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[s49] COLUMN: It's Halftime at the Statehouse

It’s hard to believe my second session in the Indiana General Assembly is already halfway done. That’s right, lawmakers have reached the halftime mark — when the Senate passes its bills to the House of Representatives for further consideration and, likewise, the House passes its legislation to the Senate.

 

But many important pieces of legislation carried by the state Senate haven’t gotten the attention they deserve this year, and I’d like to highlight what my colleagues and I are doing to help Hoosiers:

 

Perhaps the most important piece of legislation in 2012 is Senate Bill 4 — aimed at strengthening Indiana’s human trafficking laws. SB 4 makes it unlawful to arrange for a person to participate in any forced sexual act. (Currently, Indiana law only prohibits forced marriage and prostitution.) Leaders statewide have recognized the importance of this bill — especially due to an influx of visitors during the Super Bowl — and it was the first bill to be signed into law by the governor this session. I’m happy to say Hoosier lawmakers have loudly and clearly made it known that human trafficking is a serious issue and it will not be overlooked in our great state.

 

I’m also very pleased to have supported two initiatives that would help Hoosier service men and women — Senate Bill 31 and Senate Bill 253. SB 31 would help provide basic needs — like food, shelter and transportation — to Hoosier military families by extending the eligibility period for them to receive monetary assistance from the Military Family Relief Fund. It would also allow our National Guard members activated for state duty to receive this emergency financial assistance. SB 253 would waive training required for certain professions if the needed skills were learned and performed by the veteran applicant during their military service. This bill will also allow our service men and women to easily translate their time served into credits at state colleges and universities, helping provide them with needed jobs.

 

Another key piece of legislation I’m happy to have supported is Senate Bill 97 regarding public intoxication. Currently, Indiana is one of only five states that require no more than consuming alcohol in a public place to constitute this offense. SB 97 would narrow the scope of this vague law, only allowing individuals to be convicted of public intoxication if they endanger their own life, someone else’s life, disturb the peace or are likely to create disturbances. This has the potential to protect Hoosiers with good intentions who are walking or riding home after consuming alcohol.

 

Just as we need to protect Hoosiers from being charged with unnecessary offenses, we should also ensure true criminals are receiving just punishment. Legislation I’ve authored this session — Senate Bill 322 — would do just that by encouraging greater supervision of violent sex offenders. My bill would provide tort immunity for Department of Corrections (DOC) employees and contractors, restricting damage lawsuits for those who monitor or treat violent sex offenders on parole. Currently, contractors who create GPS devices for parolees can be sued if individuals wearing them wrongfully remove the monitoring devices. By eliminating the threat of lawsuits like these, we can redirect money that would normally be used for insurance purposes to monitor more sex offenders. This plan is estimated to help provide a few hundred more monitoring devices.

 

Of course, lawmakers don’t always see eye-to-eye on legislation because differences in districts sometimes mean differences in what’s best for their constituents. A bill introduced — with good intentions — by one of my colleagues would allow telephone companies to stop providing services in unprofitable areas where other carriers (i.e. cell phone services) exist. I believe this would hurt our rural areas, which are known for having inadequate cell phone and Internet services, especially during emergencies. Although this bill gained enough support to move to the House, I opposed it.

 

Similarly, I opposed a provision in Senate Bill 398 that would have made distribution of raw milk without a “Not for Human Consumption” label a Class C misdemeanor. In Indiana, such an offense would be a criminal charge punishable by up to $500 and 60 days in jail. If passed, this would have imposed unneeded regulations on Indiana farmers, and I’m happy to say the provision was removed from the bill.  

 

As always, you can contact me with your ideas by emailing Senator.Tomes@iga.in.gov or calling 1-800-382-9467. If you're interested in reading about more bills I've authored and supported this legislative session, visit www.in.gov/Senator.Tomes. Let’s keep in touch!