INDIANAPOLIS (WLFI/AP) - The 2019 legislative session came to a close Wednesday night, and lawmakers approved a new state budget bill. The Indiana Senate passed the budget 41 to 8. The house also passed the budget bill 67 to 31.The bill now sits on Governor Eric Holcomb's desk.
How Local Legislators Voted:
Representative Sharon Negele and Senators Ron Alting and Randall Head all voted yes for the budget. Representatives Sheila Klinker and Chris Campbell both voted against the bill. Klinker told us part of the reason for her decision was that she believes it doesn't include enough money for schools.
Hoosier State Line:
The $6 million required to maintain the Hoosier State Line for two years was not included in the state budget plan approved. As News 18 previously reported, this is one of two Amtrak lines that run from Indianapolis to Chicago.
Legislators from around the viewing area have been very vocal about this lack of funding. According to Greater Lafayette Commerce, a third of the riders of the line are tied to Purdue University. Legislators have come together to fight hard in these last few weeks of the session to get it into the state budget, with no success.
Legislators say losing the line will be a major loss to constituents. They are also concerned about losing jobs at the Amtrak maintenance facility in Beech Grove.
Service is scheduled to end July 1.
Hoosier lawmakers voted on a historic increase in education funding during Wednesday's session. More than $500 million will be used to fund K-12 education in 2020 and 2021. The new budget will increase school funding by around 2.5-percent each year for the next two budget years.
The increase still falls short of the nine-percent education advocacy groups estimate is needed to boost the state's average teacher pay to the midpoint of surrounding states. The budget will pay off $150 million of schools' teacher pension obligations.
The payoff will be funded from state reserves. It would help save schools up to $70 million per year.
State Representative Sheila Klinker said there is still work to be done on the budget.
"We do want to make sure that those dollars go to teacher pay raises where it's supposed to go," said Klinker.
An additional $74 million each year would be used for various statewide education programs. This includes various grants and teacher training programs.
School Bus Stopping Arm Violations:
A bill to create harsher punishments for drivers who pass a stopped school bus passed. State Senator Randall Head wrote the bill after three young children in his district were killed as they boarded their school bus.
It raises the penalty of recklessly passing a stopped school bus from a Class A Misdemeanor to a Level 6 Felony.
"Schools have been very cooperative," said Head. "A lot of schools have been getting cameras and redoing their bus routes with an eye toward safety since this happened. A lot of good things have come from this horrible, horrible tragedy."
Head also said that he has been in contact with the family of the children who were killed. He said they had "tears of joy" knowing that the bill was successful.
Purdue Funding in Budget:
There was a big win for Purdue in the state budget. The university will get $133 million for two different capital projects.
One would save the accreditation of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and the other would allow for a new STEM lab to be built. Purdue President Mitch Daniels lobbied for the funds in March.
Daniels says $73 million will go to the new Vet Hospital. The current facility was built in 1959 and is no longer up to regulations. The program was at risk of losing its accreditation. The price tag for the new hospital is $108 million. According to Daniels, $35 million has already been raised.
Daniels says the university was treated well in this bill.
"A school like ours should hope for at most one major capital project," said Daniels. To be awarded two in the same year affirms that the general assembly sees Purdue as providing very special value to the state."
The other project getting state money is the new 145,000 square foot STEM lab teaching facility. Purdue will get $60 million in state funds for the facility.
The only request the school didn't get was $2 million for expanded programs at the Purdue Fort Wayne campus.
Attempted Murder Suspect Trial Age:
A bill to lower the age where an attempted murder suspect can be tried as an adult has failed. It was proposed after a school shooting in Noblesville last may, where the 13-year old suspect had to remain in the juvenile court system.
Amnesty for Unpaid Traffic Fees:
A bill to create an amnesty program for unpaid traffic fees was approved. It will allow people to pay lower fines than what they were originally issued in some cases. The bill was co-authored by local representative Sharon Negele.
Also passing, a gambling bill, that legalizes sports betting in the state, as well as opening the doors for new casinos in Gary and Terre Haute, the Associated Press reports. The House and Senate both voted Wednesday to support the proposal hours after a final agreement was reached adding payments to Evansville and three northwestern Indiana cities that are expecting tax revenue hits from the new casinos competing with those in their communities.
A proposed $40 million tax credit to the new owner of the current Gary casinos was dropped, but negotiators say tax changes could save Spectacle Entertainment a similar amount over five years.
The bill would also legalize sports betting in the state possibly starting as early as this fall if it is signed into law by the governor. The horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville will be allowed to have table games with live dealers starting Jan. 1, 2020. That’s 18 months earlier than allowed under current law.
Gov. Eric Holcomb released the following statement:
“I want to commend Speaker Bosma and Senator Bray for their extraordinary leadership, and a job well done to their members and staffs.
“With the investments we’ll make over the next two years, we’ll be able to make our strong state, even more so.
“We balanced our budget for the eighth straight time and protected our AAA credit rating. We’re making historic investments in K-12 education, expanding our school safety efforts, and implementing all the recommendations to improve our child services. We are strengthening our already transformational road and rail programs, doubling down on our Next Level Jobs programs, and connecting more Hoosiers to affordable broadband service. We passed a bias crimes law and modernized our tax code. We’ll help more babies reach their first birthdays. Indiana is on a roll.
“I am proud of what was accomplished this legislative session and the way it was accomplished — by working together collaboratively.”