Every year after the Indiana legislature adjourns, the leaders assign topics to be studied in the interim before the next session. (For more on this, check out our 2018 Legislative Wrap Up.) This year was no different, and a number of topics were assigned. The committees held meetings, heard testimony and made recommendations on various items of interest.
There were many noteworthy topics discussed this year, including the regulation of industrial hemp and low THC hemp extract, medical marijuana, bias-motivated crimes, liquor licenses, sports wagering, Department of Child Services (DCS) operations, water infrastructure, and the creation of sexual harassment prevention policies for the Indiana General Assembly.
The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources investigated the regulation of industrial hemp. The committee decided that it was not in the best interest of the state to regulate commercial hemp production, given the unavoidable interplay with federal law in this space. If the federal law changes, the committee would recommend that the Indiana Department of Agriculture promote and assist Indiana farmers and manufacturers that grow, handle or use industrial hemp, and that the Seed Commissioner regulate the commercial growth of industrial hemp.
The Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavioral Health and Human Services investigated the topic of medical marijuana in Indiana. After many hours of testimony and discussion, the committee could not reach consensus and chose to not make any recommendations.
Bias Motivated Crimes
The Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code held a day-long hearing on bias-motivated crime legislation, commonly known as hate crime legislation. Committee members heard from supporters and opponents, as well as national experts who presented testimony on how other states address sentencing for hate crimes. Although some panel members urged the committee to adopt a recommendation calling for stiffer sentences for bias-motivated crimes, the chairman noted that the committee was charged with gathering information and not with making a recommendation. Despite the lack of a recommendation by the study panel, Gov. Eric Holcomb has expressed support for hate crime legislation, and several different bills are expected to be introduced during the 2019 legislative session.
The Alcohol Code Revision Commission met many times over the summer and decided to reduce the time a permit can be in escrow and who can put that permit into use. The Commission also voted to allow municipalities to obtain more restaurant permits, based on an entertainment area designation. This would allow municipalities to gain a license for every 1125 people instead of for every 1500 people. The citizens of a municipality would need to vote 51 percent in support of the change before it takes place. The commission also streamlined the permit process and increased penalties for possession by and sales of liquor to a minor.
After a recent Supreme Court ruling paved the way for states to authorize wagering on football, basketball and other sports, the topic of sports wagering was covered by the Interim Study Committee on Public Policy. After two days of testimony, the committee adopted a final report that urged the General Assembly to consider legislation that would permit sports wagering in Indiana and restrict illegal gaming in the state.
Department of Child Services (DCS) Operations
DCS operations were a subject for the Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary. The committee met four times over the summer and discussed many issues concerning the department. The committee agreed to ask the legislature to investigate whether the employment of outside attorneys by DCS would be more effective than reliance on internal attorneys, and to perform a study on DCS employment numbers, as well as pay raises, caseload changes and family case manager turnover.
The Water Infrastructure Task Force met four times this year to hear from interested parties and adopted a report which the task force hopes leads to additional funding, collaboration, use of water data and benchmarking, among other things.
Sexual Harassment Prevention
Finally, the Personnel Subcommittee of the Legislative Council has been working on new sexual harassment policies. The subcommittee’s work is ongoing.
There were a number of other topics that were studied by these and other committees. The drafts and recommendations will be considered at the start of next legislative session. After the election, state lawmakers will convene for Organization Day in November and will return in early January for the regular session. The budget session will conclude by April 29, 2019.