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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Legislation could heavily impact Black community

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Several bills that could have a significant impact on Black Hoosiers have made it through one half of the legislative process and are now being heard in the other chamber. From food accessibility to mental health services, many of the bills filed by Indiana lawmakers have the power to improve the lives of the state’s Black residents or make their lives more difficult.

Here is a rundown of three bills, what the bills mean for the community and where the bills stand. The Recorder will focus on more bills in the next edition.

House Bill 1001

The state budget bill determines how tax dollars are spent in Indiana. It would increase Medicaid reimbursements in certain situations and impact funding for charter schools. The budget bill “appropriates money for capital expenditures, the operation of the state, K-12 and higher education, the delivery of Medicaid and other services, and various other distributions and purposes.” The budget also earmarks appropriations for mental health care and addiction services, which are being cut by $26 million.

“If organizations like ours lose funding, we’ll see an increase in depression, anxiety, alcoholism and suicide in our communities,” Michaelangelo McClendon, executive director of Drug Free Marion County, said. “If we’re not able to provide these services, what happens to the people who depend on our services to learn coping mechanisms when they’re faced with issues that lead to substance abuse? Especially in the middle of a pandemic, we need to provide those in need with help.”

Roughly 6.9% of African Americans report a substance abuse issue, compared with 7.4% of the total population, according to the American Addiction Centers. While Black Americans are more likely, on average, to seek help for an addiction, there have to be resources available to do so.

“Not being able to provide our programming in Marion County, and other resources losing their ability to help, will reduce our ability to fight addictions in the county,” McClendon said.

The bill passed in the House in February and is awaiting a vote in the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Senate Bill 141

This bill would require Indianapolis public transportation projects — namely ones by IndyGo — to raise a certain level of revenue themselves before receiving local income tax revenue. Currently, state law requires counties to raise 10% of annual operating expenses for projects and 25% of the project funding must come from fares and charges. This amounts to roughly $6 million per year. This bill would prohibit the construction of the Blue Line and Purple Line, the latter of which would serve the city’s northeast side.

“They’ve [IndyGo] already invested in it,” Ashley Gurvitz, chief executive officer at Alliance for Northeast Unification, said. “Construction of the Purple Line would create sidewalks, better infrastructure and job opportunities with companies moving along the routes. … I’d hate to see all these efforts go to waste.”

IndyGo raised just over $96,000 last year through the nonprofit it started in 2019. The Recorder was unable to reach representatives from IndyGo, but spokespeople previously called the law’s requirement “unrealistic” for the nonprofit to solely to raise necessary funds. However, Lesley Gordon, director of public relations for IndyGo, said the company has already reached the requirement and this legislation is moving the goalpost unnecessarily.

Filed by Republican Sen. Aaron Freeman, the bill passed through the Senate by a vote of 32-17. The bill is now awaiting debate in the House of Representatives.

House Bill 1146

Not every bill proposed will negatively impact Indiana’s Black community. The healthy food incubator program would provide healthy foods to underserved communities in Indiana under the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA). If passed, the bill would create loans and grants to projects that decrease the impact of food deserts throughout the state.

In Indianapolis alone, 23% of residents live in a food desert, meaning a low-income neighborhood more than a mile from a grocery store. According to The Polis Center at IUPUI, Black Hoosiers are more likely than any other demographic to live in a food desert. Lack of access to healthy foods raises a person’s risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

Sibeko Jywanza, manager of Cleo’s Bodega and an advocate for food accessibility, spoke in favor of the bill March 2 during a demonstration at the Statehouse. If more people have access to nutritious foods, they’re more likely to do better in school and break cycles of poverty and violence within communities, Jwyanza said.
“When people have healthier foods, it helps their mental and physical health,” Jwyanza said.

The bill moved to a hearing in the House’s Committee on Family, Children and Human Affairs in January.

House Bill 1006

House Bill 1006, a bipartisan bill authored by Rep. Gregory Steurewald, R-Avon, would increase accountability for police and enact criminal justice reform. After passing through the House, it passed unanimously through the Indiana Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee on March 9. The bill must be reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee before it can be heard by the full Senate.
Co-authored by several members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, the bill would create mandatory de-escalation training for officers, make it a misdemeanor for officers to turn off body cameras and would ban chokeholds in certain situations.
HB 1006 would create procedures to decertify officers for misconduct, make it easier for police departments to find employment records of officers and is in line with policy changes IBLC has called for.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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