The big wins — and some losses — of Indiana’s 2023 legislative session

Lawmakers wrapped up in the wee hours Friday morning. See what they accomplished — and what they didn’t.

Indiana House of Representatives

Hundreds of bills passed the legislature. Here is a recap of some, as well as key measures that didn’t. (Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Of the 1,154 bills filed, Indiana lawmakers approved 252 of those in the 2023 legislative session, with many still waiting for a final signature from the governor.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly convened for 110 days, during which education, health care and taxes dominated much of the discourse. 

The highlight, however, was the passage of Indiana’s new, $44 billion biennial budget plan.

Here’s a recap of the issues — some big, some small — and a look at what prevailed and what didn’t quite come together before “Sine Die” brought the 2023 session to a close.

Holcomb agenda meets success

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2023 legislative agenda highlighted proposals for several major funding increases in the next two-year state budget, including paying for all K-12 textbooks, salary increases for state police troopers, and millions more for public health services in all 92 counties. A massive private school voucher expansion was the sticking point in the final hours of the session — although vouchers weren’t part of Holcomb’s priorities. 

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Session Wrap


Still, the governor got most of what he wanted — saying he will “gladly sign” the final budget draft — and praised lawmakers for their work an hour after the session’s end.

He said the budget “contains unprecedented levels of commitment and investment in public education, public safety and public health — both mental and physical — workforce development and economic development, and community development, and numerous quality-of-life and quality-of-place initiatives that we are eager to get to work on.”

K-12 textbook fees

Indiana’s governor rallied hard to eliminate textbook and curricular fees for Hoosier kids. Figuring out how to fund the ask proved less straightforward, though.

Holcomb’s proposed budget explicitly included a line item for textbook fees — separate from the school funding formula — directing funds to the state education department, which would then be responsible for dishing out textbook dollars to schools.

But House budget writers originally took a different approach, seeking to require schools to dip into their foundational funding to fully pay students’ curricular materials costs.

Pushback from public school officials prompted changes to that funding mechanism in the final budget plan.

Now, $160 million annual line item — added by Senate Republicans — ensures that Hoosier families will not have to pay student textbook fees in K-12 public schools. Private school students who qualify for free or reduced lunch will also see their textbook fee waived, according to the budget. 

21st Century Scholars

The Holcomb administrations’ push to get more Hoosiers educated included a move to automatically enroll eligible Hoosier students into Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars Program — a statewide grant program that funds lower income student attendance at two- and four-year schools.

A bill doing just that advanced to the governor’s desk last week. 

House Bill 1449 requires the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (CHE) to work with the state education department to identify kids who qualify for the program, and then notify students and parents about their eligibility. Students must agree to participate in 21st Century Scholars and can opt out at any time.

Big pay raises for some

In his initial budget request, Holcomb stressed the importance of increasing the state’s compensation for its employees, citing high turnover rates during the pandemic. The typical state employee saw a 5% boost to their salary, though lower-paid employees saw slightly more of a raise while higher-paid employees received a slightly smaller increase.

The final budget kept those increases, but gave the state’s highest elected offices their own boost — including a 48% raise for the governor’s office. Leaders said those offices were “woefully” underpaid and needed to grow in order to keep up with comparable positions. 

Support for Martin University

Also part of Holcomb’s agenda was a proposed $10 million for Martin University — the state’s only predominantly black institution — specifically to help the low-income, minority and adult-learner populations served by the university. 

The House GOP budget plan matched that request, but Senate Republicans opted to give every higher education institution in Indiana access to that $10 million over the biennium for minority, first-generation and low-income students.

The final budget landed somewhere in between, appropriating $5 million to Martin University, and creating another $5 million pot for all other Hoosier colleges and universities to use for minority student financial aid.

Feat of imagination: more kids reading

Country music icon Dolly Parton’s book program mails over 2 million books monthly to children across the country — and elsewhere — monthly, according to its website. Now, the Imagination Library is set to be available statewide in Indiana.

Launching the program was a priority for Holcomb, as well as some lawmakers — and they saw success in the final version of the state’s two-year, $44.5 billion budget. It’s one line item in the 249-page document: a $6 million appropriation.

In a news release, Holcomb said it’s part of the state’s goal of getting 95% of third-grade students reading proficiently by 2027.

