Committee deadline fatal for many bills

Kratom, picketing, birth control and speed limits among the casualties

bills session

Several bills die after committee deadlines this week. (Getty Images)

Indiana’s House and Senate both face committee deadlines this week, so any bill that doesn’t advance to the respective chamber is dead for the year.

The House committee deadline passed on Tuesday, meaning that several Senate bills didn’t get the green light from the House this year. The Senate committee deadline is Thursday but, according to committee calendars posted on Wednesday, a handful of House bills won’t make the cut.

The language of the bills could still be revived elsewhere, sometimes dubbed “zombie bills” — for example, if one dead education bill pops up elsewhere as an amendment to a similar bill.

These are the bills that, at the moment, look to have died in the 2023 legislative session.

Senate bills on LARCs, picketing stalled

For at least two dead Senate bills, it seems to have simply been a matter of timing. Committee chairs only have so much time to hear bills and sometimes they don’t make it across the finish line.

Rep. Brad Barrett, R-Richmond, said time ran out on Senate Bill 266, by Indianapolis Democrat Sen. Jean Breaux. It would have required that hospitals offer to insert a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) for mothers shortly after childbirth.

Barrett is the chair of the House health committee and spent several hours this year hearing testimony on complex health care issues such as a ban on transgender health care for minors, pharmacy benefit managers, hospital costs and public health funding.

Rep. Brad Barrett, R-Richmond, introduces a bill before the House Public Health committee on Jan. 31, 2023 in the House Chamber. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

He said he would instead focus on Sen. Shelli Yoder’s contraceptive bill.  Senate Bill 252 would allow for abandoned LARCs prescribed to Medicaid recipients to be transferred to another Medicaid recipient.

Due to their similarities – and because Breaux’s measure passed the Senate already – it is possible for the two bills to be combined in the coming weeks.

A contentious Senate bill that would have barred protests outside of individual’s homes seems to have stalled in the House courts committee, though Rep. Wendy McNamara, who chairs the committee, declined to elaborate on why.

When asked, McNamara, R-Evansville, said she wasn’t “prepared” to talk on Senate Bill 348, which made residential harassment a Class C misdemeanor

Bill author Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, said that he had messaged McNamara and thought it was simply a matter of time running out.

“I don’t think there’s an issue with the topic, as best I can understand,” Baldwin said. 

Baldwin didn’t know if he’d introduce the legislation again next year.

Tweaks needed if bills return next year

On other measures, pivotal leaders said the committee deadline had passed before lawmakers could iron out acceptable language.

Opposition from insurance providers and the state’s largest truck drivers group once again stalled a bill that sought to raise the speed limit for trucks on certain Indiana roadways.

Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, said he “wasn’t convinced” the measure would do what it purported to accomplish.

Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie. (Courtesy Indiana House Republicans)

“I don’t believe that it really fixes the problem that some of my colleagues would like to fix — the problem being that they believe that two trucks at 60 mph creates a traffic block,” he said. “I would argue that — if we raise the speed limit and they can go faster to 70 mph – you will still have two trucks … blocking traffic. I would also argue that motorists do the same.”

But Pressel didn’t rule out the bill’s return next year, should some of those issues be addressed.

The proposal, authored by Republican Sen. Jim Tomes, of Wadesville, would have increased speed limits for large vehicles, like semi trucks, to 70 mph on highways and interstates outside urban areas.  Currently, those vehicles must not go above 65 mph.

Similar bills have failed in recent years, largely due to pushback from the Indiana Motor Truck Association, which represents the Hoosier trucking industry. The group maintains that increasing the speed limit for trucks does not limit the number of semis still on the roads, and that increased speeds would “invite aggressive driving habits” on Indiana’s roadways.

Two pet-related bills — one from each chamber — won’t move forward this year, despite their similarities. Rep. Mike Aylesworth, said lawmakers would need to take the time to rephrase language blocking municipalities from banning the retail sales of dogs.

“It had too many issues, (such as) a way to enforce oversight. So we’re going to take a fresh look at it,” said Aylesworth, R-Hebron. “There’s just too many loose ends.”

