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Black Legislative Caucus outlines 2019 agenda

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The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC), a group of Black state lawmakers, outlined the agenda for 2019 during a media event on Jan. 7. Caucus members from across the state announced bills they plan to push in the 2019 legislative session, which started Jan. 3 and ends April 29. IBLC outlined four main points of focus: hate crimes legislation, teacher salary increases, a study of violent crime and traffic amnesty. The points are based on what Sen. Robin Shackleford, who chairs the caucus, called “the needs of our community.”

 “Our legislators are bringing these issues based on what we have heard from our community,” Shackleford said. “These are the issues that we have carried throughout the legislative session for many years. Some of them are new. Some of them are old, but these are issues that we feel that our constituents have been needing for a long time.”

 

Hate crimes

For more 20 years, Sen. Gregory W. Porter, Indianapolis, has advocated for hate crimes legislation. Now, he’s authored House Bill (HB)1159, which addresses bias motivated crimes. If passed, the law will both allow victims of hate crimes to file civil suits to recover damages and lengthen the sentences of hate crimes perpetrators. Porter’s bill is one of several to address hate crimes — Senate Bill (SB) 12, HB1020, HB 1093 and HB 1203 all address the subject. Although Gov. Eric Holcomb has voiced support for a hate crimes bill, Porter notes that he does not expect a quick process. 

“It’s not a mini-marathon,” Porter said. “It’s a marathon and a half” 

 

Teacher salary increase

This year is a budget year, so funding will be a hot topic. During this year’s discussion of what tax dollars go where, Sen. Eddie Melton, Gary, hopes to allocate dollars to increase teacher salaries statewide. Melton proposes two 2.5 percent raises biannually for a total increase of 5 percent, stating this is a “great start” for teacher raises. 

“We need to combat the crisis caused by a shortage of teachers by making the profession more enticing to future educators,” Melton said. “We must also send a message to current teachers that we value their efforts on behalf of our children.”

The plan is to fund the raises through dipping into the state’s surplus and redistributing funds from ineffective programs such as virtual charter schools. 

 

Study of violent crime

Sen. Vanessa Summers, Indianapolis, will again propose a bill creating a summer study committee to investigate violent crime as a health crisis. The caucus hopes this program — in conjunction with other proposed bills — will give lawmakers insight on how to address crime. 

 “I think when you talk about homicide, you need to look at it from a holistic point of view,” Shackleford said.

 

Traffic amnesty

Shackleford said nearly 500,000 Indiana residents have a suspended driver’s license due to unpaid fines from infractions such as parking and speeding tickets. Therefore, she is proposing HB 1141, a traffic amnesty bill, creating a time window where people pay reduced fines based on their income. To create the bill, Shackleford is working closely with BMV officials, who will help decide which drivers can get behind the wheel again, and California lawmakers, who passed a bill creating similar program. Indiana lawmakers pushed a traffic amnesty bill last year. It gained traction but ultimately did not pass.

“It made it through committee. It had bipartisan support. It didn’t make it through Ways and Means, so this is an issue we are going to be pushing,” Shackleford said. 

 

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.

Indiana Black Legislative Caucus

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