Culture Wars

Lawmakers said just weeks before the start of the legislative session that the 2023 General Assembly would avoid so-called “culture war” issues.

That was not the case, however. Multiple contentious bills targeted LGBTQ+ rights, especially transgender youth, and which drew hundreds of oppositional ralliers to the Statehouse throughout the session.

Hoosiers rally against a bill that would ban gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth at the Indiana Statehouse. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Ban on gender-affirming care

The Indiana Youth Institute estimates that roughly 3,350 Hoosier children identify as transgender, but that small number fell under the spotlight repeatedly during the legislative session.

In particular, lawmakers targeted the estimated 1,000 children seeking gender-affirming care at the state’s only pediatric hospital, Indianapolis’ Riley Hospital for Children. Care includes assistance with social transitioning, access to puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapies – all of which are generally considered to be reversible, time-tested treatments.

Repeated, hours-long testimony failed to find any instance of a minor receiving a surgical intervention, which is not reversible.

Just hours after Holcomb signed the ban on gender-affirming care, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit to block the measure, representing a handful of children whose care would be disrupted by the prohibition. 

Pronouns in classrooms

A controversial bill mandating that Indiana schools notify parents when a student asks for name or pronoun changes is now awaiting a signature from the governor.

House Bill 1608 also bans human sexuality instruction to the youngest Hoosier students.

The proposal is reminiscent of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that has been described by some as one of the most “hateful” pieces of legislation in the country.

Supporters say parents have the “right” and “responsibility” to control what their children learn — and are called — when at school.

But critics of the bill — which was pared down in its final iteration — have argued that it’s part of a nationwide wave of legislation “singling out LGBTQ+ people and their families.” More specifically, they say that the legislation could put transgender children at risk of harm if they’re outed to unsupportive or abusive parents.

Legislating ‘anti-woke’ pension investing

Indiana’s public retirement system and its external investment managers will begin operating under new scrutiny — after House Republicans successfully pushed through “finances-first” priority legislation.

House Bill 1008 is Indiana’s take on the national backlash brewing to “ESG” investing, when environmental, social and governmental factors are considered in investment decisions. Hours of discussion pitted some pension members and finance leaders against industries claiming ESG-based “financial discrimination.”

The legislation empowers a supportive state treasurer with investigating asset managers he suspects are engaging in ESG investing, and forces the retirement system to divest from violators unless it can’t find “comparable” replacements.

School library book restrictions

In the final hours of the legislative session, Republican state lawmakers resurrected a much-debated ban on materials deemed “obscene “or “harmful to minors” in school and public libraries.

The book, “Gender Queer,” authored by Maia Kobabe, was included in the debate about material deemed “harmful to minors” in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, at the Indiana Statehouse. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The bill requires school libraries to publicly post lists of books in their collection and create a formal grievance process for parents and community members who live in the district to object to certain materials in circulation.

As part of that process, school boards must review those challenges at their next public meeting. An appeals process must also be established if officials don’t agree with the request.

Language in House Bill 1447 also removes “educational purposes” as a reason that schools or district board members could claim legal protection for sharing “harmful material” with underage students. The charge is a felony.

Public libraries would not be affected, however, despite other proposals debated earlier in the session that would have expanded the language’s reach. Additionally, the bill only applies to public and charter schools, not private schools.

Some bills fell short

Republican lawmakers touted big wins across the board at the conclusion of the legislative session, but several big-ticket items didn’t make it across the finish line. Some bills failed to make it through the process due to a lack of GOP consensus, while others were put to rest after public pushback.

Many of the measures are expected to be reworked and introduced again next year.


Controversial language that would have further weakened Indiana’s wetlands law did not advance in the 2023 session, despite a quiet GOP attempt to insert such language in a residential sewage bill.

A House environmental committee last month approved an amendment to Senate Bill 414 that tightened restrictions on which wetlands could receive state protections.

Republican lawmakers claimed the provision would “clarify” definitions in the state’s wetlands statute.

But in the final week of the session, lawmakers stripped that language from the bill, saying the wetlands issue was found not germane — meaning the language was not relevant to the underlying bill, per legislative rules.

