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Legislators meet in Third House

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@chronicle-tribune.com

MARION — Area legislators gathered for a Third House session in Grant County on Saturday morning to discuss what they’ve been working on up to this point, now that the session has already past the halfway point.

Representatives Tony Cook, Mike Karickhoff, Kevin Mahan and Dave Wolkins were present along with senators Travis Holdman and Andy Zay. Each legislator gave an introduction and moved into answering questions submitted from the Marion-Grant County Chamber of Commerce and the audience.

Rep. Mahan, R-31, referenced three bias crime bills that have been in this year’s session including Senate Bill 12, House Bill 1020 and House Bill 1093, that look at establishing a hate crime law in the state of Indiana.

Mahan said though people have said there’s not a need for any “new” crimes to be created, he said none of the bills filed creates a new type of crime. He said the main issue with the bills is deciding if there needs to be a list that identifies the different types of bias.

Mahan went onto say that people typically associate the topic of bias crimes with the LGBTQ community, though the crimes also affect a variety of other individuals based on race, political party and religion. He went on to reference an incident in Howard County where a black individual moved into a community and received offensive letters but the deliverer of the letters could only be charged with trespassing.

“... All we’re saying with this hate crime bill is ... once they’re convicted for a crime, the judge will have the opportunity at sentencing (to decide) whether it was a bias crime, a hateful crime where it was targeted,” he explained.

Rep. Cook, R-32, spoke up and said he respects the various opinions involved in the issue. He said he has personally been affected by hate crime when he received death threats for allowing Ryan White to attend school in Indiana.

Because of that, he said he personally sees legal, political and moral reasons to support a better bias crime law than the state currently has.

“We have the reality that people are targeted because of who they are, what they are, what color, what religion … I think we can narrow a reasonable list down. Particularly, we already have lists in existing code, we have some in the civil rights, we have some in the reporting statute - I think it’s a matter of what we narrow it down to,” he said.

Cook explained that FBI statistics show that there has been a 17 percent increase in bias crimes and there have been increases in Indiana as well, so he said there needs to be solid language put to the idea of a better bias crime law.

Sen. Holdman, R-19, also brought up that the Indiana Department of Child Services had over spent its budget and Gov. Eric Holcomb decided to appropriate an additional $286 million, bringing their budget to $1.3 billion counting federal funding. He said the opioid crisis has contributed to the increasing need for DCS services.

Since Indiana has more kids brought into foster care by the court than Ohio and Illinois combined, Holdman added that he thinks there is a cultural issue with DCS itself. He said the first response is to bring the child into court and then to remove them from their home, which could be just as traumatic as the abuse or neglect they faced in their home.

While he said leaving the child to the abuse and neglect is never a satisfying situation, the system of DCS is to blame for bringing chaos to an already chaotic situation. His suggestion was to scale back on the additional appropriation DCS has been given.

The complexity index, which has been an attempt to offer more resources to schools with higher poverty rates, was also brought up for discussion since the index has been decreased across the state.

With this change, Rep. Karickhoff, R-30, said the dollar amount for each student remains the same. What has changed over the years, he said, is the number of students who qualify to be included in the complexity category.

He said to be included in the category, the student must either be part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or are in foster care. Since the number of students that qualify has gone down by 12 percent, the funding for the complexity index has been decreased.

However, he said the money that is being taken out of the index will still go toward the schools in a different category so the money will benefit all students. For example, he said the money can go toward honors students, those with disabilities and for different levels of handicap.

Though all legislators who were present at the event are Republican, Mahan made sure to note that at the statehouse the Democrats and Republicans get along and most of the bills passed this session will pass with bipartisan support.

“We may have a few things that we disagree on but I can guarantee at the end of the session I’ll be able to come back to this room and say once again, probably about 90 percent of the bills we pass this session will pass with bipartisan support,” he said. “Something that doesn’t happen in Washington, D.C. I will also be able to say that between 70 to 75 percent of the bills that we passed will be passed unanimously.”