KPC News. April 25, 2021.

Editorial: Legislature closes controversial session

Lawmakers closed out their 2021 legislative session this past week with a “job well done,” but many Hoosiers are raising eyebrows about some of the biggest bills passing this year.

There are always a few hot-button issues year to year, but this year seemed to bring more controversy as lawmakers passed multiple bills that had widespread disapproval across the state.

House Bill 1001, the state budget, has plenty of good in it as the state set out its spending plan for the next two years, but provisions boosting funding for private, charter and homeschools was widely panned across the state.

A late-breaking boost in revenue expectations and federal stimulus money helped bolster investments in public education, but the state’s ongoing efforts to put public money into private education continues to baffle many Hoosiers.

House Bill 1123, which curbs the governor’s emergency powers and would empower the legislature to call itself back into session, is likely to cost Hoosier taxpayers thousands as the issue is almost certainly headed to court and Indiana pays to represent both sides. Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed the bill and the legislature overrode it.

We understand the legislature wants more say, but the reason why an executive is empowered to make decisions about things like the COVID-19 pandemic is, in part, because the governor works every day and the legislature is out of session eight months of the year.

Senate Bill 5, which curbs the power of local health departments to react to health emergencies, is also another attempt to water down agencies’ ability to respond to real situations.

Opposed by multiple statewide health organization, the effort to try to solve COVID-19 displeasure is likely to have wide-reaching effects blunting local health departments’ ability to do their job every day.

Senate Bill 359, which slashes protections for Indiana wetlands, couldn’t even get support from all of the Republican supermajority much less the state as a whole. Local representatives including Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, fought this bill, albeit unsuccessfully.

Aside from environmental groups, even the Indiana Chamber of Commerce thinks this is bad policy for Indiana, stating, “The reduction in wetland regulations will likely have negative impacts on water quality, flood control and quality of place factors that are connected to attracting the best and brightest workers and businesses to Indiana.”

And House Bill 1577, which would require doctors to inform abortion patients about the possibility of reversing a medication-induced abortion, is built on the foundation of dubious scientific information.

The bill will likely cause the state to rack up more legal bills fighting it in court. And while we recognize the state’s desire to curb abortion services to Hoosiers, doing so in a manner that forces doctors to give patients bad information is not the way to do it.

As finalized bills cross Holcomb’s desk in the coming days, we suspect the governor’s veto pen may be a little busier this year compared to most years.

We encourage that, as many of these bills weaken or simply don’t serve the public welfare.

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Columbus Republic April 23, 2021.

Editorial: ‘Red flag law’ loopholes are glaring

Laws are in place to prevent mentally ill individuals from possessing firearms in Indiana, but they still aren’t stopping some highly dangerous persons from obtaining them.

Back in 2005, Indiana became one of the first states to enact a “red flag law.” Known as the “Jake Laird Law,” named after the Indianapolis Police officer slain in 2004, Indiana code allows law enforcement officers to seize and retain guns from people who are determined to be dangerous to themselves and/or their fellow Hoosiers.

Under current law, after guns are seized, a prosecutor’s office has 14 days to go in front of a judge. The office is also required to file an affidavit with the court within 48 hours of the seizures.

Indiana’s red flag law is currently under scrutiny after Brandon S. Hole, 19, shot and killed eight individuals at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis last week.

There were strong signs that Hole could’ve proven a dangerous threat to his community in the months leading up to the incident — so much so that the FBI looked into his background — but the laws in place didn’t stop Hole from buying new guns and committing a violent act.

Hole’s mother called police on March 3, 2020 after her son said he was going to commit “suicide by cop.” Police then seized a shotgun from Hole during the investigation.

After his firearm was taken by police, and the family agreed to not have it returned, Hole went on to buy two high-capacity rifles, a Ruger AR-556 and HM Defense HM15F, in July and September of last year. Both purchases were made legally through authorized dealers, according to police.

On Monday, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said his office did not seek a hearing last spring because they didn’t have enough time (two weeks) to prove their case to a judge. Mears said that Hole was treated by medical professionals and was “cut loose” before purchasing the two rifles later that summer.

