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Weekly Statehouse Update: DCS Oversight Scaled Back, Syringe Exchanges Extended

Brandon Smith/IPB News

A Department of Child Services oversight bill is dramatically scaled back. Syringe exchanges are given a little extra time. And a consensus has been reached on a smoking age increase.

Here’s what you might have missed this week at the Statehouse.

DCS Oversight

Legislation to impose more oversight on DCS originally created a new committee that would investigate decision-making at the agency over every case in which a child who had contact with DCS later died or was seriously hurt.

The original bill would’ve created a new committee, required to investigate decision-making at DCS over every case in which a child is seriously hurt or dies after having contact with the agency. But now, lawmakers are instead seeking to resurrect a defunct legislative study committee to examine child welfare issues.

Needle Exchanges Extension

State law eliminates Indiana’s nine syringe exchange programs July 1, 2021. A bill earlier this year would’ve extended them indefinitely – but the Senate killed that measure.

Now, in an effort to give those programs a bit more breathing room, legislators are pushing a one-year extension – extending the programs until July of 2022.

Tobacco 21 Consensus

House and Senate lawmakers unveiled the likely final version of a bill that raises the legal age to smoke and vape from 18 to 21. The measure doubles the fines for retailers who sell to those underage.

But it leaves unchanged the current penalties for youths who are caught smoking – fines of up to $500.

Lawmakers Hesitant On Surprise Billing Measure

A revised bill that would address surprise medical billing passed the Senate health committee Wednesday, but many senators say there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The bill would ensure patients will not face unexpected charges if, for example, they find out after a procedure that a doctor was out-of-network. Patients could be billed for out-of-network charges if they are notified in advance and given a good faith cost estimate.

Legislators narrowly added a more than 30-page amendment to the bill. Among other things, it bans non-compete agreements and requires hospital systems to bill a patient based on the location the services took place.

Replacement For Voter Roll Purges

Republicans are advancing a bill to replace Indiana’s method of quickly purging voters from its voter rolls after the current system was halted in court.

Indiana tried to speed up the process by which it removed voters from the rolls by using a system run by the Kansas Secretary of State. That program – which critics said deleted eligible voters – was halted in two federal courts.

Legislation approved last week by the House Elections Committee requires Indiana to create its own system, similar to Kansas’s.

Coal Bill Gutted

A state Senate committee gutted language in a controversial coal billon Thursday. The bill aimed to keep coal plants open until Indiana can develop a statewide energy plan. 

An amendment altered key parts of the bill, including requiring the state to review the reasonableness of a plant closure, hold a public hearing, and issue an opinion before a utility could close it.

Instead, planned closures would need to be noted in utilities’ long-term, Integrated Resource Plans which are completed every three years — something many utilities already do.

Boy Scouts Move Forward, FAFSA, Teacher Gun Training Dead

The bill that would require specialized training for teachers whose districts allow them to carry guns in school passed the Senate earlier this month, but lawmakers are nearing the end of the legislative session and the House education chairman says he won't offer the bill a hearing ahead of the committee deadline. 

The chairman is also not hearing a bill to require that every high schooler file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. But he says the FAFSA requirementwill likely be moved into a different piece of legislation. 

A bill designed to give the Boy Scouts more opportunities to recruit students originally would have forced schools to let patriotic youth organizations – as defined in federal law – access school buildings. Lawmakers in the House eased back on the proposal this week, so it would not become another statewide requirement.

Workers Memorial Day Resolution

A resolution passed in the Indiana House would honor those killed or injured at work. It would formally recognize April 28 as Workers Memorial Day.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Indiana had the ninth highest worker-fatality rate in the country in 2018.