- Associated Press - Friday, February 4, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Just how far Indiana lawmakers will go in limiting what teachers can say in their classrooms about race and politics is among several key unresolved issues at the midway point of this year’s legislative session.

While Republicans dominate both the Indiana House and Senate, those chambers remain at odds over proposals that would force businesses to grant broad exemptions from any workplace COVID-19 vaccination requirements and a push for a large package of business and individual tax cuts.

Republican House members pushed through bills on those topics but they face resistance among GOP Senate leaders ahead of the legislative session ending by mid-March.



A look at the status of some top issues:

SCHOOL SUBJECTS

Several school and teacher organizations have strongly opposed Republican-backed bills mandating that classroom materials be vetted by parent review committees and placing restrictions on teaching about racism and political topics.

Senate Republicans pulled their version of the proposal in mid-January following widespread criticism after bill sponsor GOP Sen. Scott Baldwin of Noblesville said teachers must be “impartial” when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies.

House Republicans, however, forged ahead, endorsing a bill that includes a prohibition on teaching that anyone should feel “discomfort” or “guilt” about their race, gender, religion or political affiliation. Supporters maintain the proposal is meant to “empower parents” by increasing transparency.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has sidestepped taking a stance on the proposal.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said he didn’t know whether the legislative session’s second half would give the contentious provisions a new chance in the Senate.

“The issues of parental engagement and transparency are important and, I think, valuable,” Bray said. “If we can take a fresh look at this, we’ve got some people that are interested in trying to look at it. They’re going to do that. I don’t know where we’ll go with it.”

One proposal that has failed this year would have added political party identifications to what are now nonpartisan school board elections throughout the state.

TRANSGENDER SPORTS

House Republicans advanced a bill to ban transgender women and girls from participating in K-12 school sports that match their gender identity, despite opposition from activists who argue it’s unconstitutional, sexist and bigoted.

The bill would prohibit students who were born male but identify as female from participating in a sport or on an athletic team that is designated for women or girls. Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Michelle Davis of Greenwood said her purpose is to “maintain fair competition in girls’ sports.”

Bray said GOP senators hadn’t yet decided whether they will take up the bill but acknowledged its support among social conservatives.

COVID-19 CLASH

Holcomb has strong Republican legislative support for the administrative steps he says are needed for him to end the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration he first issued nearly two years ago.

Action on those items, however, has been ensnarled in a legislative debate over whether the state should severely limit businesses from imposing workplace vaccination requirements.

Many health experts maintain ending the health emergency would send the wrong message with Indiana still recording high levels of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

House Republicans pushed through a bill that would force employers to grant exemptions to workers who claim medical issues or religious objections as reasons they won’t get vaccinated.

Holcomb and GOP Senate leaders have sided with major business groups opposing those requirements as wrongly interfering in business decisions. The Senate passed a bill limited to Holcomb‘s request, including steps allowing Indiana to continue receiving enhanced federal funding for Medicaid and food assistance programs.

TAX CUT TALK

Senate Republicans remain resistant to the House GOP’s plan for broad cuts to Indiana’s business and individual income taxes.

The House-endorsed proposal potentially cuts more than $1 billion a year in various taxes, which supporters say is possible following a big jump in state tax collections helped by federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Key parts of the House plan would cut Indiana’s current individual income tax rate of 3.23% over the next four years to 3%. That would ultimately reduce state tax collections by an estimated $500 million a year when fully implemented in 2026. The plan also proposes cuts to several business taxes, potentially worth $700 million to $850 million a year.

Holcomb and GOP Senate leaders have raised doubts about taking action on major tax cuts this year, saying they are worried about future economic conditions.

HANDGUN PERMITS

Senators will decide whether to repeal the state’s permit requirement for carrying a handgun in public. House Republicans for the second year have approved loosening Indiana’s already lenient firearms restrictions despite the opposition of several major law enforcement organizations.

The bill would allow anyone age 18 or older to carry a handgun except for reasons such as having a felony conviction or having a dangerous mental illness. Supporters argue the permit requirement undermines Second Amendment protections by forcing law-abiding citizens to undergo police background checks.

The Senate didn’t take action on the proposal last yea r and leaders have been uncommitted about its fate this session.

ABORTION DELAY

Republican lawmakers are already talking about seeking a special legislative session in the summer if conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices roll back abortion rights across the country.

Anti-abortion legislators decided to hold off on major action until they can review the court’s decision that isn’t expected until perhaps June. Holcomb would need to call lawmakers back to the Statehouse and his office said he wants to see the court’s ruling before deciding whether to support a special session on the issue.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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