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Defunding the police, marijuana, COVID-19 protections for businesses: 6 things to follow this legislative session

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Posted at 12:27 PM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 12:27:38-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Monday marked the beginning of another Indiana legislative session, albeit one that looks very different from a normal year.

Every year, state senators and representatives get together in January to debate and pass new laws for Indiana residents.

If you’ve never paid attention to a legislative session before, here are six things to know before it all wraps up in late April.

1. It’s a budget year

Every odd year (2017, 2019, 2021, etc), lawmakers must create a new budget for the next two years. The budget passed in 2019 is set to expire on June 30, 2021.

Two years ago, budget discussions were focused on teacher pay. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic may cloud any expected increases for educators, but it’s still unclear right now. The budget outlook for the year was more promising than expected, with an expected $2.3 billion in state reserves.

2. COVID-19 protections for businesses likely coming

Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate have shown interest in passing protections for Indiana corporations and businesses from being sued over their response to COVID-19. The protections are a top priority for the Indiana Chamber, a powerful organization for state lawmakers.

Both the House and Senate already have versions filed. Both will protect businesses against being sued for damages resulting from a COVID-19 exposure, unless there was “gross negligence or willful misconduct.”

3. Reducing a governor’s power in emergencies

Many state lawmakers have been vocal about the frustrations they felt throughout 2020 about Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive orders to extend the emergency declaration, allowing for a longer mask mandate and restrictions on gatherings.

Lawmakers could try and limit Holcomb’s powers when it comes to the state of disaster emergencies. One bill already filed limits the emergency declarations to just 30 days, unless renewed by both the governor and the legislature. Currently, the governor can renew the declarations by himself.

Holcomb has said he’s done everything he legally can to protect Hoosiers during the pandemic.

4. No defunding the police in Indiana

Bills have been filed in both chambers to prohibit a town or city from lowering its police department’s budget, unless there is a revenue shortfall. These bills would prohibit “defunding the police” across Indiana.

Despite the concern from the lawmakers who have filed the bills, no Indiana city has defunded its police department, nor seriously considered it.

5. Is this the year Indiana makes a move on marijuana?

Probably not. A few bills have already been filed to decriminalize marijuana or allow it for medical use. Many Democrats in the statehouse publicly support decriminalization, but with a Republican supermajority, it’s unlikely to change in 2021.

Holcomb has been a vocal opponent of changing the state’s marijuana laws. Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, is the rare Republican in the statehouse to support decriminalization.

6. A potpourri of some other proposals that may get discussion in 2021

It seems many of the same gun arguments will begin again in the 2021 session. There is a bill that would pay for handgun training for teachers and one that repeals the need for a license to carry a handgun.

One proposal would prohibit workplaces from requiring an employee to receive an immunization as a condition of employment. Meaning if somebody didn’t want to get a certain vaccine, they couldn’t be forced to by their employer.

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, is still trying to require cursive writing taught in Indiana schools.

And there is again a push to allow grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores to sell cold beer, though it’s unlikely to pass.