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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, February 02, 2016 10:28 pm

Environmental powers, ISTEP bills advance

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A bill to limit the powers of state environmental regulators passed 64-33 Tuesday.

Rep. David Wolkins, R-Warsaw, authored House Bill 1082, which would prohibit the state from adopting an environmental rule or standard that is more stringent than the corresponding federal regulation or standard.

He said if there is some sort of emergency issue – like the poisoned water in Flint, Michigan – the legislature can deal with it quickly. He said the General Assembly acted on ISTEP problems in just two weeks.

Wolkins also said the law exists in 19 other states.

But Sen. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, said the bill is so vague and broad there will be confusion on what the Indiana Department of Environmental Management can do.

The only northeast Indiana representative to vote no was Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

Demise of ISTEP welcomed

The decades-old ISTEP test would be repealed in 2017 under a bill approved 86-11 Tuesday night. 

Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said House Bill 1395 sets up a 26-member commission to recommend the parameters of a new assessment tool for the future.

Those recommendations will go to the Indiana State Board of Education, which will ultimately approve a new standardized test and performance system for the 2017-18 year.

The Indiana Department of Education has a current two-year contract with Pearson to finish out the ISTEP+ system.

ISTEP goes back to 1987, but in recent years, the test has come under attack due to a host of problems. These include technical glitches that frustrated kids trying to take it online to a growing test length, open-ended items that make it more difficult to grade and questionable cut scores.

States must still test annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school in the main subject areas, but there is room for flexibility under a new federal accountability law.

Behning said the bill also gives the Indiana State Board of Education the authority to rescore the 2015 ISTEP+ test if they choose so. Rescoring all the tests could cost millions, but he said they could choose to do small samples of rescoring instead.

All area reps supported the measure, which now moves to the Senate.

House advances meth-fires bill

The Indiana House unanimously passed a bill Tuesday more closely regulating and tracking fires caused by methamphetamine production.

Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, said he worked with a Fort Wayne fire investigator on House Bill 1211, which makes it a crime to attempt to create meth.

He said fires often occur before the process is completed and there was no specific crime committed. Carbaugh also noted fire officials have had to deem them accidental.

Part of the legislation also requires better tracking of meth-related fires. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Senate advances 1st hate-crime law

Indiana would have its first-ever hate-crime law under a bill passed 34-16 by the Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 220 – authored by LaGrange Republican Sen. Sue Glick – would allow judges to consider the motivation behind a crime as a reason for giving a harsher sentence.

Forty-five states have hate-crime laws on the books but Indiana is not one of them. Glick’s bill originally would have made it a separate crime. But instead it was changed to focus on discussion.

The aggravator could be applied if the convicted person committed the offense with the intent to harm or intimidate an individual because of the person’s actual or perceived race, religion, color, sex, gender, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity or status as a veteran or member of the armed forces.

There was no discussion on the bill.

Glick supported the legislation along with Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne; Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle; and Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne. Those against were Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City; and Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.

The legislation now moves to the House.