House Republicans make strides in first half of session

Posted by: Erin Reece  | Wednesday, February 3, 2016

STATEHOUSE (Feb. 3, 2016) – As session reached the halfway point this week, House Speaker Brian C. Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said House Republicans have moved forward on passing their legislative agenda, which focused on road funding, supporting public educators and curbing illegal drugs.

In total, House members passed 116 bills, sending them to the Senate for consideration.

“House Republicans worked quickly and efficiently on passing all of our priority bills, including a comprehensive, responsible and sustainable road funding plan,” Bosma said. “I am proud of the progress made in the first half on these sound policies and look forward to continuing the momentum.”

Funding Indiana’s Infrastructure Needs
House lawmakers passed House Bill 1001, which is a comprehensive plan to fund Indiana’s short- and long-term infrastructure needs at the state and local level. The bill calls for a portion of the state’s reserves to be devoted to roads and bridges, in addition to indexing the gas tax to reflect the change in buying power from 2002 to today.

Currently, the equivalent of only one cent of the sales tax on gasoline is dedicated to the Motor Vehicle Highway Account. This bill would capture an additional 4 cents of the sales tax to be dedicated solely to roads and bridges. To offset the shift of gas sales taxes, the bill provides new revenues from the cigarette tax to Medicaid, allowing existing funds to be redirected back to roadways.

Bosma said the plan also includes assistance for local units by allowing counties to adopt a local option income tax (LOIT) specifically for transportation infrastructure. Larger municipalities could adopt an additional excise wheel tax, and maximum allowable rates for existing county wheel taxes would be increased. In addition, the bill establishes matching grants for local road and bridge projects.

Under this bill, personal income tax rates would also be cut from 3.23 percent to 3.06 percent over the next 10 years – making it the lowest rate in the nation.

Supporting Educators and Schools
House and Senate leadership worked closely with the governor’s office and superintendent of public instruction to address several issues with last year’s ISTEP. Legislators moved quickly and Gov. Mike Pence signed into law House Enrolled Act 1003 ensuring last year’s more stringent standards do not unfairly penalize Hoosier teachers and schools, since the state transitioned to a new, more rigorous test. The governor also signed Senate Enrolled Act 200 into law, which holds schools harmless for their A-F accountability grade for the 2014-15 school year.

To attract the best and brightest to Hoosier classrooms, House lawmakers passed HB 1002, authored by Speaker Bosma, to create the Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship. Top high-school students can receive up to $7,500 per year toward college tuition, if they agree to teach in an Indiana school for at least five years.

House lawmakers also passed HB 1395 to eliminate ISTEP and establish a commission to create a framework for implementing a more streamlined test in 2017.

Members also passed a pair of bills that empower teachers and facilitate their professional development. HB 1004 would enhance teacher licensing and career opportunities. It allows educators holding a valid out-of-state teaching license to teach in Indiana if they have a bachelor’s degree in the subject area they teach, received at least a 3.0 college grade point average and passed Indiana’s content area examination. The bill would also give flexibility for schools to provide supplemental pay for difficult-to-fill positions, such as high-demand subject areas like STEM and special education. If enacted, HB 1005 would allow schools to devise and implement their own Career Pathways and Mentorship Program. These programs would support educators just entering the field as well as recognize and reward experienced teachers’ work beyond the classroom. Easing the transition for new teachers, the bill would exempt their salary raises from evaluation during their first two years in the classroom. Currently, state law prevents teachers – regardless of years of experience – from receiving a pay raise, if they are rated as “needs improvement” or “ineffective.”

Curbing Illegal Drugs
In addition, House lawmakers passed HB 1235, which provides that minimum sentences for the worst drug dealers cannot be suspended.

In the first half of session, House lawmakers also passed several bills aimed at curbing the meth epidemic in Indiana. Under HB 1390, a consumer could purchase medications containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) without a prescription if they have a prior relationship with a pharmacy or purchase a smaller dose. A prescription would only be required in the small number of cases where a person does not have a pre-existing relationship with a pharmacy and refuses the smaller dosage or tamper-resistant options. The House also passed HB 1157 aimed at preventing drug felons from obtaining PSE and includes penalties for illegal possession of the drug. If enacted, HB 1211 would create a new criminal charge and establish a reporting requirement for meth fires. House lawmakers also passed HB 1102, which would enhance substance abuse and addiction treatment.

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House District 88 includes the northeast corner of Marion County and small portions of Hancock and Hamilton counties.