State Rep. Cherrish Pryor was elected as the new chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC) during Organization Day at the Indiana Statehouse. Organization Day kicks off the legislative season and allows lawmakers to get their administrative duties in order — a budget is established, new members are sworn in and committees are formed. This event took place Nov. 22 in preparation for the start of the new legislative session in January.
The IBLC is a group of Black legislators from around the state of Indiana. There are currently 13 members in total, with the majority from Marion County and Lake County. The group’s goal is to organize and focus the talents of African-American lawmakers so they are better able to work toward greater economical, educational and social opportunities for all residents of Indiana.
“Years ago, Black elected officials came together to put an organization in place that would help advance issues affecting minority communities around the state of Indiana. My charge as president is to make sure that any laws passed are not harmful to the minority community, while also making sure we create the policies and laws that we want as an organization,” said Pryor.
Pryor is a Democratic member of the Indiana House of Representatives who has represented the 94th district since 2008. She has authored legislation on topics such as juvenile justice, college tuition rates and racial profiling. Pryor said she is excited about what members of the IBLC have in store for the future of Indiana.
State Sen. Greg Taylor, who has been a member of the IBLC since 2008, wants to protect people targeted because of their race, religion or gender by enhancing criminal penalties for crimes motivated by bias.
“If an individual paints a swastika on a synagogue, that crime will not be seen as a hate crime by law in Indiana, but simply destruction of property,” he said. “It’s a class D misdemeanor, and it doesn’t go on record in Indiana. My legislation would automatically move it to the next level.”
Indiana is one of only five states without hate crime legislation, which prevents bias-motivated criminal acts from being subject to more severe penalties.
The IBLC also wants to eradicate food deserts in the five rural counties and 51 urban counties where Indiana residents are without access to healthy, affordable food, by providing low-interest loans to businesses and nonprofits working to bring food to those areas. A food desert is classified as an area where at least 20 percent of people fall into the poverty status and, in urban areas, grocery stores are more than a mile and a half away.
State Rep. Robin Shackleford has been leading this initiative and has gained strong bipartisan support for establishing a healthy food financing program in Indiana. Shackleford said 59 percent of Indiana’s counties are classified as food deserts.
“I want to supply loans with low- or zero-interest rates to eradicate food deserts for businesses and not-for-profits. It can be for a grocery store, farmers market or food distribution service. It’s really for any type of initiative that people can think of to eradicate food deserts,” said Shackleford.
Pryor thinks it’s important for Indiana residents to pay attention to local politics.
“When things happen on the federal level, it takes a while for those particular laws to impact the local community. Laws we pass at the state level are effective that same year, within months,” she said. “What we do affects daily life. You can look at funding for education, the roads we drive on or public safety. All of that money comes from the state. When it comes to hate crime legislation and racial profiling, we can’t wait for the federal government to (address) that for us.”
Taylor encourages Indiana residents to get involved in politics by sharing their concerns with local representatives.
“Come down to the Statehouse and talk to all of the people who represent Indiana, and not just the people who represent you. Ask them about the issues. The way to get things done is to come down and get involved,” said Taylor.
For more information about the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, visit indianahousedemocrats.org/iblc.