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Indiana lawmakers do more 'heavy lifting' than expected in 2024 session's short nine weeks

A building at night
Brandon Smith
/
IPB
Lawmakers ended the 2024 legislative session nearly a week ahead of their deadline.

Republican leaders said before the start of session they wanted it to be a quiet one, focused on small tweaks to existing policies. Yet some of their priorities were anything but — including a measure that will hold back thousands of third grade students and legislation involving one of the most controversial geopolitical conflicts in memory.

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said the last three legislative sessions before this year were “aggressive.” He wanted 2024 to be a return to normal.

“You know, I’ve tried to get people to measure expectations for this session,” Huston said.

But if Huston wanted a return to normal, he and his caucus could hardly have chosen a more hot button issue to make one of their top priorities: seeking to ban antisemitism in higher education.

How lawmakers defined antisemitism was the issue. The bill initially used a definition from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which came with examples — some of which included criticism of Israel.

READ MORE: Indiana purchases $35M in Israeli bonds. Advocates say it supports the 'genocide of Palestinians'

That’s what people like Anisse Adni, a Muslim teacher in Indianapolis, took issue with.

“We should not conflate antisemitism with criticism of the Israeli government and its policies,” Adni said.

The Senate took out references to the IHRA entirely, and flipped the issue on its head. Now, it was Jewish organizations and members of the community like Kaylee Werner staunchly opposing the bill.

“In this conversation, there is no room for ambiguity,” Werner said. “There is either hate or there is acceptance. There's either right or there's wrong.”

Ultimately, the two chambers reached a compromise — include the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, but don’t reference any of its examples.

Every caucus this session made literacy a key issue, as 1 in 5 Indiana third graders didn't pass the statewide reading exam in 2023.

Yet thousands of kids who fail that test still move on to fourth grade. And on that, Republicans in the House and Senate largely agreed on the way forward: retention.

Legislation requires reading skill tests begin in kindergarten. It creates summer school options for students who need reading intervention. And students who are not proficient must repeat third grade.

Some proposed delaying the retention requirement. But for Republicans, that was a non-starter. Indiana, they said, is at a crisis level.

But Democrats, including House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne), said holding kids back has negative social and emotional effects, especially for students of color.

“I just can’t stomach the idea of saddling our schools with an unfunded summer school mandate, holding kids back without their parent’s input and the teacher workload problems that will result from this,” GiaQuinta said.

In many sessions, an issue pops up that no one saw coming, and in that 2024 was no different. In response to a $1 billion Medicaid shortfall, the state proposed cuts to a program that supports care for children with disabilities.

Parents, like Melanie Kandzierski, spoke out.

“It's discriminatory against disabled people because they're removing the services that will allow my child to stay part of this community,” Kandzierski said. “I will not allow her to be segregated by budgetary mistakes.”

For a long time, Republican leaders said legislation wasn’t needed. Near the end of session, the House approved language that would have guaranteed money for family caregivers — but in the end, that language didn’t survive.

Rep. Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis) wasn’t happy with the outcome.

“When we go back to our districts and people start asking questions and saying that they need help, we can't say that we've done anything substantially to help them,” Pryor said.

As the General Assembly adjourned for the final time this year, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said lawmakers did a lot more “heavy lifting” this session than he envisioned.

“But that’s how the process goes, right? People file bills that are important to them and that are important to Hoosiers across the state,” Bray said. “And we’re here to deal with them.”

All four legislative caucus leaders said lawmakers punted a lot of issues to 2025, from health care to road funding to tax reform — setting up the state for a session next year that, in Bray’s words, could be “monumental.”

Find all the bills our statewide team covered this session in our bill tracker at ipbs.org/2024billtracker/.
Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.
Copyright 2024 IPB News. To see more, visit .

Brandon Smith