Pfaff: 2020 legislative wins and losses for West Central Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS—State Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute) issued the following 2020 legislative session summary op-ed item for publication today (Wednesday, March 18):

It’s been a week of massive change.

The Legislature adjourned for the year on Wednesday with barely any discussion of the coronavirus until the very end. Then, on Friday, schools were shut down all across the state and restrictions started to be put in place to protect public health.

The legislative deliberations of the last three weeks suddenly pale in comparison to the new realities we are all facing. But before we move too far away from the last session, I wanted to let you know what got done, and more significantly, a whole host of things that once again failed to pass.

At the beginning of the 2020 legislative session, there were several goals I envisioned for my community. I wanted to improve workforce development, expand voter access, increase teacher pay and give teachers and students a break when it comes to standardized testing. Now that the 2020 legislative session has come to a close, we were able to accomplish a few legislative objectives, but there is still work left to be done. 

Workforce development is of special importance to me as a representative of a district where job opportunities are at such a crossroads. There were several pieces of legislation that I felt could have improved working conditions across Indiana, but unfortunately, many got voted down.

One such bill, House Bill 1427, authored by Rep. Chris Campbell (D-West Lafayette), would have required the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to establish a paid family and medical leave program. This would have been a great first step for safeguarding the security and comfort of Hoosiers and navigating the economic impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

When we look at workforce development, it’s of great importance that we be as inclusive as possible. I’m proud to say that one of the bills I authored, House Bill 1341, was signed into law by Governor Holcomb this week. The law would extend the accessibility of career opportunities for students with disabilities. This type of legislation is long overdue and will help many students get the certification needed to pursue bigger goals for themselves in their careers.

Much like my predecessor, former State Rep. Clyde Kersey, voter access was also a priority I carried into the 2020 session. I authored a bill (House Bill 1349) that would have permitted same-day voter registration. Sadly, the bill never received a hearing in committee and died. Next year, I will continue to fight for voters’ rights in Indiana until we see improved voter turnout and amplify the voices of Hoosiers across the state.

When it comes to education, the legislation we successfully passed is a start – but by no means is it the end of our efforts to improve the lives of our students and teachers in Indiana. I’m proud to say we were able to agree on the importance of a reprieve from ILEARN testing, decoupling teacher evaluations from test scores and making a 15-hour internship requirement optional for teachers. Those accomplishments are largely due to the fantastic turnout from teachers during last fall’s #RedForEd teacher rally, and I’d like to thank every educator who came out during that time.

However, we missed a huge opportunity to increase teacher pay, and that disappointment is not easy for me to overlook. I hope that next year we start getting serious about providing teachers with the pay (and respect) they deserve.

Every session provides another opportunity to advocate for my district, and I promise to keep fighting to serve Hoosiers first.

Stay healthy and safe.

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