CNHI Statehouse Bureau
Scores of new state laws just went into effect July 1, but Indiana lawmakers are already getting ready to make more.
Members of the Indiana General Assembly will soon start another round of their annual out-of-session study committees, looking at issues that may end up on next year’s legislative agenda.
The issues assigned to study committees are those lawmakers voted on before they adjourned in March. How much attention any topic will receive and any follow-up action by the legislature depends on a range of variables — including the outcome of the November election.
In that election, Indiana voters will be picking a new governor, and it’s an election year for all the state House members and for about half of the Senate. In addition, more than 20 current members of the legislature aren’t running for re-election.
The topics the study committees have been assigned range from looking at ways to boost the locally grown food market to a sweeping review of the state’s child protection services, which have come under fire.
Fees that solid waste districts can charge are also on the list, as are the disclosure of public pension obligations; the monitoring of pain-management facilities; the finances and oversight of 911 dispatch services; the involuntary commitment of the mentally ill; and an inventory of income tax credits the state grants.
That’s just a partial list of topics assigned to the more than dozen interim study committees that will be meeting this summer and into the fall.
One that’s already started: The Select Commission on Education, which may have the most hot-button issues.
That committee has been instructed to look at whether the Indiana Department of Education has overreached in carrying out some of the education reforms passed in past legislative sessions, including how teachers are evaluated under the state’s new merit-pay system.
Also on the education study committee’s list is a “disannexation” proposal that would allow parents who are unhappy with their local school district to create their own school corporation or join up with another school corporation they like better.
“I think there’ll be some harried debate on education issues,” said state Sen. Jean Leising, a Republican from south-central Indiana who sits on that education commission.
The interim study committee is also looking at how the Department of Child Services is doing its job. During the past session, House and Senate Democrats and some child-welfare advocates were critical of the agency, saying it had fallen short of its obligation to protect children from neglect and abuse.
That committee has been given an ambitious study agenda; it’s been tasked with evaluating the agency’s performance since 2005, when the state took over child protection services from the counties.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma likes to describe the study committees as the “work horses” of the legislature because they’re often charged with plowing through difficult issues.
They’ll have plenty of work to do, including figuring out how any changes they propose might impact the biennium budget that has to be crafted and passed in the next session.
“We always have to ask: ‘What’s the impact on the budget?’” said state Sen. Luke Kenley, the influential Republican chairman of the Senate appropriations committee. “It always comes back to the money.”
Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at email@example.com.