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The Indiana Daily Student

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Indiana legislatures outline priorities and goals in first week

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The first week of the 2024 Indiana legislative session, which began Jan. 8, came to a close Jan. 11, with lawmakers from the House, Senate and Black Legislative Caucus officially unveiling their 2024 priority goals and bills.  

This year’s legislative session ends March 14. Sessions that occur during even-numbered years are typically shorter, since the state holds longer budget-making sessions during odd years. The Indiana General Assembly passed the state’s two-year budget in its 2023 session, which ran from Jan. 9 to April 28. 

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said during the Indiana Chamber’s legislative preview in November 2023 they’re aiming for a more straightforward, measured agenda than the past three sessions, which he said have been aggressive but accomplished.  

The 2023 session featured several major changes to state law, such as introducing a new reading curriculum, passing a bill that requires teachers to inform parents of a student’s request to change their name or pronouns and a bill allowing community members to request books be banned from school libraries. But with some controversial bills still on the docket – such as a bill replacing the word “gender” with “biological sex” in state code and another aiming to change how K-12 teachers provide instruction on historical figures – it remains to be seen whether lawmakers will get their wish of a relatively peaceful couple of months.  

Here are some of the most noteworthy efforts lawmakers are looking to introduce and expand in 2024.  

Governor details hopes for session 

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb unveiled his 2024 Next Level Agenda on Jan. 8 at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. It’s the final agenda for Holcomb who is in his eighth and final year as governor and unable to seek reelection in 2024 due to Indiana only allowing two terms in a 12-year period.  

The governor’s agenda focuses on five categories: education, economic and workforce development, community development, good government and health.  

Notably, in education, Holcomb wants to lower the minimum supervised caregiver age for infant and toddler rooms from 21 to 18 with appropriate training, parental notice and child safety requirements. Similarly, he looks to lower the caregiver age for school-age classrooms from 18 to 16.  

The governor will also push for increased literacy rates with the goal of having 95% of third graders reading at grade level by 2027. Last legislative session, Indiana passed a new science of reading curriculum with bipartisan support — mandating schools teach children the relationships between sounds, letters and words rather than simply teaching them to read through context clues. This year, the focus is on providing early intervention tools and resources.  

The IREAD exam, a reading assessment designed to measure foundational literacy skills, is currently only required to be administered in third grade. The governor is pushing for the test to also be required in second grade to help identify students who are not on track for reading proficiency and provide interventions such as summer school reading programs.  

The most recent data from the Indiana Department of Education shows only 81.9% of third-graders passed the 2023 IREAD. Under Indiana code, students who fail the IREAD exam can be held back from fourth grade. This excludes exceptions like if the child is a special education student, if English is not their first language or if they have been previously retained twice. Holcomb’s new agenda wants to strengthen retention efforts to require third graders who do not pass IREAD to be held back for at least one year.  

Other notable education efforts on Holcomb’s agenda are making computer science courses a requirement for high school graduation by 2029 and encouraging state universities to provide more three-year degree programs.  

In the way of economic and workforce development, Holcomb will continue work to connect Indiana residents with jobs through the creation of the “One Stop to Start” hub, which will offer support and navigation to education and training programs.  

Disaster relief also proved significant in the governor’s agenda. Holcomb’s agenda states he will work with legislators to raise the maximum indvidual financial assistance from $10,000 to $25,000 to help Hoosiers recover from man-made and natural disasters.  

The plan includes a proposal to allow a portion of the State Disaster Relief Fund to be used for local disaster mitigation programs to protect against future damage. Counties who prepare hazard mitigation plans could receive increased funds as an incentive.  

Holcomb also aims to increase the maximum potential SDRF award for individual assistance from $10,000 to $25,000.  

Finally, Holcomb’s agenda includes plans to focus healthcare efforts on the state’s elderly population and youth that need more services and support due to mental and behavioral health challenges. The Family and Social Services Administration will create a 10-year Multisector Plan for Aging, laying out the best ways to support the aging population in housing, transportation, employment, income security and health. The governor will also direct collaboration among the FSSA, the Department of Education, the Department of Child Services and the Department of Corrections to develop comprehensive plans to support youth with high support needs and their caregivers. 

