House passes 13th check, Senate approves sanctuary city ban enforcement

House Republicans also agreed to a delay on a priority education bill, and the Senate OK’ed new limits on drones near jails

By: and - January 23, 2024 6:30 am

Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, authored the benefit-bumping bill. He sits in the House chamber on April 12, 2023. (Courtesy Indiana House Republicans/Cherry official Flickr)

Indiana’s House of Representatives on Monday unanimously voted to offer former public employees a retirement benefit boost known as a 13th check.

The Senate killed an identical attempt last year, but Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray is among the sponsors of this year’s bill — giving the legislation his powerful support and nod of approval. 

However, his chamber is also weighing its own take on a retirement benefit, authored by Sen. Brian Buchanan: a long-term approach featuring guaranteed bonuses instead of the traditional ad hoc treatment. That’s in accordance with recommendations from an interim study committee.

House Bill 1004 author Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, acknowledged the push for a hybrid approach.

“I look forward to going down that road,” Cherry said, following the vote on his bill. Buchanan is also the primary Senate sponsor of Cherry’s bill.

On another bill, House Republicans supported a Democratic amendment that would delay a component of one of their priority bills. Indianapolis Rep. Ed DeLaney, a Democrat, suggested that the pace of House Bill 1001, seen as a continuation of an effort to reform high school and secondary education, is too fast.

The language would tweak current programs designed to offset high college costs by opening up those monies for job training or apprenticeships this year.

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“As the bill stands, we’d start — essentially immediately — taking out funds from the 21st Century Scholars Program and the Frank O’Bannon scholarship,” DeLaney said. “If we’re going to do that, I think we need to do that in a budget year.”

Rep. Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville, approved of the amendment to his bill, which he called a response to the state’s “workforce development crisis.”

“I think this bill is continuing to get better,” Goodrich said. 

Another Republican faced a tougher challenge on his bill, which aims to establish local standards of decorum and protect law enforcement officers who remove unruly residents from local government meetings. 

The bill advanced on 79-17 vote, with a bipartisan coalition voting against the bill, and now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

Senate approves sanctuary city ban enforcement, jail drone flight restrictions

Meanwhile, the Senate threw its weight behind legislation empowering – and requiring – the Indiana Attorney General’s Office to enforce a law banning sanctuary city ordinances.

“It’s not unusual that we vest the attorney general with standing to bring actions on behalf of the state,” author Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said. Koch said the office-holder can bring actions related to price gouging, deceptive acts, false claims, tax evasion and more.

Senate panel moves bill letting attorney general enforce sanctuary city ban

Indiana Code bars local governments and their employees from refusing to communicate or cooperate with federal immigration authorities about the immigration status — lawful or unlawful — of an individual. The General Assembly approved it in 2011.

Since then, private citizens have sued the cities of East Chicago and Gary over their ordinances, but saw their cases get tossed due to a lack of legal standing. 

Senate Bill 181 is a response to that court opinion,” Koch said.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun – a leading gubernatorial candidate – asked lawmakers to pass the bill in a letter he sent Monday to legislative leaders. He recalled visiting the U.S.-Mexico border in November.

“I saw again how the failure to enforce the law has indulged criminality including human smuggling, violence, drug trafficking, theft, vandalism, and more,” Braun said. “Indiana cannot exacerbate this crisis by extending toleration and refuge to foreign criminals who do not abide by our laws.”

Democrats hit back, arguing that it was a “non-issue” with potential for misuse.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, criticized the Senate Republican caucus for weakening “home rule.”

Sen. Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton, speaks against a bill allowing the attorney general to enforce a sanctuary city ban, on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

“(We’re) giving someone – who we already know is going to try to jump on this for political gain – the ability to go sue one of our municipalities or our (public universities),” Taylor said, referring to Attorney General Todd Rokita.

He also argued that the legislation would lower the standard of proof required to prove a violation by specifying the low civil standard of a preponderance of the evidence.

Sen. Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton, said the “welcoming city” ordinance was a reaction to immigration-related “fearmongering” in 2017. Pol is also city attorney for Gary.

Gary residents, he said, were concerned their police department was going to “become an arm” of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“What do you think that does to a community that already lives in the shadows?” Pol asked.

Pol also said the city found in discovery that when law enforcement officers did encounter unauthorized immigrants and contacted the federal government, they never got replies.

Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, answers questions on his bill allowing the attorney general to enforce a sanctuary city ban, on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Senators voted to pass the bill 37-9, along party lines.

The chamber also approved a bill limiting drone use near correctional facilities, 46-0. 

The Indiana Department of Correction reported over 30 drone sightings in 2023 and over a dozen confirmed drone drops of contraband inside state correctional facilities, according to a news release from author Koch. One report detailed the recovery of a drone and package containing tobacco, six cell phones, four chargers and marijuana.

“These drones are not only breaching security at our correctional facilities but endangering everyone there and nearby by dropping illegal contraband to convicted criminals,” Koch said in the release.

At session Monday, he noted there was also “potential for surveillance and reconnaissance.”  

Senate Bill 182 adds drone delivery of contraband to the state’s crime of trafficking with an inmate. That’s a Class A misdemeanor, unless the contraband is a controlled substance, deadly weapon or communications device. Then, the act is a Level 5 felony. 

The bill additionally adds delivering contraband via drone to an inmate being transported elsewhere for a judicial proceeding to another trafficking crime. It’s also a Class A misdemeanor with the option of a Level 5 felony.

Both bills now move to the House and begin the three-part legislative process there.

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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.

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.