality but does not prohibit staff members from answering questions a student might ask.
A previous version of the bill required consent from at least one parent if a minor were to request a change in name or pronouns. The latest version of the bill removed that requirement, and only requires parents to be notified when students make the request. A section of the bill that prevented teachers from being disciplined for not using a student’s preferred pronoun or name due to religious beliefs was also removed.
House Bill 1608 awaits the governor’s signature.
House Bill 1447
Colloquially known as Indiana’s “book-banning” bill, House Bill 1447, authored by Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, classifies certain literature as “harmful to minors” under the same categories as already-banned obscene materials.
Indiana Code classifies the following as harmful to minors: nudity, sexual content or “sado-masochistic abuse;” a persuasiveness for minors to engage in sexual activities; offensive content to community standards for adults considering what’s suitable to minors to see; content void of “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” for children.
During debate, Rep. Renee Pack, D-Indianapolis, spoke to lawmakers about her daughter Leah Johnson’s book “You Should See Me in a Crown.” The novel centers around a Black girl who falls for another girl running for prom queen. Following the Oklahoma attorney general’s classification of the book as obscene, Pack said she was worried the same would happen in Indiana under the proposed bill.
If Holcomb signs the bill into law, librarians who violate it could be charged with a Level 6 felony and face up to two and a half years of jail time. A Level 6 felony is the least serious felony charge in Indiana.
Senate Bill 77, authored by Sen. Liz Brown, R-District 15, legalizes throwing stars for recreational purposes for people at least 12 years of age. The throwing stars, also known as ninja stars or Shuriken, are now allowed anywhere knives and similar bladed weapons are permitted. The legislation adds “throwing star” to the various types of knives recognized by Indiana.