Weekly Statehouse Update: Unemployment Fraud To Holcomb, COVID-19 Restrictions
Senate lawmakers opt against major changes to the emergency powers bill. Unemployment fraud legislation is headed to the governor’s desk. And House Republicans block debate on redistricting reform.
Here’s what you might have missed this week at the Statehouse.
Holcomb To Rollback COVID-19 Restrictions
There were several significant GOP amendments on the Senate floor to House Bill 1123 dealing with the governor’s emergency authority. But Republicans allowed almost none of them to be called up for debate, instead, making minor tweaks to the legislation.
That came just days after Gov. Eric Holcomb placated many lawmakers by announcing he would repeal all statewide COVID-19 restrictions, beginning April 6.
The Senate gave final approval this week to a bill that tightens up penalties for people who knowingly provide false information on unemployment benefit applications. House Bill 1152, which only needs the governor’s signature to become law, could penalize those people even if they didn’t end up receiving any benefits.
House Republicans used legislative procedure to block debate and a vote on a Democratic amendment to create a nonpartisan redistricting system. In a maneuver used frequently by legislative majorities, the House GOP ruled that the amendment wasn’t relevant to SB 398, a bill on election laws.
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House lawmakers put the hotly debated content of House Bill 1005 in the state budget bill, in addition to passing it as a standalone 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.
But Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Centerville), Senate Education and Career Development Committee chair, said he won't hear House Bill 1005 in his committee because the concepts have been through multiple hearings in both chambers, through the House legislation as well as Senate Bills 412 and 413.
Activists and faith leaders gathered at the Statehouse Tuesday for a vigil and call-to-action on the first anniversary of the state’s Stay-At-Home orders.
Tracey Hutchings-Goetz is the policy and communications director for Hoosier Action. She said the group collected a wide range of experiences – from unemployment to substance abuse to maternal health – to demonstrate the full brunt of COVID-19’s effect on Indiana.
"We have lost housing security, economic security, peace of mind – so much more than the 13,000 precious lives," Hutchings-Goetz said.
Utility consumers and Indiana’s public finance arm will likely have a voice on a task force charged with developing the state’s energy policy. That’s according to an amended bill, HB 1220, that would extend the 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force for another two years.
Activists were concerned that no one on this new task force would represent utility consumers — many of whom could see changes in their energy bills as the state transitions to more renewable sources like wind and solar. The amendment would require someone from the Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor to be a member as well as either the public finance director of the Indiana Finance Authority or someone designated by the director.