Indiana legislators will get a head start this summer on issues that could make headlines in 2016.
When they announced their summer study topics, the list made news mainly for what was missing. Legislators will not discuss equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. Leaders said they’re sure that topic will come up next year, anyway.
But the issues that will be studied this summer are significant.
Education issues rank high on the list. A committee will study whether the controversial ISTEP+ test should be replaced and if school districts should be allowed a choice of tests.
Police body cameras have been making news across the nation in the past year. Legislators will look at how to deal with requests to make body-camera videos public.
At first blush, keeping the videos secret would seem to undermine their purpose. But the questions are complicated. Body cameras can capture information that might violate people’s privacy and the rights of victims. If police body camera videos are going to be edited for the protection of innocent people, who should do the censoring, and what would be the rules?
Smoking is seeing a revival through the growing popularity of e-cigarettes. Lawmakers will study whether e-cigarettes should be defined as tobacco products, subject to smoking bans and taxed by the state.
Legislators also will discuss raising Indiana’s cigarette tax, which is relatively low. A committee will look at what smoking costs the state — especially smoking during pregnancy.
Lawmakers will look at a wide variety of issues involving crime and law enforcement. One idea will be taking DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony.
A long list of topics involving sex crimes includes increasing fines and penalties for people who buy sex from prostitutes. A related idea is ensuring that child victims of human trafficking are not charged with prostitution. A committee will look at throwing out convictions for prostitution or other crimes committed while a person was being exploited through trafficking.
Still another topic will be ways to help ex-convicts find employment, possibly by offering incentives for employers to hire them.
Turning to business topics, legislators will look a ways to encourage affordable broadband services in unserved areas of Indiana. A committee also will evaluate the effectiveness of tax incentives for new and expanding businesses.
An issue of interest to many local residents will be a study of what to do about trains blocking railroad crossings for long stretches of time.
On a topic close to their hearts, lawmakers will study new ways of drawing districts for themselves and members of Congress. Right now, legislators do that job themselves. Any change could involve creating an independent commission.
Finally, legislators will look at how to fix the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, where an audit found millions of dollars in overcharges to Indiana vehicle owners.
It should be a busy summer.
This was distributed by the Hoosier State Press Association. Please send comments to [email protected].