Scaled Back Wetland Protections, Statewide Police Reform Take Effect July 1
Indiana legislators created more than 200 new laws this year. And most of them take effect July 1. That includes controversial measures governing environmental regulations, heavy trucks and the events of 2020.
Halted By Courts
Two laws will not be taking effect July 1, after lawsuits have – at least temporarily – halted them.
A federal judge blocked a major part of Indiana’s latest anti-abortion law from taking effect on June 30. The halted provision deals with a controversial "abortion reversal" protocol.
Medication-induced abortions require people to take two separate pills. The 2021 law, HB 1577, forces doctors to tell patients that "some evidence suggests" those abortions can be “reversed” by not taking the second pill.
A federal judge is temporarily blocking a new Indiana law – Senate Enrolled Act 251 – aimed at teachers unions. It would require teachers to sign language that unions believe is unconstitutional and anti-union.
Unions claim that amounts to coerced speech – a First Amendment violation – but the state says union members have other ways to pay dues if they want.
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Taking Effect July 1
More than 80 percent of Indiana’s wetlands no longer have state protections as of July 1. That’s after Republicans eliminated regulations on two categories of wetlands, arguing the rules were overly strict. Dozens of environmental groups and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce strongly opposed SEA 389.
Under the original measure, several Indiana agencies would have to pay the attorney’s fees of a party that wins a lawsuit against the state in a court case overseen by an administrative law judge. But an amendment made it so that would only be the case if an agency acts “frivolously” or “in bad faith.”
Environmental groups and some lawmakers worried this new law, HEA 1436, could pressure regulators to approve pollution permits they would otherwise deny.
2020 brought louder calls for justice reform. And Indiana lawmakers reacted unanimously, approving landmark police reform legislation. Taking effect July 1, HEA 1006 requires all police to undergo de-escalation training and makes it easier for the state to decertify officers who commit misconduct.
HEA 1068 creates local Justice Reinvestment Advisory Councils that could help solve Indiana’s jail overcrowding problem.
There’s already a state JRAC, made up of people representing prosecutors, public defenders, judges, mental health professionals, police and more. The new law extends that to the local level.
Starting July 1, drivers whose blood tests positive for marijuana – but who weren’t intoxicated or caused an accident – will no longer be committing a crime. SEA 201 is meant to prevent people who legally have access to marijuana – like those in neighboring states – to be charged with a misdemeanor in Indiana.
Protests over police brutality prompted Republicans to pass SEA 187 – a law that requires Indiana State Police and local governments to prioritize the protection of monuments and statues, without any explanation for what “prioritize” means.
If local governments are deemed not to adequately protect monuments, statues and the like, the state could cut off some funding to them.
And lawmakers took several steps to address their anger over some of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s COVID-19 executive orders. One of them, which takes effect July 1, classifies religious services as “essential,” shielding them from future executive orders.
Holcomb barred in-person worship services early in the pandemic. And other religious activities – a church-run day care or food pantry, for instance – were restricted more than other “essential services.”
Indiana will allow many more so-called “overweight” trucks on the roadways, beginning July 1. Previous law set the weight limit for most trucks at 80,000 pounds. HEA 1190 will allow trucks to carry up to 120,000 pounds – despite concerns from law enforcement about increased safety risks.
The new law is meant to penalize fraud in the unemployment insurance system. The Department of Workforce Development asked for the changes to go after people gaming the system.
People who knowingly underreport wages or falsify facts on unemployment benefits applications will be required to repay it and could face civil penalties. Some advocates worry people who are confused when filing a claim could get caught in the crossfire under HEA 1152.
The law doesn’t require employers to provide accommodations, but says they must respond “within a reasonable time.” Critics say it’s a paper tiger: that’s already the reality for pregnant workers and it only gives lawmakers a self-serving win they don’t deserve.
Business groups including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association supported HEA 1309 because they thought pregnant workers seeking accommodations would have too much power in negotiations with their employers, if backed by a law that required them to be granted.
Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order April 22 giving pregnant employees in state agencies the right to reasonable workplace accommodations. But he also signed HEA 1309 into law.
In a statement, Holcomb said that while he pushed for different language – more closely aligned with his executive order – he agreed with some lawmakers that this was a “step forward” for pregnant workers. He said he’ll continue to look for ways to make progress on the issue in the future.
SEA 358 fine-tunes an existing state law that forces school districts to offer vacated buildings to charter school organizations, despite an ongoing court challenge from schools.
The law says a school district has to offer up empty buildings formerly used for classroom instruction, for charter organizers to buy or lease for just $1.
It doesn't mean there's always a buyer or interested party, but lawmakers are now extending the right to a $1 school building to state educational institutions – like colleges and universities.
Experienced professionals now have another pathway to become teachers in Indiana, under a measure lawmakers say is designed to help combat the teacher shortage.
SEA 205 allows people 26 and older with a bachelor's degree to get a teaching license after they finish an alternative training program and pass a state licensing exam. The bill is written to specifically allow an online program called American Board to operate in Indiana.
But opponents, including Vigo County teacher and Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute), said new teachers need experience in the classroom before being put in front of students.
The law requires a year of clinical training, but only after teachers licensed through the program are hired full time.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the 2021 legislative session happened on its final day when a new, $37 billion state budget – HEA 1001 – passed with almost no opposition.
A revenue forecast unveiled a week before the end of session was the game changer. It projected $2 billion more for the new budget, much of it put into K-12 education that all but guarantees teacher pay raises. There’s also more than $5 billion in one-time spending, from state and federal sources – paying down debt and investing in infrastructure projects and economic recovery.
Lawmakers put the hotly debated content of House Bill 1005 in the state budget bill. It expands school voucher eligibility and creates a new education fund for families not enrolled in public schools, called Education Scholarship Accounts or ESAs.
The new law aims to help communities with failing septic systems connect to city water and sewer service is heading to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.
According to the Indiana Department of Health, more than 20,000 septic systems in Indiana need to be repaired or replaced every year. Failing septic systems can leak wastewater into local streams and lakes. It can also get into drinking water wells and make people sick.
But hooking up to new water and sewer service is expensive. HEA 1287 allows a utility to waive the cost for that service for underserved communities and raise rates on its existing customers instead.
The new law aims to crack down on people who misuse things like dicamba — a weed killer that’s been known to drift off of farm fields and kill neighboring crops. Under SEA 227, someone who knowingly misused a restricted-use pesticide could receive a $1,000 fine.
But an Indiana University professor questions whether the new law will solve the problem. Dicamba has been known to drift off of the farm fields where it’s applied and damage neighboring crops.
Taking Effect After July 1
The deadlines to comply with new requirements in some new laws are months later.
SEA 239: DCS remote reporting
During the pandemic, some Department of Child Services visits were temporarily conducted remotely. Now, a new state law, SEA 239, requires the agency to develop a permanent policy by October that establishes when remote visits are acceptable. The measure does say that a provider’s first visit with a family or a child must be in person.
SEA 414: School internet use policy
Lawmakers want to make sure students at school aren’t accessing inappropriate material on the internet. And SEA 414 gives schools until Jan. 1 to install hardware or software on school computers that will filter and block access to material that’s harmful to minors.
And Indiana sixth, seventh or eighth graders will have to complete at least one semester of civics education under a new law – HEA 1384. But that requirement doesn’t begin until the 2023-2024 school year, as students enter the sixth grade.
This story has been updated.