I'm proud to say that the Indiana House Democratic Caucus set an aggressive agenda for the 2019 legislative session that put Hoosier families first.
That included giving teachers a pay raise and driving more dollars to traditional public schools; holding virtual and charter schools to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools; funding statewide pre-K; passing a hate-crimes law that protects all Hoosiers; fully funding the Department of Child Services; incorporating mental health in school safety measures; protecting access to quality health care; and putting more dollars in the pockets of working families.
Unfortunately, House Republicans voted down or did not even consider most of the proposals our caucus introduced. Overall, this legislative session was a missed opportunity to set a two-year budget and enact laws that improve the quality of life for the people of our state.
We can and should be doing more to attract and retain talented teachers in our classrooms. Instead, Indiana is dead last in teacher salary growth compared to other states.
We should hold virtual and charter schools to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools, especially since Republicans chose to increase funding for these schools in the two-year budget at a much higher rate than traditional public schools.
When we talk about increasing school safety measures for students, we should include mental health in that discussion. More than that, we should allow school corporations to use grant funding for school safety to improve mental health services for students. But House Republicans passed on the opportunity to include mental health in the list of improvements that schools can make with state school safety grant funding.
I also believe we missed an opportunity to protect all Hoosiers equally under the state's new hate-crimes law by leaving gender, gender identity, age, and ancestry off of the list of characteristics that would be included in the state code. Without a comprehensive list of characteristics, this law, according to the Anti-Defamation League, doesn't get Indiana off the list of five states without a hate crimes law because it's too vague and leaves too much to interpretation.
While I'm proud House Democrats passed an amendment to protect affordable health coverage for Hoosiers with preexisting conditions, the state budget still permits the attorney general's use of state funds to support a federal lawsuit that would dismantle the Affordable Care Act and strip coverage from thousands of Hoosiers.
The caucus also played an important role in defeating a predatory lending bill that would have made it legal for payday lending companies to offer short-term loans with interest rates of up to 167%. Studies show these types of lenders often gear their marketing schemes toward seniors, veterans, low-income and minority families – and trap them in a cycle of debt.
I'm also proud that our caucus preserved the ability for Indiana to pursue renewable, clean energy options to improve public health by blocking a proposal from the supermajority that would mandate coal burning. Again, at every turn, our caucus prioritizes the health and well-being of Hoosiers, rather than catering to the interests and needs of major corporations.
There is definitely more work to be done.
Under my leadership, House Democrats are determined to put Hoosier families first.
Phil Gia-Quinta of Fort Wayne is the Indiana House Democratic leader.