School board elections

A bill that would have let Hoosier communities decide if local school board elections should be partisan died in the House in February. Although similar language could have been inserted elsewhere, lawmakers did not return to the issue before the end of the session.

Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, authored a bill on partisan school board elections that died Feb. 27, 2023.(Courtesy of Prescott Flickr)

That means school board races will stay non-partisan — at least for now. Similar bills have circulated around the Statehouse in years past, and GOP leadership said others are likely to come up again in the future.

With this year’s House Bill 1428, specifically, Republican lawmakers could not find consensus over whether school board candidates should have to be nominated by party primaries or only be listed by political party on the November general election ballot.

Health care

Several major health care bills were watered down in their final versions, whether doctor non-compete agreements or price caps for Indiana hospitals. Those that did pass also didn’t get the full funding advocates requested. 

But leaders called it a win, saying that dozens of meetings with stakeholders convinced them more Indiana-focused data was needed, which House Bill 1004 will incentivize moving forward. 

That language will also require a review of Medicaid reimbursement rates in Indiana, which hospitals say significantly lag behind other states.

Lawmakers opted to fund roughly two-thirds of Holcomb’s ask for public health, or $225 million over the biennium. But House Speaker Todd Huston said that legislators will return in the next few years to see what the results from that investment are and reassess funding.

Sen Pro Tem Rodric Bray also emphasized that mental health funding was just a start and not the end of state monies. Though a fall report requested more than $130 million annually for the state’s burgeoning mental health crisis system, the state budget will dedicate just $50 million each year.

Child care

Something that didn’t get too much attention through the 2023 session was child care and early childhood education. Though legislators expanded eligibility for On My Way Pre-K from 127% to 150% of the federal poverty limit, roughly $41,625 annually for a family of four, they didn’t add more funding. 

Leaders said that current expenditures left money behind, including in the Child Care Development Fund. However, families and businesses alike bemoan the shortage of quality child care available in communities, saying it hampers economic growth.

High tax bills vs. government service costs

Property tax bills shot up this year, as the pandemic’s high-priced home sales and subsequent rise in assessment values. But even before the legislative session began, lawmakers were urging caution in any relief efforts. 

House Bill 1499 went through numerous transformations: several dilutions, followed by a final version with several key provisions resuscitated. It expands multiple deductions, and temporarily limits growth in school operating referendum taxes and local unit property tax hauls.

Fresh green Kratom leaf (Mitragyna speciosa) with kratom powder capsule isolated on wooden table background. (Getty Images)

Kratom stays outlawed

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 would have permitted 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.

Bill author Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Terre Haute, said he wants lawmakers to keep looking at the issue — and that he could make another attempt next year to legalize kratom.

Local bans on pet store sales

Lawmakers this session failed to supersede local ordinances barring pet stores from selling pets like cats and dogs. 

Stores in those municipalities can only collaborate with animal care or rescue organizations to show adoptable cats and dogs — in an effort to prevent inhumane sourcing and ease shelter overcrowding. But lawmakers and pet store chains said they should be able to sell animals from reputable breeders.

Two such bills expired in legislative deadlines. One author said his proposal had “too many loose ends” – but indicated he’d make edits and try again another session.

No state sandwich — or nickname

Indiana didn’t get any closer to making the breaded pork tenderloin an official state sandwich. 

That’s despite support from Gov. Eric Holcomb, who said earlier this that he wanted to settle the state sandwich question “once and for all.”

Senate Bill 322 specifically intended to honor Nick’s Kitchen, home to the first Hoosier breaded pork tenderloin. It’s located in downtown Huntington and has been serving up the famous creation since 1908.

“I did not get my breaded tenderloin sandwich, but I’m going to put that aside for now — I’ve got executive orders. We’ll deal with that later,” Holcomb said, lightheartedly, on Friday.

Another proposal, House Bill 1143, additionally sought to establish “The Hoosier State” as Indiana’s official nickname. But it died in a House government committee after historians raised questions about the “Hoosier” origin story outlined within the proposal.


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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.

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.

Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie joins the Indiana Capital Chronicle after covering city government and urban affairs for the Indianapolis Business Journal for more than a year. She graduated from Northwestern University in March 2021, and has reported for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and student publications in Evanston, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and Doha, Qatar.