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Sunday, May 28, 2023

I’m Just Sayin’: legislative session wrap-up

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I’ve been a little busy these last several months.

The 2021 legislative session was one of the wildest in living memory and technically it still isn’t over yet. You might be forgiven for not knowing what exactly happened (some of us that were engaged during the session are still trying to figure it out).

The larger point is that there was progress.

We got much needed police reform in House Bill 1006. A community concern regarding body cameras, and what happens if an officer turns it off to conceal a crime was addressed by making that action a crime. Rogue officers no longer get to roam to different agencies without their employment records following them now. There is also a process for decertifying officers when they are found to have committed misconduct.

A bill that addresses suspended driver’s license allowing for a forbearance program and a staying of the suspension if one can show they will have the ability to pay was extended for another year.

Juvenile justice reform was another major victory. Prohibitions for housing juveniles with adults and increased availability of sentence modifications, automatic expungement of records for misdemeanors, and establishing competency to stand trial for juveniles were among the major steps forward in this law.

Advocates pushed for root cause legislation and won a concession with a $600,000 food grant program.

Mental health for those who needed it most as well as $100 million in new funding for mental health services were additional wins.

One key win in mental health was a law that defines “mental health diagnosis” and establishes requirements for some health officials to be able to make a diagnosis.

They also got around to fixing TANF. There were some cost-of-living adjustments and more significantly, TANF recipients will no longer be penalized for participating in programs to improve themselves including pursuing postsecondary education, workforce certificates, pre-apprenticeships or apprenticeships.

There was also a $1.9 billion increase to K-12 education. While the devil is in the details additional funding at this level is promising.

An unheralded win but still important win was House Bill 1314 which officially established a process for the nullification of discriminatory housing covenants. These aren’t legal anyway but the work of dismantling racism in our laws continues.

We also have to remember that IMPD won’t be taken over by the state this year. We will still have an improved use of force policy as well as use of force board and general orders board — although we will need to be prepared for those fights in the future.

We still have IndyGo and the ability to proceed with the additional lines — for now.

Advocates fought hard for housing rights, and at a minimum, landlords shouldn’t be able to retaliate against tenants — by law, but of course this will need to be monitored in practice. We know over 900 evictions have occurred during the “eviction moratorium.”

It will be interesting to see what happens in the courts with House Bill 1541 and the legislature’s zealous efforts to back landlords instead of protecting tenants.

Perhaps the biggest win this legislative session came after an insult to our community and the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

The matter still isn’t fully resolved. If there was an apology or reprimand, I missed it, so we’ve yet to see disciplinary action, or implicit bias or cultural sensitivity training move forward in either chamber. Nevertheless, I think the situation increased positive dialogue between the IBLC and legislative leaders.

When they tried to silence our leaders, we took the silence back and had our say in the legislature through direct engagement with the same legislators who sought to silence our community’s ability to challenge discrimination in public policy.

Our message was heard.  We will not be silenced. Ever.

What I’m hearing…

I’ve had the opportunity to lead some listening sessions in a few different contexts. Our community, particularly our young people, have watched us collectively mourn. They admire the love we show to each other even while they struggle with a sense of chaos and lack of agency in some instances.

Our community lost over 150 people including a striking number of Black women last year. We are continuing to lose Black people at alarming rates this year.

We know that there is untreated trauma in our community. While community advocates are working in this space, our community has to figure out how to both raise this conversation and improve our mental health system so that its capacity and cultural competency meets our community’s needs.

Finally, our community will need to stay vigilant on the whole issue of redistricting. Some preliminary data shows that rural districts continued to lose population to urban and suburban areas. We will need to find ways to insert ourselves into a process this is mostly closed to us. Somehow. Some way.

Marshawn Wolley, is president and CEO of Black Onyx Management Inc.

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