After landmark legislation, Indiana Republican leadership calls for brief ‘fine-tuning session’ | News

INDIANAPOLIS – Keep it brief. That was the instruction from Indiana leadership ahead of the 2024 legislative session.

But with the 2024 general election approaching and groundbreaking conservative legislation in recent years, including a near-total ban on abortion, a sweeping expansion of school vouchers and a law restricting the use of students’ preferred pronouns in schools, that might not happen.

It’s likely that legislation addressing similar social issues will come up again, even as leaders of the state’s Republican trifecta say they want a session to “fine-tune” policy.

“We will have a more limited and focused agenda,” House Speaker Todd Huston, a Republican, told reporters in November.

Here’s what to expect and what not to expect this year:

The meeting, which begins on January 8th, must be adjourned until March 14th and will be closed for topics with tax implications. Indiana holds longer budget-making sessions in odd-numbered years.

Improving literacy and education outcomes following the significant setbacks caused by the pandemic has remained a top priority across the state House and in politics this year. According to the Department of Education, about 18% of third graders failed the reading test in Indiana last year.

Indiana’s policy is to hold back students who fail the test, but Republican lawmakers say exemptions allow students to easily move on to the next grade and want to tighten the rule. More than 96% of students who failed the reading test were moved to fourth grade, the Education Department reported.

Critics say class sizes risk becoming unmanageable and that schools will not have the staff or resources to keep up if the legislation results in more students having to repeat grades.

Truancy was also a focus of lawmakers at the start of the new year. About one in five students were chronically absent from Indiana schools during the 2022-2023 school year, meaning they missed about three and a half weeks of classes, according to the department.

Bipartisan concerns have been raised about the cost and availability of early child care in Indiana. Republican leaders have expressed interest in loosening regulations to make it easier for child care centers to open and operate, while Democratic lawmakers have called for a child care tax credit.

“Day care centers are a constant challenge from the Ohio River to the Michigan line,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, a Republican, said in a November speech outlining the priorities.

Huston also made anti-Semitism on college campuses one of his top priorities in light of the Israel-Hamas war.

He wants to pass a measure to define anti-Semitism as religious discrimination and to “create educational opportunities free from religious discrimination.” A House bill with the same language was defeated in the Senate during the 2023 session.

“Our Jewish students should know that they are safe on campuses across Indiana and will not be exposed to anti-Semitic teaching or material,” Huston said during a speech in November.

Gov. Eric Holcomb plans to announce his agenda in the coming weeks. His term ends in 2024 because Indiana law does not allow governors to serve more than two consecutive terms.

The Republican governor, who received widespread attention for his 2023 public health proposal that allows counties to elect to fund services such as chronic disease prevention, has early education and workforce development priorities for his final legislative session indicated.

In the wake of recent legislation that made national headlines, Republican leaders remained silent on a number of sensitive issues. With half of the state’s senators and all of its representatives up for re-election in 2024, some lawmakers may seek to raise their profile with bills addressing issues such as reproduction or gender that are similarly passed in other Republican-led states became.

Indiana’s primary election will take place on May 7th.

State Senate Democratic leader Greg Taylor said his party would leave “social issues” off the table.

“We will take a defensive stance,” he said at a panel discussion in November.

However, Republicans still hold a supermajority in both chambers, as they have since the 2012 elections.

Hoosiers can’t expect movement on two issues: gambling and marijuana legalization.

Republican leaders said gambling measures are off the table after a former lawmaker recently pleaded guilty to accepting the promise of a lucrative job at a casino company in exchange for affirmative action in the 2019 General Assembly.

Marijuana legislation is also unlikely to change in the coming year, even as Indiana is increasingly left behind by pot-friendly states like Ohio, where voters approved adult recreational use through a citizen initiative in November.

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