The legislative session is beginning to pick up again. House committees are working through Senate bills, and the Senate is considering bills the House sent over. During the second half of session, our agenda priorities remain at forefront of everything we do, which allows us to focus our attention on the issues that matter most to Hoosier families. One of those priorities, which is very important to me, is public safety.
I have shared a brief overview of the initiatives associated with this priority when I talked about the budget in previous columns. I want to go into more detail, however, because this issue is of great importance to the well-being of Hoosiers. I am pleased with the legislation that is working its way through the process to benefit those in our community who are most vulnerable.
Four of the ten agenda bills, championed by the House Republicans, focus on public safety. Three passed the House unanimously and language from the fourth, domestic violence funding, was added into the budget, which also passed the House with a large majority. In Indiana there are 57 domestic violence service providers. Unfortunately, between July of 2013 and June of 2014, nearly 2,000 victims were turned away from shelters due to over-capacity programs. In addition, 34 percent of these shelter providers have reported a decrease in government funding.
In response to these problems, the House voted to double funding for domestic violence prevention in Indiana, increasing it to $5 million per year. Additionally, the budget makes a $1 million appropriation per year to provide assistance for victims of sexual assault. The General Assembly highly values the well-being of all Hoosiers, and these additional resources will help care for those dealing with domestic violence situations.
Another agenda bill focused on public safety is House Bill (HB) 1004, which creates the Safety P.I.N. (Protecting Indiana’s Newborns) grant program. This program, administered by the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), allows people to submit innovative proposals to reduce infant mortality. The proposal must contain a target area and demographic, a measureable indicator of the success of the proposal and the timeframe for lowering the infant mortality rate. The ISDH will award half the grant money at the beginning of the process and award the other half after they have determined the success of the program. Indiana ranks 45th in the U.S. for infant mortality; one baby dies in Indiana approximately every 13 hours. The goal of the Safety P.I.N. grant program is to drastically improve these statistics in Indiana.
HB 1010 addresses both of the issues I just mentioned by appropriating funding for the Connect2Help 2-1-1 dialing code. This service connects those in need of human services to providers who are best able to help them. Over 6oo,000 Hoosiers used the 2-1-1 service last year. This legislation adds assistance to the 2-1-1 dialing code for domestic violence, infant mortality, veterans, senior citizens and vulnerable children. Until now, the service has been completely funded by private donations. Because of the high volume of calls the service is handling and the excellent work they are accomplishing for Hoosiers, we proposed $2 million in the House budget to help increase the effectiveness of 2-1-1 services in Indiana.
These are complicated issues with many facets, and there are no easy answers. Although these bills might not eradicate the problem entirely, they are certainly a step in the right direction to addressing, and I look forward to continuing our work to address some of the public safety issues impacting our state.
I appreciate hearing your feedback on important issues affecting our state. Feel free to contact me by phone at 317-232-9651 or by email at email@example.com.
Rep. Cherry represents portions of Hancock and Madison counties. He serves as Vice Chairman of Ways and Means. He also serves on the Local Government Committee and the Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee.