The Indiana General Assembly finished its work last week, with a rare achievement of beating its deadline, which arrives Monday.
By completing their tasks early, legislators avoided the chaos of 2018, when they had to return in a special session for unfinished business.
Lawmakers this year accomplished much and whiffed on a few topics, and we’ll look at both.
Controversy greeted legislators’ decision to maintain a $2 billion budget surplus, which has become a source of state pride.
Guarding the surplus limited an increase in funding for schools to 2.5 percent in each of the next two years. Republican leaders say that’s enough to improve Indiana’s subpar teacher salaries. Skeptics say it merely keeps us from falling farther behind other states and won’t boost Indiana’s low ranking.
On the bright side, if the nation’s economy hits a slump, Indiana would be able to keep raising teacher pay and could begin to catch up.
Speaking of schools, legislators responded to a 2018 tragedy by increasing penalties for drivers who pass school buses that are stopped to load or unload students.
A judge now can suspend a driver’s license for 90 days for a first-time conviction of recklessly passing a stopped bus. The new law also makes it a felony to recklessly pass a bus and injure or kill someone.
Following a national trend, Indiana lawmakers legalized the growing of hemp. Unfairly associated with marijuana for decades, hemp can be useful in many ways. Advocates say growing hemp could become a boon to Indiana farmers.
Legislators failed to pass a bill that would have established training requirements for teachers who wish to be armed on school campuses. It became hung up by the argument that requiring them to be trained amounted to “gun control.”
Lawmakers also took no action on a different kind of threat to young people — the rapid rise in popularity of vaping. A bill to slap a 20 percent tax on vaping liquids got watered down to 5 percent and then died completely.
Vaping has become a new strategy for hooking young people on nicotine. We tax cigarettes, and it’s hard to see the difference in a tax on vaping. Even so, Indiana’s tax on cigarettes itself may not be high enough to put a major dent in our state’s above-average smoking rates
This year’s session of the Legislature leaves Indiana among the nation’s leaders in financial soundness, but still near the bottom in teacher salaries. Before the next budget session in 2021, Hoosiers should think hard about whether investing more in education would improve our chances of staying flush with cash in the long run.
OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.