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6 things to watch in Indiana's new legislative session

Indiana Statehouse.jpg
Posted at 12:19 PM, Jan 02, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers will meet Thursday for the start of the annual legislative session at the Indiana Statehouse.

It is an opportunity for new laws to be passed that will shape the way everyday Hoosiers live their lives. While dozens of bills and resolutions end up passing every year, here are six topics to keep an eye on as the session begins.

1. Hate Crimes
Indiana is one of just five states without a hate crime law. The pressure on lawmakers to pass such a law increased in July, when Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he would support a hate crime law in Indiana.

"I think it's long overdue that we move forward as a state," Holcomb said in July. "I want to be one of 46, not one of five."

One sticking point with passing the legislation will be whether it is “comprehensive,” meaning covering gender identity and sexual orientation.

Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, is one lawmaker who will propose a hate crime law in Indiana. His proposal will be comprehensive. A common argument against hate crime legislation is that it would legislate or prosecute a person's thought. Cook said his bill will not do that.

"It's not possible to eliminate discrimination and this bill is not about criminalizing thought, or First Amendment free speech," Cook said.

2. Sports Betting

It may feel far-fetched to think about, but Indiana is not that far away from legalizing sports betting.

In October, a bipartisan study committee unanimously recommended the general assembly consider legislation to bring legal sports betting to Indiana.

In May, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that had prohibited states from authorizing sports betting.

3. Budget

Lawmakers will tackle the state budget this session, and they will face tough challenges. The overall state revenue forecast was promising, but a lot of the money could get used by the Department of Child Services and Medicaid.

State revenues are expected to increase by about $442.8 million in 2020 and $386 million in 2021, but almost all the new money could get used by those two groups.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, said the DCS request could take up 64 percent of the new revenue in the first year and 74 percent in the second year.

4. School bus safety

Many Indiana lawmakers have mentioned creating new laws to prevent a tragedy like the one in Fulton County in October, but what those would look like is still unclear.

On Oct. 30, three children were struck and killed while they were crossing the street to get to a school bus. A fourth child was also hit, but he survived.

Republican Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, has previously said he was working on legislation to add cameras to school buses when the Fulton County crash happened.

Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, has suggested the state could monitor and oversee bus stop locations. He previously sponsored legislation to install cameras on every school bus, but the bill died before it made it to the house floor.

"Somebody lost three kids in one event," Delaney said in November. "It doesn't happen often, but our job is to make sure it never happens, or at a minimum, that we've done everything we can by cameras or other devices, public education, monitoring the bus stops to reduce the chances of this.”

5. Medical marijuana

At their legislative preview event, Senate Democrats announced they will be supporting legalizing medical marijuana in 2019.

About 30 states across the country give people access to medical marijuana.

"Medical marijuana is a safe and effective treatment option and we think Hoosiers should have the right to access medical treatment such as medical marijuana if their doctor deems that to be appropriate," Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane said.

A year ago, a Hoosier veterans’ group rallied at the Statehouse, calling for legalizing medical marijuana in Indiana.

Rep, Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, has been a major proponent of legalizing medical marijuana.

6. Cigarettes/smoking

One of the top priorities of The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is to increase taxes on cigarettes and raise the smoking age in the state to 21.

A year ago, a bill to raise the smoking age was killed after the House Public Health Committee approved it, 9-0.

There is also a push by the Chamber and the Raise It For Health Coalition to raise taxes on cigarettes by $2 per pack.

According to Raise it For Health Coalition, a $2 per pack increase would raise more than $350 million.