Aylesworth’s bill, House Bill 1121, closely mirrored Senate Bill 134 from Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen. Doriot’s bill moved out of the Senate on a 29-18 vote over the outcry of advocates who worried that retail sales implicitly supported puppy mills.

Disagreements abound on union construction, mixed drinks

A Senate committee planned to re-vote a bill restricting construction-specific union agreements after it unexpectedly stalled in a tied vote last week. 

But the meeting was cancelled last-minute — and just before a committee deadline — killing the bill. Author Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, told reporters Wednesday he was still trying to decide if he’d try to get the language transplanted into live legislation.

Governments, along with private companies, often use pre-hire collective bargaining agreements to lay out ground rules for construction work with unions. The project labor agreements apply to all the contractors and subcontractors on the project.

House Bill 1024 would’ve blocked local governments from requiring that bidders or contractors enter into the agreements or follow them. It also would’ve barred them from discriminating against entities that sign, and those that don’t. 

“Obviously, I’m very disappointed because it was just protection for taxpayers and provides opportunities for a lot of construction workers that get shut out on these [labor agreement] projects in certain cities in the state,” Torr said. Critics, meanwhile, said the bill would hurt workers and take power from local governments.

Republican Sens. Dan Dernulc of Highland and Greg Walker of Columbus joined the committee’s three Democrats in the 5-5 vote. Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington — who launched a congressional campaign in March — expressed some concerns but voted in support.

Asked if he anticipated the Senate committee vote, Torr said, “There are some people here that, unfortunately, sometimes let their future political advancement dictate their votes, or at least weigh a little too heavily on their votes. I’ve found that good public policy is always good politics.”

The bill previously scraped through the House with 52 votes in favor — just above the 51-vote threshold — though Torr noted several of his House GOP colleagues were absent. 

An alcohol bill also split lawmakers throughout its legislative journey.

House Bill 1544 would’ve let beer and wine wholesalers in on the lucrative spirits-based mixed drink business, but it died when it didn’t get a committee vote before deadline.

Committee chair Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, indicated he might schedule a committee meeting with the bill on the schedule, but that didn’t happen. It is unclear why.

More deadline misses

A key House priority bill wasn’t on the calendar for the Senate Appropriations committee Wednesday, signaling its possible demise.

Rep. Craig Snow, R-Warsaw, authored House Bill 1003, which would incentivize health reimbursement arrangements and address other insurance matters. Snow said Tuesday he didn’t know about the future of the bill.

Pressel said he also didn’t think his bill putting the existence of township assessors to a county-wide vote would get greenlit this year.

“It’s still live language (but) I’m not hopeful that it passes. I do think that it’s a good piece of policy,” Pressel said.

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Opponents criticized the bill for putting the question on a county-wide ballot, rather than focusing solely on the township voters served by the township assessor. Pressel defended that by saying the entire county pays the price for the township assessor. Eliminating the office would save his county, LaPorte County, an estimated $250,000 annually, he said. 

“We already have a county assessor in every county. So why is there a need for a township assessor? In my mind, that feels duplicative,”he said. 

Pressel said he was prepared to introduce the bill next year, citing two of his previous bills  — one creating a pilot program for speed cameras in construction zones and another updating state statute on distracted driving — that took years to pass.

“Third time’s the charm, sometimes. Maybe even four – it took me four years for work zone safety (and) three years on distracted driving,” Pressel said. “I am persistent.”

State lawmakers will also have to wait to take another crack at a bill that would once again make kratom legal in Indiana.

House Bill 1500, authored by Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Terre Haute, would permit the sale of the plant substance touted as a natural painkiller, “energy booster” and even a treatment for opioid withdrawal. In Indiana, kratom is currently listed as a schedule 1 narcotic — the same as heroin or cocaine.

Earlier this week, Morrison said he planned to draft a proposal to send the topic to a summer study committee.

The bill advanced 53-40 from the House earlier in the session with mixed support from both sides of the isle, but it stalled in the Senate without a committee hearing.

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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.

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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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