INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Gov. Eric Holcomb has issued a proclamation calling for a special session at the Indiana Statehouse.
The session would bring lawmakers back for a one-day session on May 14.
“I’m calling lawmakers back to take action on the critical issues of school safety and federal tax conformity,” Holcomb said in a statement. “And, with sharp focus, I’m confident they can finish this work in a single day.”
Items on Holcomb’s agenda include $5 million for the Indiana Secured School Fund, funding advances of up to $500,000 for school security equipment and a one-time loan of $12 million for Muncie schools to remain open and make improvements. Other items on the docket include updating the state’s tax code to conform with federal changes and complying with IRS rules to protect taxpayer information.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, a Republican from Fort Wayne, said Friday, “All of these bills were properly vetted during the regular session through the legislative process and merely needed an up-or-down vote, which they will get in the special session. We believe these issues are important and will benefit Hoosiers, which is always our priority.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican from Indianapolis, said Friday, “We are determined to complete our work quickly and efficiently while making sure the legislative process is open and transparent to the public. That’s why we will only focus on a handful of critical bills that were eligible for final votes but remained on the table when the session clock expired. Additionally, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has identified a few technical corrections that need to be addressed. We are taking unprecedented steps to ensure legislators and the public have time to review the legislation well in advance of the special session.”
“We’re not thrilled that we’re back. But we’re going to to it quickly, efficiently, cost-effectively to the taxpayer just as we have the last number of sessions,” Bosma said.
One of the bills would provide $5 million for fiscal year 2019 for Indiana’s Secured School Fund. Lawmakers said that extra money would go directly toward making schools in the state safer.
Long said, “I think putting the safety of the kids in this state is one of our most important tasks going forward with our schools unfortunately.”
Another bill would allow school corporations to to get money advances up to $500,000 for school security equipment and capital buys. Could this measure include metal detectors or hiring more school resource officers?
Long said, “I think that’s to be determined by the school districts. What we’re trying to create is a fund to help them pay for those updates. There’s a cap, obviously, of $35 million that’s coming from the local county school fund. I think a half-million per district … that’s my understanding at the moment. So, it’s a start.”
One of the other major topics is the Muncie and Gary Community schools takeover. Under one of the bills, Ball State University would take over control of Muncie Schools.
Bosma said “I’m enthused about Ball State.”
Long said, “I am, too. I think it gives a real opportunity. As I understand it, I think a majority of the school board members support it as well. But, most importantly, Muncie’s also upside-down fiscally. They had rejected or refused to listen to our requests and near-mandates from the legislature saying ‘You need to get your house in order.’ They continued to do the exact opposite.”
Ball State University President Geoff Mearns issued a statement Friday:
“Once again, we are in a position to partner with the community to change the trajectory of MCS. I continue to believe that this opportunity will enable us to mobilize our faculty, staff, and students across campus in new and innovative ways. Our extensive community engagement will also inspire people from other institutions and organizations to partner with us to provide an exceptional educational experience for the children of Muncie. And it will encourage philanthropic support from individuals and organizations eager to enhance the economic and civic vitality of our region. We are committed to the long-term success of MCS and Muncie.”
House Democratic leaders slammed the Muncie schools legislation.
“Why does this matter?” Democratic leader Terry Goodin, from Austin, said. “Because now we are finding out that one of the bills to be considered in a special session brings a return of the heinous state takeover of Gary and Muncie schools. This is not a thing that can be idly approved without full consideration, because you are talking about the latest step to take the education of our children out of the hands of local school boards and parents and placing it under the control of Big Brother.”
He added, “We are not going to do a thing about changing what ails the troubled Department of Child Services because the matter is still being studied by a private consultant. We’ve also been told that anything they find won’t be handled until 2019.
“Quite frankly, none of the bills discussed by Republican leaders today lends urgency for a costly special session. The governor can disperse school safety funds without legislative approval and the tax bills can be handled retroactively in the next regular session,” Goodin said.
All the work should be done in a day, Statehouse Republican leaders stressed.
Bosma said, “We’re not going to” have a longer special session.
Long added, “I just don’t see that happening.”
House Democrats balked at the idea of the special session lasting only a day, saying it “smells like the same old, same old.”
Goodin said, “So, people should be concerned when they are told it will only take a day to complete what the Republicans couldn’t accomplish over two and half months. As Democrats, our role will be to make sure that things are done correctly and the people of Indiana are protected.”
Previously, One of Holcomb’s spokespeople said a special session could cost taxpayers roughly $30,000 a day from a designated fund.
David Williams is WISH-TV/Nexstar Indiana Statehouse Bureau Chief.