Shackleford announces 2021 legislative agenda

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INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) recently announced her legislative agenda for the 2021 Legislative Session. Shackleford has introduced legislation to address a wide-range of issues facing our state, including justice reform and health disparities.

As Chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC), Shackleford's legislation will align with the caucus's Justice Reform Agenda, introduced last summer. Three bills specifically will work to create fundamental changes to the state's justice system:

House Bill 1153 expands access to health insurance by specifying that a Hoosier's temporary lapse in substance use including  incarceration, hospitalization, or other instances, cannot be used to determine their eligibility for insurance programs like Medicaid or the Healthy Indiana Plan. The bill dives further into mental health and addiction matters by requiring the state to create a program to reduce the stigma of mental illness and addiction and by requiring hospitals to establish an emergency room treatment for a patient who is experiencing an overdose.

“Hoosiers suffering from substance use disorders deserve our compassion and empathy,” Shackleford said. “Instead of jailing them or stigmatizing their struggle, we need to offer them avenues to recovery. They will stand a better chance of overcoming their addiction with our support.”

House Bill 1334 adds crime and juvenile justice to the topics that the Indiana Youth Advisory Council is to report on to the Indiana General Assembly. The bill also requires that the Council's membership include those who represent a racial minority and those who have experienced juvenile detention, foster care, or an alternative school.

“In the Governor's Juvenile Justice Plan released for 2018 to 2020, one of the priorities listed is to 'strengthen the state of the juvenile justice system to improve the flow of information, data tracking and understanding of both the needs of youth and the system,'” Shackleford explained. “The best way to understand the needs of the youth involved in these systems is to ask them and actually listen to their answers. They are the ones experiencing the disparities and who will be affected by our actions.”

House Bill 1444 establishes the comprehensive student support program for the purposes of funding the formation and staffing of school based and district level comprehensive student support teams; improving staffing ratios for student support personnel; supporting the creation, expansion, and work of multidisciplinary school teams to address the school environment, school safety, school improvement, and crisis intervention and emergency preparedness; and professional development for student support personnel.

“More often than not, schools are a hostile environment for Black students,” Shackleford said. “Black students are more likely to be disciplined and labeled as 'problematic' than white students. We can't expect our students to learn and grow in such an uncomfortable environment. We need to offer our students mental and emotional health support so that they can succeed and achieve all they set out to do.”

The current pandemic has exacerbated long-standing health disparities in Indiana. Shackleford is offering three bills recommended by the Indiana Health Disparities Task Force that will combat these disparities and expand healthcare access for all Hoosiers:

House Bill 1146 establishes the Healthy Food Incubator Fund and program that provides financing in the form of grants for projects that increase the availability of fresh and nutritious food in underserved communities.

Studies have shown that Black communities have significantly less access to healthy food options than white communities,” said Shackleford. “Without a better option, Black Hoosiers are forced to turn to fast-food restaurants and convenience stores offering processed foods. These unhealthy eating habits lead to greater health problems down the road, which are the last thing we need in the midst of this pandemic.”

House Bill 1147 requires Medicaid to allow community health workers to provide telehealth services and increases the allowable reimbursement hours for these workers.

“Black Hoosiers account for 8.3 percent of the over 9,000 COVID-related deaths in our state, but only make up 9.8 percent of our state's total population,” Shackleford said. “There is a glaring disparity here and we must continue to combat it. I will fight to make community-based healthcare services more accessible for all Hoosiers so that they have the resources to be healthy and recover successfully.”

House Bill 1333 develops a cultural awareness and competence training program for health professionals and provides that the state health data center maintain statistics concerning race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status.

“The death of Dr. Susan Moore highlights the fact that our state's health disparities affect all African Americans, regardless of their status. The idea that a respected physician was treated so poorly and consequently died is appalling, to say the least. We cannot sit by and allow this kind of treatment to continue. I am hopeful that this bill will make our healthcare professionals more aware of the unconscious biases they may hold and, with that awareness, provide equal care to all Hoosiers.”

Additionally, in 2019, Shackleford's Traffic Amnesty Program was signed into law and set to be in effect from January 2020 to December 2020. Shackleford hopes to extend the program as many Hoosiers have utilized and benefited from it over the past year.

House Bill 1445 extends Shackleford's Traffic Amnesty Program by one year. Also, the bill reduces license reinstatement fees and allows the courts to establish a payment plan to pay the remaining 50 percent of fees.

“When I originally introduced the Traffic Amnesty Program in 2019, it was estimated that 273,000 Hoosiers were struggling with license suspensions due to their financial situations. I don't think a year was enough time to expect all of those Hoosiers to learn about and participate in the program. Those who have called my office and asked for resources are very grateful and relieved that this program exists, so I just want to make sure that everyone who needs it has a chance to use it.”

Shackleford's legislation has been assigned to its respective House Standing Committees and awaits to be scheduled for hearings.

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