INDIANAPOLIS – Halfway through the legislative session, dozens of bills concerning significant public policy are hovering beneath the high-profile battles.
Some have led to fascinating floor debates among lawmakers – on topics such as legalizing midwives, regulating public school transfers and the ongoing issue of gambling in the state.
The midwives matter has been percolating for more than a decade. Practicing midwifery – or delivering babies at home – is illegal in Indiana except for nurse-midwives.
This means a registered nurse who has graduated from a nationally accredited school of midwifery, passed the National Certifying Examination given by the American College of Nurse-Midwives, and is licensed by the state nursing board to practice as a nurse-midwife.
According to data from the Indiana State Department of Health, there were 1,058 intended live births at home in 2010. Of those, 357 were by nurse-midwives. Data on deaths during labor were not immediately available.
Supporters of home birth have pushed for years to allow others with less medical training also to be midwives.
Rep. Don Lehe, R-Brookston, offered House Bill 1135 to legalize the practice. It requires a national certification to be a certified professional midwife. Twenty-seven other states have similar laws. The certification requires a mix of academic and hands-on training.
No matter what we do here today midwives will continue to deliver babies in homes, in Indiana, Lehe said. This legislation does the best we can do to make these safe and accountable for Hoosiers.
Lehe contends home births save money and should be allowed if that is the choice of the family involved.
Others, though, stressed that emergencies can happen during delivery and a midwife wont be properly trained to handle it, which could contribute to the death of the child or mother.
Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, made clear that most of the home births occurring now are illegal.
He said thats because Indiana made a public policy decision that only people with medical training should deliver babies in case complications occur.
I dont think this is the right thing for the state of Indiana, McMillin said. I dont think this is the right thing for the unborn.
The bill passed 63-32, with more than 20 votes coming from Democrats in the chamber. It now moves to the more conservative Senate.
Another issue not getting much attention this year is legalized gambling. In years past, the ever-present gambling bill has ruled the session with decisions on land-based gaming or other moves.
This year, Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, is pushing to make the industry more competitive now that Ohio has casinos operating, along with Michigan and Illinois. The state is expected to lose tens of millions in taxes from casino revenue if no changes occur.
Senate Bill 528 would relieve up to $235 million in state taxes from casinos and reorganize the taxing structure by replacing the admission tax of $3 with a supplemental wagering tax.
The bill also allows riverboat casinos to move onto land owned by the casino, and adjacent to their current location. The proposed legislation also would allow table games with live dealers – as opposed to electronic versions – at the states racinos.
But casino communities oppose the bill because it would remove a local funding guarantee.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the bill is meant to stanch the loss of revenue, and was crafted carefully not to expand gaming.
But House Speaker Brian Bosma, who has never been a fan of legalized gambling, has a different opinion.
I think in totality the bill appears to me to be a pretty significant expansion of gaming in the state, so I dont anticipate it will move forward as its currently constituted, he said.
Bosma went on to note that every change in gambling policy has generally revolved around a plea to keep the industry competitive.
Its a pretty common technique of seeking whatever measure it is that youd like to have here in the gaming industry, he said.
Part of the problem with the bill is every lawmaker seems to have a different definition of what expansion is.
And Gov. Mike Pence has not provided a great deal of guidance, so far.
Thats a difficult question to dodge, he said. Its not our ambition to expand or contract gaming. My ambition is status quo.
A third issue hanging out there, but not garnering large headlines, revolves around public school transfers.
More than 12,000 students across Indiana now attend public schools somewhere other than where they live. The practice has exploded in recent years, and is directly related to the state taking over operating costs for schools in 2009.
Because local property taxes no longer finance schools general funds, state money can follow the student. Districts dont have to worry about educating students whose families, through property taxes, arent helping support its schools.
Many schools in the state now have tuition-free transfer policies. But critics allege that some public schools are choosing only to accept transfers for high performing students.
Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, said public schools complained this type of cherry-picking was happening with charter schools, so legislators made charter schools use a lottery system.
He is trying to apply that same lottery system to public school transfers. House Bill 1381 still leaves the decision on whether or not to accept transfers up to local districts. Some schools dont have capacity and therefore cant.
But if they allow the option, the bill will require schools to declare the number of transfer slots available and then set a public transfer application period. If more kids apply than capacity, a blind lottery will decide who gets in.
A school cant deny a transfer based on the students academic record, test scores, disciplinary record, disability or any other factor, other than capacity.
The only exception is for lengthy suspensions due to violence, drugs or alcohol.
Karickhoff pointed to one school whose transfer requirements were posted online. The school accepts only kids with at least a C+ average; 95 percent attendance for three years; no disciplinary problems and participation in extracurricular activities.
In some areas of the state, he said schools are even targeting high-achieving poor kids for transfer by sending buses into specific neighborhoods. These kids increase the schools performance rankings and come with a higher state dollar amount.
Im for parents and students choosing schools, not schools choosing students, Karickhoff said.
Some superintendents have objected, which is why Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, voted against the legislation.
They see it as increased regulation on public schools and it takes away local control, which I see their point, he said.