By Kathy Richardson
We are officially in the second half of the 2012 legislative session. At this point, all bills have switched chambers. There were 397 House bills filed, and 108 of them are now eligible for discussion in the Senate. The Senate sent us 140 bills to begin discussing and the Governor has signed two bills.
The issues covered in the bills were as diverse in subject as they were in controversy. Many bills, though, passed with unanimous support, and one of those bills was House Bill 1059, which provides aid to military families that need some extra help when returning from duty. A primarily self-funded Military Relief Family Fund was created in 2007, through the sale of “Support Our Troops” license plates.
Qualified service families are eligible to apply for the grants that can be used to pay essential family expenses. This bill extends from one year to three years, the time a military service family may be eligible to receive assistance from this fund.
Another bill passed with very strong support was House Bill 1376. This legislation provides more money to the victims of the State Fair stage collapse by doubling the amount of compensation available to those victims from $5 to $10 million. The bill also doubles the per student grant for full-day kindergarten by providing an additional $80 million in funding.
In addition, the legislation strengthens Indiana’s refund system by prioritizing refunds and ensuring they are distributed fairly, because projections indicate 4 million Hoosiers could receive a refund of at least $50 when they file their 2012 tax returns next spring.
One issue controversial for many years is whether to enact a statewide smoking ban. The debate typically centers on the private property right of businesses, and whether certain businesses should be exempt versus the health benefits to be gained for employees and patrons of those businesses.
In the House-passed version, the following entities were exempt: casinos, racinos, racetracks, off-track betting locations, cigar manufacturing facilities, fraternal clubs, cigar and hookah bars. A key difference in this year’s bill is bars and taverns are exempt until Sept. 15, 2013. After that date, though, they will all be non-smoking establishments. In the past, a bill to enact a statewide smoking ban has not made it out of the Senate, so we will have to see the course this legislation will take this year.
I will be sure to keep you up-to-date on bills as we move through the second half of the legislative session.