DANVILLE — Mass transit and reforms for both criminal code and education took center stage at a legislative breakfast, held Monday morning at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds and Conference Complex.
Sen. Pete Miller and Republican Representatives Bob Behning, Jeff Thompson, and Greg Steuerwald attended to give insight into what’s on the table at the statehouse, as well as to field questions from the audience.
About 200 citizens attended the breakfast hosted by Hendricks Power Cooperative, Hendricks County Farm Bureau, and North Salem State Bank. This was the second in a series of four Legislative Breakfasts being held here.
“I think we have a great county that’s interested in the people,” Steuerwald said.
Miller also applauded the turnout, saying he tells other senators about the large attendance for the events.
“I like to get a sense for what constituents’ opinions are,” Miller said.
Shortly after the breakfast, the House officially passed a mass transit bill by a 56-39 vote that would provide a $1.3 billion expansion to increase bus service to downtown Indianapolis to be placed on the ballot for voters in Marion and Hamilton counties to consider. That bill was one of the hot topics at the breakfast. Miller said he doesn’t think a similar mass transit referendum will be hitting Hendricks County anytime soon.
“I don’t think Hendricks County will be involved anytime soon, maybe a decade before we’re involved in that sense,” he said. “There was an amendment to the bill to allow townships themselves as contiguous to the area as to not involve the whole county. There’s no need for residents of North Salem to be subsidizing transit to Plainfield.”
Aside from mass transit, education reform and costs took center stage. Behning said the onus is on providing good early childhood education options.
“Our goal is to create high quality education for children in poverty,” he said.
Behning’s HB 1004 would provide the creation of a pre-kindergarten voucher pilot program, including facilities, eligible students, program administration, funding, and an early learning advisory committee.
He said a lack of parental involvement is part of the problem.
“I think we’re all looking at trying to find ways to get parental involvement, but it’s not easily done and especially not something you can easily legislate,” Behning said.
Also shortly after the breakfast, legislation authored by Miller that would allow schools to apply for two-year matching grants of $50,000 to allow specially trained police officers in schools passed the Senate by a 43-7 vote.
“This bill is about protecting our school children,” Miller said.
He said the legislative breakfasts are a good opportunity to hear differing views on proposed legislation.
Several attendees took issue with HB 1381, which would prevent schools from ‘cherry picking’ only the best students to transfer in open school enrollment. Some parents expressed concerns, but Miller said through talking it out with them, a potential solution came.
“Someone may be against a bill, but talking to them, there might be a decent amendment to alleviate her concerns,” he said. “We could grandfather people that are already in the schools. If you tell schools they’re not allowed to cherry pick specific students, some might say ‘forget it, we just won’t allow any transfers at all,’ but they have students that are already enrolled who would have to go back to a different school midstream.”
Steuerwald discussed HB 1006, which passed out of the House shortly after the breakfast as well. That bill would, among other things, result in criminal offenders serving at least 75 percent of their sentences, as opposed to the 50 percent that many now serve, and also allow for criminals with minor offenses to be dealt with locally.
“The plus for the bill is that right now for lower offenders, there’s nothing that says they cannot be sent to the Department of Corrections,” Steuerwald said. “But the goal with the probation improvement fund is that we’ll deal with these people locally, instead of sending them to DOC.”
He reported that of the 28,378 inmates in DOC, 15,000 were convicted of the lowest level of felonies. Steuerwald said there are currently four classes of felonies and the bill recommends expanding that to six by dividing classes A and B into two parts each. Murder would be its own separate classification, he said.
“The constitution says we’re supposed to make everything proportional,” Steuerwald said. “Like, right now, the difference in battery sentences can range between six years to 50. There’s a 44-year difference. We’ve taken that four felony classes to six and made the sentencing more proportional. We’re trying to define and distinguish every level of battery that we can.
“Battery can be a misdemeanor all the way up to one of the worst felonies. This bill allows courts and prosecutors to work within the system to find the most appropriate charge and the most appropriate sentence. It’s going to be a lot more flexible.”
The remaining legislative breakfasts are 7 a.m. March 25 and April 22 at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds and Conference Complex. For reservations, call the Hendricks County Farm Bureau office at 273-0442 by the Thursday prior to each breakfast.