INDIANAPOLIS — Monday’s special session came with no surprises as the four bills that legislators failed to pass on the last night of the regular session were all easily approved and signed by the governor.
“Today, Indiana lawmakers aligned to state and federal tax law to streamline the process for Hoosier families and business, provided more funding to support schools in need and improved school safety statewide — all in one day as planned,” said Gov. Eric Holcomb.
Legislators met for a little more than six hours to discuss bills from school safety to updating the state’s tax code, but the most heated debate took place over House Bill 1315, the Gary-Muncie school takeover legislation.
HB 1315 establishes a process to single out struggling schools. It would allow the state to take over the Gary and Muncie community schools, and it authorizes a $12 million loan to the Muncie school system.
Proponents of HB 1315 said the school takeover would allow for a unified approach to solving the two districts’ financial problems. But opponents countered that the voices of the community could be silenced because the elected school boards would be overridden.
Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, said she wanted to be a part of the process of writing the bill, but she was ignored by the author, Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville.
“I am just concerned about the democratic processes with this body,” she said. “It’s Muncie and Gary right now, but who’s going to be next?”
Many legislators were concerned that citizens would no longer have the right to elect a school board.
“Their right to select local representatives is being taken away from them,” Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said. “If there has been some mismanagement, the people of both cities have committed no wrong so, why are we punishing the average citizen?”
Ball State will appoint a newly created seven-member school board to replace the current elected five-member school board, and Gary’s school board will be changed into an advisory board.
Senate Democrats also voiced strong opposition to the bill.
“The bill says that it allows the district to fire up to five percent of their teachers and staff,” said Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago. “The bill takes down the elected school board to make an advisory board — so does your vote really count?”
Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said while he is happy for Ball State because this is something they have advocated for, he does not support the bill.
“There will be less than 90 days before the fall school year once this passes because of the special session so the community must quickly unite over this decision,” he said. “While I disagree with this, I am here to assist Ball State University in any way we can get this job done for the students and families.”
The bill passed the House 63-30 and in the Senate 34-14.
Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns said the university’s board of trustees will meet Wednesday to discuss the whether or not they accept the responsibilities, and if they do, Ball State will assume responsibility starting July 1.
Lawmakers also approved House Bill 1230 which provides $5 million for school safety that the governor requested during the regular session. The bill also allows school corporations and charter schools to obtain funding advances of up to $500,000 for school security equipment and capital purchases, but total advances are not allowed to exceed $35 million. The bill passed the House 96-1 and the Senate 47-1.
House Minority Leader Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, voted for the bill but said it still does not go far enough.
“Five million dollars divided by all the schools that will be eligible for the benefit, $7,352.94, is what that $5 million is boiling down to,” he said. “We’re getting ready to work on bills that are going to give multi-million dollars in tax cuts to billion-dollar corporations, and we think that securing our schools is worth $7,352.94.”
In other action:
- House Bill 1242 is a tax bill which exempts trucks, pavers, vehicle parts and fuel purchased by a hot mix asphalt company from Indiana’s 7 percent sales tax, which will cost the state around $5 million per year. It also includes a provision requiring that employees of the Department of Revenue and subcontractors be fingerprinted to comply with federal requirements. The bill passed the House 74-20 and 41-7 in the Senate.
- House Bill 1316 will update the state’s tax code to comply with recent federal changes. The bill changes to state policy to the current federal policy that allows one to use money in a 529 college savings plan on K-12 education. The bill passed the House 75-22 and the Senate 40-8.
FOOTNOTE: Abrahm Hurt and Adrianna Pitrelli are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.