Errington summarizes mid-session status of key legislative issues
For immediate release:
March 3, 2015
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana State Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) today issued the following statement as a “letter to the editor”:
As the first half of the 2015 General Assembly session comes to a close, I would like to think that the State Legislature is making positive strides on issues that are important to the people I represent in Indiana House District 34.
Most people will tell you that I am an optimist, but I have to be honest and admit that my patience has been tested on several occasions this session.
Yet again, Indiana House Republicans have rejected multiple attempts to increase the state’s minimum wage and lift up Hoosier families. Since House Democrats believe every Hoosier benefits from a growing economy, we made four different attempts to set the wheels in motion to raise Indiana’s minimum wage—a mainstream movement gaining momentum even in the nation’s reddest states.
In an early proposal, the Democrats advocated for raising the minimum wage to $10.10. Later, we suggested an increase based on the average rate in those states with a minimum wage above the federal rate of $7.25. If the proposal had been approved by the House Supermajority, the Department of Labor could have set the rate at $8.41 per hour.
One of the great mysteries of this session is how a group of people continually avoids doing one easy, obvious thing to help working Hoosiers. While the House Republicans tout our state’s efforts to create jobs, they intentionally ignore the fact that many of those jobs are not paying a living wage. The average household income in Indiana has declined from $53,482 in 2002 to $46,974 in 2013.
A major disappointment was the Republican supermajority’s mission to circumvent the people’s will by ramming through a bill stripping Glenda Ritz as chair of the State Board of Education. Nearly 1000 teachers, students, and school employees rallied at the statehouse to protest, including a large contingent from Delaware County.
Let me remind everyone once again, Glenda Ritz was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction by the people of Indiana. She received more votes than the governor of our state. Hoosiers chose her to be in charge of guiding education policy for children across Indiana.
Nothing demonstrated my conflicted feelings more than what happened to my House Bill 1359. The bill simply required the state Department of Health to develop a plan to increase Indiana’s Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination rate among adolescents ages 13-15 to 80 percent by July 1, 2020. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer and is associated with several other deadly cancers, including throat cancer.
Vaccination against HPV is the best tool we have in the fight against any cancer to date. The House Public Health Committee agreed and unanimously passed the bill, which later breezed through the amendment phase before the full House with no discussion. Then the roof fell in, and HB 1359 was ambushed on the final vote by unfounded talk of a mandate and fears of vaccine safety.
House members had an opportunity to essentially wipe out cervical cancer, but my prevention efforts were abruptly halted. It’s a frustrating setback, but with 250 Hoosier women diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and about 86 deaths annually—I am not giving up.
Another disappointment was the biennial state budget. I voted against this bill for a number of reasons, but particularly because of large funding cuts for Muncie Community Schools and other urban schools. Those of us who voted no on the budget wanted to signal to the Senate that the House’s draft needs reworking. When we vote on the final budget in April, I hope urban schools will be treated more fairly.
Transparency has been an ongoing concern this session. The Democrats offered an amendment to the budget that would have required school funding for public, charters, and vouchers to be in three separate pots of money. Astonishingly, the amendment was turned down uniformly by House Republicans.
The passage of the biennial budget did include some positives like increasing funding for domestic violence and CHOICE (Community and Home Options to Institutional Care for the Elderly and Disabled).
There were some good things that happened this session. House Bill 1194, backed by State Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany), allows special needs students to earn a high school diploma. Currently, parents decide if they want to put their child on a path toward a diploma or a “certification of completion”, which does not reflect graduation. Regardless of how well a student performs in their high school classes, if they cannot pass a comprehensive exam by the end of senior year—no degree is awarded.
With an unemployment rate of nearly 80 percent, many of these people can’t get jobs due to qualification obstacles. Special Education in Indiana needs better options, and my hope is that HB 1194 can provide those options. The bill proposes the development of a tailored curriculum where the likeliness of success is much greater for special education students.
Like I said, I am an optimist. I was disappointed on a number of occasions so far this session, but I remain hopeful there will be future opportunities to advance some of my ideas. I prefer to stay positive and continue working hard to see some of these initiatives come to fruition.