INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Beginning Tuesday, guns will be allowed in school parking lots, beer and alcohol will be legal for sale at the Indiana State Fair and veterans will have more support from the state as they seek new careers.
The start of the state’s new fiscal year also will bring sweeping changes to how much time convicted criminals spend in jail. That issue was so important that lawmakers returned for a day earlier this month to correct the legislation before it took effect.
The measures are among dozens of laws approved during lawmakers’ short two-month legislative session this year. Many will barely be noticed by the public, while others are still months or more away from implementation.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said that, for a part-time legislature, Indiana’s General Assembly is still able to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.
“I think this year reflects a very typical, multi-faceted set of laws that affect every Hoosier in one way or another,” Long said. “I don’t think we were excessive, I think a large majority of the bills were filed did not see the light of day in the end. And that’s the way it should be.”
Many of the laws taking effect now build on previous legislation. Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, approved an expansion of the state’s “Lifeline Law,” which grants protection to people under 21 who seek emergency aid for a friend if that person has had too much to drink. The expanded law will protect anyone who had been drinking underage if they report a crime or are a victim of sexual assault.
Other laws taking effect next week will make it illegal for anyone under 16 to use tanning beds, require new concussion training for high school football coaches and make it illegal to provide a gun to a known felon.
Some of the biggest measures approved this year, including tax cuts and a preschool expansion program, won’t be felt for many months. New cuts to the state’s corporate income tax and changes in the business property tax — priorities for the state’s Republican leaders — won’t kick in until next year at the earliest. A plan to award families vouchers to send their children to preschools takes effect next July.
Legislative Democrats, a distinct minority in both the House and Senate, have repeatedly said the state’s Republicans are ignoring issues important to the state’s middle class.
Speaking in response to a tax summit called by Gov. Mike Pence last week, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said that real the wealth and earnings for most residents have been declining in the past year. He pointed to a study from the right-leaning Tax Foundation that found the average tax burden for residents increased between 2001 and 2011, in large part because earnings decreased for so many residents.
“In short, workers and consumers paid a higher overall percentage of taxes on paltrier earnings. I suspect these facts will not be parsed at the governor’s soiree,” Pelath said.
Pelath and other Democrats pushed a series of measures they said would help shore up the middle class, but the bills were largely unsuccessful during the past session.
That isn’t to say Democrats have been entirely unsuccessful inside the Statehouse. Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, successfully pushed a measure granting student loan aid for anyone who begins teaching science, technology, engineering or math — collectively called STEM — in Indiana.
State lawmakers are set to return for their 2015 session — a lengthier, budget-writing session — in January. Before then, they will spend the summer and fall studying issues for possible legislation next year.