Senate passes bill inspired by conversion therapy dispute

Tracker ban and energy measures also move forward on deadline day

By: - March 1, 2023 6:30 am
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The Indiana Senate passed more than a dozen measures Tuesday to meet its mid-point deadline of the session. (Indiana State Flag)

Indiana’s Senate plodded through more than two-dozen bills during a marathon eight-hour stretch to meet a Tuesday deadline. The body passed several major measures, including a bill originally intended to prevent communities from banning conversion therapy that has since gone much broader.

Proposals cracking down on GPS stalking and hospital costs also made the cut, alongside a much-debated carbon sequestration pilot project. All now go to the House for consideration.

From church to state

One pastor’s feud with the city of West Lafayette — over a withdrawn ordinance that would’ve banned unlicensed counselors from conducting anti-gay conversion therapy — has gone statewide in Senate Bill 350. Discussion Tuesday occasionally got testy. 

The bill initially would’ve blocked local units of government from implementing such bans on counseling and behavioral health services. But it’s been broadened in amendments, and would now stop local governments from regulating the performance of any kind of service if it is subject to state licensure or specifically exempted.

“The genesis of the bill is to make sure that local political subdivisions don’t regulate what the state sanctions,” bill author Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, said on the floor.

Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond (Courtesy Indiana Senate Republicans)

But opponents argued the bill infringes on local control.

“Isn’t that the reason why we elect local leaders? … And shouldn’t they be able to set policy for their community?” Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, asked.

Ford, the Indiana General Assembly’s only openly gay member, argued that Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency should otherwise regulate conversion therapy. He also quoted from a Hoosier who underwent such therapy at the West Lafayette church behind the bill — who called the sessions the “most hurtful, damaging and humiliating experiences of my life.”

Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, said local governments shouldn’t be “censoring what a house of God can do in counseling.”

But the bill goes far beyond houses of worship. Some lawmakers wondered about local rules on electricity services, surveyors, massage therapy and other services.

“Just go ahead and pass this bill, and let somebody’s house burn up before we come back and change the law,” Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said sarcastically.

Alting, meanwhile, acknowledged, “I think all these other services in it with plumbers and all that stuff was a little hairy.”

The bill passed 34-14 — a second coming for a proposal temporarily pulled when it was nearly voted down in committee.

Non-consensual tracking could soon be a crime

It could soon be a felony to track someone using GPS devices without their consent.

The common examples are trackers on cars or even Apple air tags placed in people’s purses or coats.

Senators unanimously approved the bill, 49-0, but several still had doubts about who should get a free pass to track. There are several exemptions, but the most disputed is one for “a family member.”

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne (Courtesy Indiana Senate Republicans)

Sen Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, has repeatedly argued that an exemption for family members is “too broad,” and unsuccessfully attempted to narrow that exception only to minors, relatives with intellectual disabilities or those under a guardianship.

A married couple with an “acrimonious” relationship, even if moving toward divorce, would still be able to track one another without consent under the bill, Brown noted on the floor. “We know that this is how a lot of violence starts and it escalates.”

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, said he could think of “countless examples” why parents would want to track even adult children, or children their elderly parents.

“I don’t believe a family member should be a felon for wanting to track their family member,” he said.

Bill author Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, said the bill was a starting point to tackle tracking in abusive relationships.

“We’re not going in the right direction with [domestic violence statistics],” he said. “This bill is a first attempt to try to address what technology is kind of forcing us to address.”

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Bid to lower hospital fees gets bipartisan doubt

Senators also passed a bill dictating payments for certain health services based on location — or site of service — in a scrutinized attempt to lower fees.

Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said Senate Bill 6 came as hospitals consolidated into “corporate powerhouses” with high revenues. He sought to restrict where a healthcare system could charge the additional hospital facility fee.

“Without a doubt, hospitals play a critical role in our healthcare delivery system; we need hospitals,” Charbonneau said. “All the bill is saying is that when services are provided [outside] a hospital setting, it explains the form that should be used to file that expense claim.”

But the bill faced bipartisan opposition – with the majority of members from Charbonneau’s own health committee voting against the bill. 

Sen. Ed Charbonneau authored a key bill aimed at reducing hospital health care costs. (Monroe Bush for the Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Committee member Sen. Vaneta Becker opposed the bill on two previous votes and urged her fellow Republicans to defeat the measure.

Becker, of Evansville, said that one of her local hospitals would possibly close their cancer treatment center if the bill passed because the building isn’t considered to be part of the hospital – even though it sits on the hospital campus.

“The only people who win under this bill is the insurance industry,” Becker said. 

The bill passed 31-18, with 10 Republicans joining eight Democrats to vote against the measure.

Helping or harming farmers?

The body also approved — by a relatively narrow margin — a proposal seeking to advance the construction of a carbon capture and sequestration pilot project in Vigo and Vermillion counties. 

It also gives special privileges to an Indiana company that is preparing to undertake the nation’s largest carbon dioxide storage project. The process involves capturing carbon dioxide and injecting it deep into the earth’s crust.

“This is an opportunity for us to make a statement that we support farmers. We want to try to help them lower their input costs,” author Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, said, because the project involves fertilizer production. “But this is also an economic development project for our community.”

Ford said his community “is not thriving” and needs the help.

But the Indiana Farm Bureau, several major agricultural and fuel groups, and environmental advocates remain firmly opposed.

“I understand [Ford] really needs this, but I also understand the rights of property owners,” Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg. She chairs the chamber’s agriculture committee and the rural caucus.

Senate Bill 451 passed 27-21, but it upended typical party line votes. Nearly all of the votes against were from Ford’s fellow Republicans, while most Democrats voted in support.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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