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Critical race theory, vaccines and more: What to expect from the 2022 Indiana legislative session

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While the 2022 Indiana legislative session is short this year — the 2021 session didn’t officially end until November of last year due to delays in redistricting votes — it’s jam-packed with bills ranging from critical race theory, vaccine mandates and the statewide public health emergency in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s what to expect from state lawmakers over the next two months:

Crime

2021 was the city’s deadliest year on record with 271 homicides, which includes murders, killing and self-defense and accidental shootings. State lawmakers are hoping to legislate their way out of the growing violent crime problem with several bills.

Senate Bill 10, authored by Sens. Michael Crider, Michael Young and Jack Sandlin, would establish funding for the Marion County crime reduction pilot project. Projects would allow the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department to identify high-crime areas in the county. If passed, it would also provide grants for overtime and additional law enforcement services in those areas. Further, Senate Bill 7, authored by Sens. Sandlin, Aaron Freeman and Kyle Walker, would establish the Marion County crime reduction board to oversee the pilot project. The board would be authorized to approve partnership agreements between law enforcement agencies to expand the jurisdiction and duties of law enforcement agencies working in downtown Indianapolis.

Senate Bill 6 would prohibit a third party who is not a relative of someone arrested for a violent crime from posting bail on their behalf. This seems to be in response to recent controversy surrounding The Bail Project, a nonprofit which helps those in financial need make bail. Last year, three people — out of 941 — the local chapter of The Bail Project helped release went on to commit a violent crime while out of jail. Two have been charged with murder, the other person stabbed two IMPD officers. Senate Bill 8, authored by Freeman, Walker and Crider, would limit the organizations that could pay bail on behalf of a defendant. If passed, organizations could pay bail for just two individuals in a 180-day period and would prohibit the state or political subdivision from posting bail for someone and from providing grants to any entity providing bail funding.

Education

Beyond navigating e-learning and random closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks, teachers, administrators, school board members and parents have heard concerns about critical race theory (CRT) being taught in Indiana schools. CRT is an advanced academic framework which examines the role of systemic racism in areas of American life, including the judicial, education and housing systems. CRT is not taught in K-12 classrooms.

House Bill 1040, authored by Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-District 33, would prohibit schools from “subjecting any student” to “any obscene matter or performance or certain matters of performances harmful to minors.” Further, it would require students in grades six through 12 to learn “socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems are incompatible with and in conflict with the principles of freedom upon which the United States was founded.” It also would prohibit a school from requiring asymptomatic children who have been exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine.

Vaccine mandates

When vaccinations against COVID-19 began in early 2021, so too did debates about vaccine mandates and the rights of workers. In the state Legislature, several lawmakers are working to bar the state government from enforcing vaccine mandates. While Gov. Eric Holcomb and his team have encouraged Hoosiers to get vaccinated, he said in December it isn’t the role of government to mandate vaccinations. However, he has previously supported a business’ right to enforce vaccinations for employees.

Senate Bill 31, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-District 14, would prohibit employers from requiring an employee or prospective employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination if it poses a health risk or if it is against religious beliefs. The bill would allow for a civil action lawsuit against an employer if a violation occurs.

Senate Bill 114, authored by Sen. James Tomes, R-District 49, would prohibit preventing unvaccinated Hoosiers from attending events and entering businesses, which would be considered “vaccine status discrimination” under the bill. The bill would allow the Indiana Department of Labor to investigate and issue administrative orders for violations.

Public health and safety

Throughout the pandemic, state leaders have expressed concerns about mental health and substance abuse, both of which worsened throughout 2020 and 2021. Several bills focus on the issues Democratic Party Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta called “the root causes of crime.” Areas including hunger and poverty are also addressed in the 2022 session.

House Bill 1018, authored by Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-District 98, would prohibit a state employee health care plan, Medicaid or other health care providers from barring someone with a criminal record relating to substance abuse from getting coverage. It would also require care facilities to provide patients with referrals for continuing care before releasing patients.

House Bill 1028, authored by Rep. Earl Harris, D-District 2, would create a committee to study the prevalence of homelessness, housing and food insecurity among students at Indiana colleges and universities.

House Bill 1030, also authored by Harris, would require a mental health care professional to be appointed to a crisis intervention team to accompany police to calls involving a mental health or substance abuse crisis.

The 2022 legislative session began Jan. 4 and will run through March 14.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848 or email at BreannaC@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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