Indiana Sen. Stacey Donato (top row, far left), Rep. Craig Snow (second row, far right) and Sen. Ryan Mishler (fourth row, second from right) participated in the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce 2022 virtual legislative review session Friday afternoon. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Indiana Sen. Stacey Donato (top row, far left), Rep. Craig Snow (second row, far right) and Sen. Ryan Mishler (fourth row, second from right) participated in the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce 2022 virtual legislative review session Friday afternoon. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Two state senators and a state representative discussed an assortment of topics during Friday’s legislative review session hosted by the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce, including U.S. 30, child care, taxes, school issues and House Bill 1041, which deals with transgender girls playing on sports teams.

U.S. 30

In part of his opening comments, Sen. Ryan Mishler said one thing that he’s been working on is the “road funding piece. So, in the budget, we put aside $900 million of the federal money for road funding and there was talk about using some of that for (U.S.) 30 and 31.”

He said the Indiana Department of Transportation administration “seems to forget about us up here a lot of times, so I went ahead and took $300 million of that 900 and directed it to be used on 30 and 31. I originally just filed a bill to draw attention. I got it out of committee with just one ‘no’ vote and I got it off the Senate floor with just one ‘no’ vote, so I moved it.”

Mishler said he saw INDOT “running around and going to leadership to try to kill it. But I think that’s important for our area with the growth, the economic development up there, both 30 and 31 - they are key to our area.”

In the question-and-answer session, Chamber President Rob Parker, acknowledging that Mishler had already alluded to it, asked what the state was doing about U.S. 30.

“I can use 31 as an example because that’s been going on longer,” Mishler said. “I’ve worked on that for years. I’ll sit down with them and they’ll (INDOT) tell me they’re going to do this. And then they don’t. And then I put something in the budget, I threaten to do something, they back down. They get me to support their agenda, and then they don’t follow through. The same is going to happen with 30. So I’m just going to send them a message and I’m going to file this bill. I’m going to take the money and I’m just going to do it.”

He said what helped him on U.S. 30 was the Northeast contingency, pointing out that Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer has been one of the leaders on it.

“He’s probably been THE LEADER, as far as I’m concerned,” Mishler said, also mentioning Rep. Dave Heine and former Sen. David Long as being instrumental in helping Thallemer with it. “So I would have to say that was very helpful for me to have Mayor Joe, former Sen. Long, Rep. Heine, Rep. Snow.”

He said he is hoping that if INDOT says they’ll do these things, they will actually follow through.

Originally, Mishler said Gov. Eric Holcomb did not want him to do the funding bill.

“So I explained it to him. I said I’m not taking your road funding money. I said this is the federal money. After I explained it, he backed down,” Mishler said. “I walked out of the office and there’s the head of INDOT waiting to go in and see him. I said, ‘We were just talking about you.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I was just down trying to kill your bill with your leader.’”

He said they didn’t want the bill, but then the governor backed down.

“I’m hoping and I need Rep. (Craig) Snow to be there on my side. We’re just going to keep fighting for it,” Mishler said.

Snow said, “We want to keep it moving and keep the pressure on to get the thing done so, hopefully, through this bill, that will happen.”

BPP Tax Elimination

This past week, the Warsaw Common Council and the Kosciusko County Council approved resolutions opposing legislation regarding the business personal property tax elimination.

One of the questions that came in for the legislators, that Parker read, was, “With the state moving to eliminate the personal property tax, it looks like it’s going to impact Kosciusko County somewhere around $17 million, where will that replacement revenue come from obviously to replace the loss?”

Mishler responded, “The first problem I have is, it’s a non-budget year. We don’t open up the budget, so if the state intends to replace the revenue, we can’t do it this year. As far as I’m concerned because we never open the budget.”

He said the other issue he has is that when he goes back and talks to the companies, the tax elimination is “not even on the top 10 of their list.” The businesses would take it if the state gave it to them, but they are “really harping for workers,” he said.

“I posed this question this week. I said if the personal property tax costs us $170 million, why don’t the $170 million go into a bucket and help companies recruit talent to come work for them? If that’s the No. 1 issue, I would rather focus on that than the business personal property tax because - especially smaller rural communities really don’t have a way to make it up,” Mishler said.

The governor’s proposal, he said, is over a longer period of time and doesn’t have as much of an effect on the local community.

“But I still think we need to focus on the workforce issue,” he said.

Child Care At Schools

In his opening comments, Rep. Craig Snow said one of the things he has been working on during this legislative session is House Bill 1318 that is “more aligned with school corporations being able to have day care in their facility. And often that’s to their teachers or students and even businesses in the community as well.”

He said Sen. Stacey Donato is taking it on the Senate side as it passed out of the House unanimously.

“Given the state that we’re in with child care, and the needs, I think it’s going to be a really good thing for our state, and with our schools helping out, I think it will be a positive,” Snow said.

He said Sherry Searles, LaunchPad director, has been instrumental in getting it done, as well as others.

