Indiana legislators return to Statehouse Monday for special session

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("Indiana State Capitol Building" by Drew Tarvin, CC BY 2.0)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers will be back at the Statehouse on Monday for a special session called to take action on a handful of bills that died in March when bickering Republicans brought the year’s regular legislative session to a chaotic close.

A GOP-dominated legislative panel recently signed off on five bills — among them a contentious schools takeover measure — and clearing the way for the full General Assembly to proceed during what’s expected to be a one-day session.

A special waiver approved by the panel would effectively prohibit any amendments from being made on the floor, so long as it is also approved by the Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate once they gavel in.

While the bills will not be subject to committee hearings, GOP leaders say the proposals have been extensively reviewed and should easily pass.

Democrats, meanwhile, complained that the special session called by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb — at an estimated cost of $30,000 per day — is an unnecessary exercise being undertaken to clean up after the GOP’s mess.

They also argue that provisions thrown into some of the bills on the last night of the 10-week regular session have not been properly vetted.

Democratic Senate leader Tim Lanane of Anderson describes the special session as a “no-rules, no-constitution, no-amendment, one-day rubber-stamp session.”

Here’s a look at the bills on the agenda:

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SCHOOL TAKEOVER

The legislation would further diminish local control of school districts, allowing Ball State University to take over the Muncie schools and effectively render Gary’s elected school board powerless. Both districts were previously overseen by local officials who mismanaged money. The measure would also provide a framework for identifying school districts with financial troubles.

Opponents say that the bill could lead to future state takeovers of other schools and would disenfranchise voters who have elected school boards. Supporters argue that poor financial management by both districts left the state no choice but to step in.

Details in the bill have raised eyebrows, including a provision that would exempt Ball State from having to comply with a number of state education laws, such as annual performance reporting, bullying prevention and instruction on child abuse when governing the Muncie schools. Lawmakers say the exemption would give the university freedom to adopt innovative strategies.

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SCHOOL SAFETY

Holcomb has requested $5 million for school safety improvements in the wake of February’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17 people. Under the proposal, another $1 million would go to the state Department of Education to audit every Indiana school’s safety plan this year.

The school safety bill includes a provision that allows Indiana schools to keep students in their rooms and barricade doors for a short time after an unplanned fire alarm. That is intended to give officials time to investigate the cause of the alarm and ensure it’s not an active shooter situation.

No lawmakers have taken issue with the measure.

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TAX BILLS

Two of the measures up for consideration address the tax code and would bring the state into compliance with recent changes enacted by the GOP-championed tax cut President Donald Trump signed into law.

However, a couple of provisions tucked into the measures have raised ire, including a sales tax exemption on hot mix asphalt, which is estimated to cost the state about $2.3 million annually.

Democratic Rep. Ed Delaney of Indianapolis also criticized a provision that would allow the college savings plan tax credit to be used for K-12 expenses. He said the language was abruptly added on the final day of the regular session and deserves more vetting since such a tax credit is critical to encourage college savings and reduce student loan debt.

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