2020 legislative session begins

The Indiana Statehouse. (IIB Photo/Alex Brown)

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — The 2020 Indiana General Assembly is underway at the Indiana Statehouse. 

A number of issues will be debated in this short session, however WIBC/Network Indiana Statehouse Bureau Chief Eric Berman says the biggest issue is expected to move through the legislature relatively quickly. He says legislators are expected to pass a “hold harmless” bill, that would prevent schools from having their accountability grades affected by last year’s ILEARN exam, which saw a drop in test scores.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Berman said the most controversial bill this year will likely be one aimed at curbing distracted driving.

“This is part of Governor Holcomb’s agenda to say, ‘No more using your phone at all while you’re driving,’” said Berman. “Remember, it’s already illegal to text while you drive. The governor says that’s unenforceable; the trooper pulls you over (and) can’t tell just what you were doing on your phone. Let’s just follow about 20 other states and make it illegal to use your phone at all.”

Berman says a hands-free law has been discussed in the past, but the governor had not mentioned it over the last few years until he revealed his 2020 agenda last month.  He says when the topic was brought up in previous legislative sessions, it didn’t get very far because of its controversial nature.

“There’s a lot of opposition. Remember, Indiana has a tradition of being a small-L libertarian state. There were years of fights over the motorcycle helmet law. There were years of fights, literally a decade of fights, over lowering the blood alcohol standard to 0.08. The seatbelt law, even the texting bill, all of those faced a lot of resistance…and I’m sure it will face the same kind of resistance. But it always makes a difference when the governor of the state, whoever it is, puts his weight behind an initiative. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to pass, but it’s got a lot better chance than it did before the governor put it on his agenda.”

One topic that isn’t expected to get much attention during the session, according to Berman, is teacher pay. He says Governor Holcomb and the Republican legislative leadership have been in agreement on not spending surplus funds in a non-budget year on recurring, ongoing expenses.

The governor also wants to wait for his teacher pay commission to come back with its findings, which isn’t expected to happen until after the session adjourns.

State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) has filed what she is calling a comprehensive marijuana reform package, which includes a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Berman says any bill regarding marijuana is not likely to go very far this year due to the governor’s and legislative leadership’s opposition to such efforts.

“That could change a little bit next year when you have a new speaker (of the House) and potentially a new governor, but I haven’t heard anything so far from the incoming speaker to suggest that his position will be any different. So unless there’s a substantial change in the makeup of the House and Senate and/or a change in the governor’s office, there simply isn’t support for that.”