State Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) today highlighted the victories and missed opportunities from the 2019 legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly. Hatfield authored three bills that have now been signed by the Governor and will become law by July 1, 2019.
Teacher Pay and Education Funding
“There is no doubt that the Legislature missed opportunities to increase teacher pay and invest more dollars in our traditional public schools,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield introduced a bill that would have set the base salary for teachers in Indiana at $50,000, but the bill never received a hearing. The average starting salary for an Indiana teacher was $35,241 for the 2016-2017 school year, according to the National Education Association.
“However, I am proud that a number of my bipartisan proposals that will benefit the people of Southwest Indiana are now law,” Hatfield said.
Bullying and Harassment Protections
“Governor Holcomb signed into law my bill that will allow victims of bullying or harassment to file a protective order against the violator,” Hatfield said.
Under current law, protective orders are available only victims of domestic, family violence, stalking or a sex offense. Hatfield’s bill will add harassment to that list.
“The goal is to help students who are being bullied in school, after school, and on various social media platforms,” he continued. “Teen depression and suicides are on the rise because of the constant and continuous access bullies have to their victims. Social media platforms and other technological advances have given bullies a more public platform to harass and bully their victims.
“This law will help protect young Hoosiers who are being bullied, and hopefully discourage bullying and curb the rate of teen suicide.”
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one out of every five students report being bullied. The Center for Disease Control reports that among high school students, 15.5% are cyberbullied and 20.2% are bullied on school property, and students who experience bullying are at increased risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression.
University of Evansville Health and Wellness Center
Legislation authored by Hatfield that removes restrictions on selling land previously traded with the state was also signed into law. The university can now sell over 40 acres of land to help finance a new wellness and recreation facility on campus for staff and students.
“This new law empowers the University of Evansville to build a new health and wellness center, which will help transform the campus with a 70,000 sq. ft. the multi-purpose recreation center,” Hatfield said.
Animal Cruelty Crackdown
“My bill to protect animals from harm will broaden the definition of animal cruelty and ensure animal shelters use humane euthanasia,” Hatfield said. “HEA 1615 provides prosecutors better tools to prosecute animal cruelty. It will also prevent shelters from using gas chambers or freezing animals, which unfortunately are practices we’ve seen happen frequently in the Evansville-area.”
The bill also calls on the Legislature to study increasing animal cruelty penalties. Governor Holcomb signed Hatfield’s bill into law and it goes into effect July 1.
Hatfield led the fight to protect Evansville in a bill that expands gaming in Indiana. The bill authorizes sports wagering both online and inside a gaming facility, allows the Gary riverboat to move inland to Gary and to expand to Vigo County, and requires supplemental payments to be made to East Chicago, Hammond, Michigan City, and Evansville. This payment to Evansville for losses incurred with the expansion to Vigo County was the key for Hatfield’s support. Hatfield was the lone Evansville-area lawmaker that withheld his support until Evansville was fully protected.
“I am pleased that we were able to negotiate hold harmless language that will protect Evansville’s interest,” Hatfield said “This language will result in about four million dollars for the city of Evansville. This is a huge win for Evansville residents. While it was a fight to the end, my support was contingent upon this provision and I’m proud to have worked with my caucus and Senate Republicans to negotiate a better deal for Evansville.”
Renewable Energy and Predatory Lending
Other victories from the 2019 legislative session included defeating two separate measures that would have had a disastrous effect on the quality of life for Hoosiers in Southwest Indiana and across the state.
Hatfield played a key role in eliminating language that would have halted the construction of new, more efficient power generating plants in Indiana. The moratorium placed a ban on investment in natural gas and renewable energy as a means to protect coal interests, a move led by former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director, turned coal lobbyist, Scott Pruitt. The language was removed after successful efforts on the House floor by Rep. Hatfield and Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington).
“This moratorium was a big government in the most extreme way imaginable. Essentially, it would have handcuffed our entire utility regulatory body, freezing Indiana with fuel choices and plant designs made decades ago, and halting utility planning needed to meet future power needs for ratepayers. This measure also would have stunted the growth of an industry that is developing new and efficient ways for Hoosiers to receive energy while lowering utility costs,” Hatfield said. “Removal of the moratorium was imperative to keep Indiana progressing toward the use of green and efficient energy. The final version of the bill calls for the creation of an energy task force that will examine these issues, which is a sensible and responsible step forward for Hoosier ratepayers.”
Hatfield also led the fight to defeat legislation that would have increased interest rates on unsecured loans — often used by seniors, veterans, and low-income Hoosiers – to more than 167 percent. The measure was defeated on the House floor after Hatfield prosecuted the bill in a speech where he described the measure as “loan-sharking.”
“If we allowed this bill to become law, it would have skyrocketed interest rates on unsecured loans well above Indiana’s felony loan sharking threshold of 72 percent,” Hatfield said. “This bill would have only benefited out-of-state lenders, who would have made their money off the backs of some of our most vulnerable Hoosiers – including veterans, seniors, and low-income families. More than 60 consumer advocacy groups spoke out against this bill, and I was proud to stand with them to help prevent loan sharking in our state.”