IN Focus: Lawmakers wrap up 2017 session

National Politics
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INDIANAPOLIS- The Indiana General Assembly wrapped up its session early Saturday morning.

Both the Senate and the House passed the 2-year state budget, which boosts average yearly spending on infrastructure by about 1.2 billion, while granting the governor a $9 million increase in funding for a preschool program for families with lower income. The $32.3 billion state budged is balanced, and will last for two years.

The budget and subsequent bills are now in the hands of Governor Eric Holcomb, who has the ability to sign or veto the legislation.

Here’s what’s in the budget:


  • Increases K-12 funding by $345 million over the two years.
  • Provides $30 million per year for the Teacher Appreciate Grant program, which gives cash stipends to high performing teachers in public schools.
  • Increases state university operating funds.


  • Provides $10 million over the next two years to the governor’s office for substance abuse prevention, treatment and enforcement.
  • Increases funding for DCS by $200 million over the next two years to help with increased caseload demands.
  • Provides $3 million per year increase for adult protective services.

BEER LOOPHOLE: (84-13 H, 43-1 S)

  • Governor Eric Holcomb must decide if he will sign a bill closing a legal loophole used to sell cold beer.
  • State legislature passed a bill that Jay Ricker, who started selling cold beer carry outs at Ricker’s convenience stores, says he will have to stop sales by April 2018.
  • Gas stations and convenience stores are only allowed to sell warm beer and cold wine, but Ricker worked around it by installing a fast-service seating and serving to land a restaurant classification.If approved by the governor, Ricker would be able to keep his yearly permit to allow carryout sales of cold beer until it runs out.
  • The bill mandates that 60-percent of all alcohol sales must be for on-site drinking at businesses like Ricker’s that gets a permit after November 2016.
  • Democratic Rep. Terri Austin—says bill makes them look “terrible” because it targets one company.
  • Republicans vow to take up a complete overhaul of the state’s alcohol laws next year.

ROAD FUNDING (Passed 69-29 H, 37-12 S)

  • Republican plan includes tax and fee increases levied on drivers to pay for improvements.
  • Fuel tax raised by 10 cents a gallon.
  • New $15 vehicle registration fee.
  • Shift sales tax charged on fuel purchases to roads funding by 2025.
  • Provision also allows the governor to seek federal authority to toll.
  • Approved roads funding plan.
  • Pump an average of 1.2 billion dollars in new money into infrastructure.


  • Bill heading to Governor Eric Holcomb.
  • Much-maligned ISTEP exam is set to be replaced by 2019.
  • Indiana students performed poorly and an electronic version of ISTEP was plagued with glitches.
  • This session’s bill sets parameters for the new “ILEARN” test, and gives flexibility to the state school board..
  • The bill also allows school districts to revise plans to change how ISTEP results factor into teaching evaluations.

STATE TAKEOVER OF SCHOOLS (Senate unanimous pass, 88-10 vote H)

  • Indiana lawmakers sent Governor Eric Holcomb’s office a measure authorizing the state to take over financially troubled schools in Gary and Muncie.
  • Bill gives Indiana the power to appoint emergency managers to assume broad control of the districts.
  • Gary has more than $100 million in debt. Muncie has a negative cash balance of $18 million.


  • Limits opioid prescription amounts for patients who are prescribed opioids for the first time. (Senate Enrolled Act 226)
  • Enhances penalties for dealing heroin. (House Enrolled Act 1405)

VAPING (83-14 H, 45-5 S)

  • Legislature approved overhaul of vaping law.
  • Bill cuts a series of provisions that effectively allowed one security company from Lafayette, Mulhaupt’s Inc., to issue production permits and play gatekeeper for the industry.
  • New measures require manufacturers of the nicotine-laced “e-liquid” consumed through vaping to follow the federal rules.
  • Bill still allows Indiana’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to conduct random inspections of production facilities and issue permits.


  • Expansion of Indiana’s preschool pilot program.
  • Holcomb says the bill provides access to high-quality early education for “thousands” of poor families.
  • Adds 15 counties to the original five-county program and increases spending by $9 million.
  • Sets aside another $1 million for an online preschool program.

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