Parker asked Snow about House Bill 1318. It “allows a child care program that is operated by a public or private school; and provides day care on the school premises for children of students or employees of schools in the school corporation in which the public or private school is located; to be exempted from licensure as a child care facility,” according to the Indiana General Assembly website.

On Monday morning, Snow said, Donato  will hear the bill in her committee. He said he will present the bill and then Donato will take it over from there. He hoped that Parker and Searles could come down and testify on the bill’s behalf.

Recapping what the bill does, Snow said, “It cuts some administrative red tape. It is going to allow school corporations to be exempt from licensure. In other words, they then can have day care operating in their building on their property and not have to adhere to all the” licensing issues.

Snow said they weren’t trying to skirt or get around any safety issues, but “really what we’re trying to do is get it so we can make these things available. And we believe that the school buildings in our communities are much safer buildings anyway, so it makes sense to try to go this route.”

Donato said she was looking forward to the bill coming up in committee.

“I think it’s a really good bill and I’m honored to carry it,” she said.

Transgender Girls In Sports

In her opening comments, Indiana Sen. Stacey Donato said she is sponsoring HB 1041, “which is the ladies sports bill.”

Parker asked Donato to provide a “high-level” perspective of what she was trying to accomplish with the bill.

Donato reiterated that she is a sponsor of the bill, which is authored by Rep. Michelle Davis.

“It came over to Education (Committee) on Wednesday for testimony only. We heard a little over 3-1/2 hours of testimony. I actually watched the House testimony, and some of the words were exactly the same to some of the testimonies. So, it was rather long,” she said. “Just a high-level on that: It is basically just trying to maintain the integrity of a female athlete to be able to play in female sports for what I would think would be like an ability to get a scholarship and that keeps the eye on the correct body mass for that biological child to have scholarship if somebody was looking at her. So that’s kind of a high-level of what I believe the bill does.”

Parker said, “I appreciate you carrying that and I believe it’s a woman’s right issue and I’m strongly supportive of what you’re doing, so thank you. I appreciate it.”

According to WRTV.com, the bill would do four things: prevent transgender girls from playing on any sports teams designated for females, women or girls in public schools; require schools to establish grievance procedures for a violation of the law; establish a civil action for a violation of the law; and protects schools from civil, administrative, disciplinary or criminal action for acting in compliance with the law.

Restrictions On Teaching

Among the many things that House Bill 1134 does, according to the Indiana General Assembly website, is it “Defines a ‘qualified school.’ Requires each qualified school to post certain educational activities and curricular materials on the school's internet website. Provides that public records that are available on a qualified school's internet website shall be excepted from public record requests for individuals that have access to the school's internet website at the discretion of the qualified school. Requires the school corporation or qualified school to add functionality that allows parents of students in the school corporation to opt in to or opt out of certain educational activities and curricular materials under certain conditions. Provides that the governing body of a school corporation shall create a curricular materials advisory committee comprised of parents, teachers, administrators and community members.”

Parker said he received “quite a few questions” on HB 1134 to ask the state legislators.

Snow said over the past year, there’s been a lot of talk about school boards, school corporations, what can be done and not done.

“The author of this bill, Tony Cook, he used to be a teacher, superintendent, principal. I’m still wrapping my head around the whole context of it, but what I’m recognizing is there’s a lot of things still changing in it. A lot of communication in the hall. It’s in the Senate now. When it came out of the House, there were a lot of changes to it from when the bill was first written,” Snow said. “The premise of it was to try to keep certain things from being taught in the schools, classrooms. As the bill went on, I think it went out and overreached in some cases. So they cleaned a lot of the language up in terms of how it affected teachers.”

He said they got rid of a lot of what was in it.

“My understanding right now, what is remaining, at least for teachers, is they need to publish a - I call it like a map - of what they’re going to do for the semester upfront,” Snow said.

Parker asked him to clarify if he was talking about a daily lesson plan. Snow said that while that was in there at one point, it was taken out.

“I even questioned that at one point to Tony,” Snow said. He said it was now a “very broad” curriculum at the beginning of the semester so parents can see what’s being taught.

“There’s still a lot of work that has to be done because I know there’s stuff in this bill that if it gets passed out as it is, there’s still a lot of work in the school corporation, creatively and with teachers, you’ve got to figure out how things are implemented,” Snow said.

He said he received a lot of calls to his office for and against it.

Mishler said he hasn’t seen the current form of the bill yet, but he’s received a lot of emails on it.

“So the proponents of the original bill have been contacting me saying they don’t want it. It doesn’t do any good now, kill it. Don’t vote for it. And the teachers are saying don’t do it, don’t vote for it, it’s a horrible bill. So, unfortunately, the bill is in one of those positions right now where both sides hate it. So, I’m not sure where it’s going to go,” Mishler said.

Donato said it’s on the Education Committee’s schedule for Wednesday to hear testimony.

“So we’ll know more next week and see. If they make no changes, you’re going to have a bill that both sides don’t like and that’s a tough one to vote for,” Mishler said.

Donato said amendments are being worked on for the bill.

“So it has a lot of opportunity yet to be put into a much better place,” she said.