Pfaff reflects on progress and setbacks in the 2021 legislative session

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INDIANAPOLIS – State Representative Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute) today looked back on the 2021 Legislative Session, which went on hiatus Thursday until an undetermined date in the fall when the General Assembly will reconvene to oversee the redistricting process.

“We saw some real progress this session,” Pfaff said. “We were able to work together on legislation that will get real help to Hoosiers. There was a groundwork laid to steer the state in a better direction.

“However, there were some big setbacks as well. I'm concerned about the effects that many of the actions taken this session will have months and years down the road.”

House Bill 1006: A wide-spanning criminal justice reform bill passed with unanimous support from both chambers. It will mandate de-escalation training for law enforcement officers, limit the use of chokeholds, penalize officers who turn off body-cams to cover up crimes and works to stop officers with records of offenses from being hired at a new department.

“Last year, Hoosiers joined millions of voices across the nation in demanding change. We listened, worked together, and took a vital first step to securing a more just system for every Hoosier. It was an honor to be a part of passing this bill.”

House Bill 1008: Creates the Student Learning Recovery Grant Program to provide funds to schools that submit a Student Learning Acceleration Plan to help students who fell behind during the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last year brought many unprecedented challenges to our school systems that no one could have foreseen. Teachers and parents rose above and beyond expectations to meet these challenges head on. But these times were incredibly hard for students, and we have to make sure that as we begin our recovery, no one is left behind. These grants will open up opportunities to help make up for lost learning experiences over the past year.”

House Bill 1313: Following up on Rep. Pfaff's legislation from last year, this bill assigns the Department of Workforce Development to assist former students who received a non-diploma certificate of recognition and certain students with an individualized education program who withdrew from school in accessing potential training or education opportunities. It also requires the State Board of Education to adopt rules for providing an alternate diploma for students with significant cognitive disabilities by December 2021.

“Last year we started the effort to help open up vital opportunities for students with disabilities. I believe that every Hoosier who wants to work, should be able to work. Our economy is only as strong as our workforce. Removing barriers to these students will help build a stronger economy not just for the recovery, but for all the years to come.”

House Bill 1384: Directs the Department of Education to set standards for civics courses that will now be required for all Indiana students to take in the 6th, 7th or 8th grade.

“We've all seen the news stories about how little American citizens know about our history and how government works. Making civics a priority for Hoosier students is critical, especially as we continue to see low voter turnout and civic engagement. I hope that we can work to turn those numbers around and get more young people involved in the process of our democracy.”

House Bill 1001: Boosted by an improved fiscal forecast and new funds from President Biden's American Rescue Plan, the state biennial budget was ultimately amended to include many top priorities for Pfaff and her fellow Democrats, including major boosts in funding for public education, mental health, food banks and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

“I'm thankful for the hard work from President Biden and the Democrats in Congress that resulted in the American Rescue Plan. Thanks to those new funds, our Republican colleagues finally sat down and integrated investments that we've been proposing for years that will get real help to all Hoosiers. I hope this is the start of more cooperation and a forward-looking vision in Indiana.

“Unfortunately, there were also several very concerning bills that passed this session, which remind us we must continue to be vigilant against proposals that could take our state backwards or harm our constituents.”

Senate Bill 389: Would rescind protection from over half of Indiana's wetlands. The Senate and House Democrats have submitted a letter to Governor Holcomb urging him to veto this legislation.

“Indiana's natural environment has been severely damaged for centuries. We are rated by the EPA as one of the most polluted states in the nation. Our wetland conservation law was one area where we were a leader nationwide. To roll back these protections is deeply concerning for Hoosiers who rely on groundwater reserves and live in areas that are increasingly affected by flooding. We must look to the future impact that the laws that are passed today will have, not just short-term financial gains. A healthy environment protects a healthy economy.”

Senate Bill 205: Would allow a new, non-accredited path for obtaining a teacher's license in Indiana without many of the expected requirements, including any in-person classroom experience.

“As a teacher myself, I know very well the responsibility of having a teaching license. Parents deserve to know that their children's classrooms are in the care of well-trained, caring professionals with experience. We cannot afford to attempt to solve our teacher shortage problem by creating whole new problems by lowering standards. Our students deserve better.”

No action on redistricting reform: Attempts to introduce language to elections bills that would implement a non-partisan redistricting process were repeatedly blocked from consideration by the supermajority.

“It's very simple. Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. Partisan gerrymandering dilutes the voice of the people, drives down voter participation, and creates noncompetitive races.

Redistricting reform is an issue with overwhelming bipartisan support. It is unfortunate that House leadership continues to avoid addressing this issue, but we will continue to push for it to ensure that Hoosiers' votes have the worth they deserve.

“As we all head home, at least for now, I'm confident in having done a lot of good for Indiana. As I return to my district, I hope to stay connected to my constituents and make sure their priorities are the ones I take with me to the 2022 Legislative Session.”

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