House Republicans, Democrats share goals 

Indiana House Republicans’ 2024 legislative priorities include expanding educational opportunities for students and protecting taxpayers and retirees through financial assistance and efficient appeals processes. 

House Bill 1001 would expand the use of the Frank O’Bannon Grant and the 21st Century Scholarship to include job training in addition to college coursework. This initiative would give more young people access to certifications to better prepare them for the workforce.  

Supporting Jewish students is also one of their goals. House Bill 1002 would define antisemitism and specify it as a form of discrimination on the basis of religion on college campuses and K-12 classrooms. The bill does not specify whether it would apply to only publicly-funded schools or also private and charter. 

Other bills proposed by House Republicans include House Bill 1003, which would eliminate the Office of Environmental Adjudication and transfer cases under the OEA to the Office of Administrative Law Proceedings. This could offer taxpayers a more balanced review process.  

House Bill 1004 would offer a 13th check in 2024 to retired public servants like law enforcement and teachers who already receive retirement funds each month. 

House Democrats opted for a five-point agenda rather than pointing toward specific bills. Senate Democrats worked with House Democrats to deliver the agenda.  

Democratic goals include lowering the cost of living by increasing access to affordable, high-quality childcare; providing homeowners with a $250 property tax credit funded by state surplus dollars; and capping prescription drug costs at $35 for insulin, $55 for albuterol and $25 for EpiPens.  

The Democratic agenda also supports solving the third grade reading proficiency issue through individualized, student-focused intervention, and allowing citizen-led ballot referendums to take place in Indiana. In a speech to the House floor Jan. 8, House Democratic Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, cited abortion and marijuana usage as areas where Hoosiers may not enjoy government interference. About 57% of 600 Hoosiers surveyed say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a 2022 survey by the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations and Ball State University. The same survey found 56% of people believed marijuana should be legal for recreational use, and 29% believed it should only be available for medical purposes.  

Black Legislative Caucus unveils housing-centric priorities  

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus’ 2024 legislative agenda is titled “Fair Housing, Fair Futures” and features bills aimed at making housing more affordable, accessible and equitable.  

A key piece of legislation is House Bill 1176, which would establish a housing down payment assistance fund to help more Hoosier families afford homes.  

Other important pieces of legislation include House Bill 1128, an effort to prohibit foreclosure of a family or individual’s home due to medical debt, and Senate Bill 243, which would require landlords to deliver written notice of an intent to sell a property and require the buyer of a rental to honor the current lease.  

The Black Legislative Caucus is also prioritizing House Bill 1112, banning bias on the status of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin in home appraisals, and House Bill 1195, which establishes a task force to help people in evictions find representation.  

Senate Republicans reveal ambitions 

The Indiana Senate Republicans also presented their caucus agendas Thursday. 

For Republicans, reading, childcare access and the economy were key points backed up by five core pieces of legislation. Senate Bill 1, in alignment with Holcomb’s agenda, would ensure Hoosier students receive instruction on the science of reading, provide early detection and remediation for students falling behind in literacy and, if needed, hold students from moving onto fourth grade if more reading education is needed.  

Senate Bill 2 also echoes Holcomb’s agenda. The bill would lower minimum child care provider ages, along with establishing a micro facility pilot program to increase the availability of childcare providers. Micro centers are one-classroom childcare centers located in existing schools, hospitals, office buildings and community centers.  

Senate Bill 3 would reform prior authorization in healthcare, making it more efficient for patients and refocusing the system on its intended purpose of identifying waste, fraud and abuse. 

Senate Bill 4 would set up a process to review and return unused state government funds to the state’s General Fund, putting them to better use, and would more quickly enable state agencies to lower or eliminate fines and fees. Also in public health, Senate Bill 5 seeks to enable utility companies to replace lead pipes, which are known to cause severe health issues. A 2023 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated there are currently more than 265,000 lead water lines still in use in Indiana.  

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