Mears was put in a tough position, as had his office lost in court they would’ve been forced to give Hole his shotgun back. Regardless of that fact, they should’ve pursued a hearing due to the nature of the case.

At the same time, during that two-week period, nothing would’ve prevented Hole from purchasing new guns despite police confiscating the firearm he already owned.

There’s no way of knowing if a modified red flag law would’ve stopped Hole from opening fire at FedEx last week, but there’s no denying that he shouldn’t have been able to purchase weapons with the known issues he had.

Red flag laws aren’t just applicable to Indianapolis — they are used in rural parts of the state as well.

In July of 2020, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department invoked the law after a local man with a history of medical and mental health issues made statements about harming himself or having others harm him.

Legislators have indicated they will not address the red flag law this session, as it is narrowing to a close, but it’s hard to argue that it shouldn’t be debated next January.

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Terre Haute Tribune-Star. April 23, 2021.

Editorial: Significant step forward for Indiana teacher pay

A talented young teacher, energized to build a career in the classroom, should not have to scrap those dreams because the salary is too lean to raise a family, or pay for the rent, a car payment and food.

Students in Hoosier schools such as West Vigo High School, Otter Creek Middle School and Fuqua Elementary School benefit if those gifted teachers stay in the profession.

Communities like Terre Haute, Brazil, Sullivan, Clinton and Rockville benefit, too. Kids there get a better education. Businesses and new residents are more likely to move in. Properly funded public schools and teachers serve as the economic foundation of their towns.

Indiana is struggling to retain its teachers, a problem that thwarts the idea of vibrant local schools as a community’s cornerstone.

The Indiana General Assembly finally took meaningful steps this week to reverse teacher shortages in the state’s public schools. Legislators approved a budget — loosened up by the infusion of $3 billion in COVID-19 relief from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan — that provides the $600 million annual allotment for teacher pay increases recommended last year in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission.

The funding improves the possibility of Indiana reaching Holcomb’s goal of a $60,000 average salary and $40,000 minimum salary for Hoosier teachers, and a ranking among the top three states in the Midwest in teacher compensation. Indiana currently ranks ninth in the Midwest and 38th nationally. Its increase in teacher pay from 2002 to 2019 ranked lowest in America.

Holcomb’s commission also recommended the state fund the $600,000 annual boost. The influx of federal funds for a variety of uses nudged legislators to include the teacher-pay resources that previously were not in the budget.

With that long-overdue action, the Legislature’s Republican leaders issued pointed recommendations that school districts set starting salaries for new teachers at a $40,000 minimum. The budget also requires local districts to dedicate at least 45% of their state tuition support dollars to teacher pay. (Vigo County already commits 55.4% of its state tuition support to teacher pay.)

“We’ll be watching (school districts) closely,” warned Republican House Speaker Todd Hutson.

Of course, his party also included a generous expansion of the state’s already overly large public-funded voucher program for private and charter schools that are not as “closely” watched as public school systems.

Indiana is struggling to retain its public school teachers. Eighty-seven percent of Indiana public school districts reported teacher shortages last October as the 2020-21 school year was beginning. That was actually a slight improvement over the previous year, when 92% of the districts faced shortages.

The low starting pay and the uncertainty of future salary growth has driven good teachers to leave the field, and education majors at state colleges to opt for other careers. The chaos and risks of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed more teachers to retire or switch occupations. One survey of teachers earlier this school year showed that 71% have considered retiring early or jumping to a new profession because of the heavier workload.

Teacher shortages are a problem nationwide, but Indiana schools feel it more deeply. Thirteen percent of Hoosier teachers left their profession in 2018, compared to 8% nationally.

Vigo County voters already made a commitment to improve teacher pay by approving a 2019 referendum for operational funding that led to a rise in starting local teacher salaries from $35,000 to $38,000.

Republican leadership in the General Assembly, at last, joined the cause this week. The state budget they approved marks a significant step toward stemming the exodus of teachers. The investment will show results in the classrooms of Hoosier communities and teachers’ households.

This commitment must continue.

END