Smith announces 2023 legislative priorities

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State Representative and member of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC) Dr. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) announced his legislative agenda for the 2023 Legislative Session.

Smith has introduced legislation to address a wide range of issues facing his district and our state by proposing the following:

  • Instituting same-day voter registration;
  • Prohibiting bullying in school and prioritizing the safety of students;
  • Establishing citizen review boards in counties and municipalities that have police departments;
  • Providing a second enrollment term in the deferred retirement option plan (DROP);
  • Prohibiting ownership and requiring the surrender of firearms from a person convicted of domestic violence;
  • Upholding responsible gun ownership by implementing a liability insurance policy for handguns;
  • Establishing a Food and Beverage Tax Receipts Fund in the Town of Merrillville;
  • Clarifying responsibilities of unpaid debts between landlord and tenants;
  • Permitting civil rights actions to be tried by a jury in the case of employment discrimination; and
  • Transitioning the current state-operated Gary Community School Corporation back to the city of Gary.

House Bill 1482 would institute same-day voter registration. Voters could register at the polls by completing a voter registration form and an affirmation that the individual has not voted elsewhere in the election and by providing proof of residence.

“There are many conditions that may prevent an Indiana resident who is entitled to register to vote under Indiana law to be absent during the registration period applicable to them,” Smith said. “Rather than being penalized and then diminishing the opportunity to impact their community, they should be able to exercise their right to vote and register at the polls.”

House Bill 1483 prohibits bullying in schools and requires the governing body of a school corporation to prioritize the safety of targeted students. Under the bill, parents of targeted students and perpetrators must be informed of incidents and school corporations must approve a transfer of a targeted student.

“There are countless factors outside the classroom and beyond an educator’s jurisdiction that influence a student’s behavior inside the classroom,” Smith said. “Our duty as educators and parents is to create an environment where our students feel safe and are safe, and to provide additional resources to parents to preserve their child’s mental and physical health and overall well-being.”

House Bill 1484 will require counties and municipalities that have police departments to establish a citizen review board to review complaints filed by citizens having personal knowledge of alleged misconduct by a police officer.

“The unfortunate truth is that there are victims in our communities who have been mistreated by those who are meant to protect us. For some it may be uncomfortable, difficult to report these cases to the agencies who work for or may work with these law enforcement officials,” Smith said. “Having an independently operated department or agency that specializes in police misconduct will not only ensure that reports are not mishandled, but also that the victims are provided with help they can trust in.”

House Bill 1485 allows a member of the 1925 police pension fund, 1937 firefighters’ pension fund, 1953 police pension fund (Indianapolis), or 1977 police officers’ and firefighters’ pension and disability fund to withdraw from the deferred retirement option plan (DROP) and make an election to enter the DROP for a second time.

“Indiana is a working state. Hoosiers that are not yet ready to retire and who want to continue dedicating their time and skills to the community should be able to benefit from the DROP,” Smith said. “The problem is that many DROPs allow an individual to participate only for a limited period of time. Hoosiers shouldn’t have their working years cut short of this program when it should be lasting up until their decision to retire.”

House Bill 1486 prohibits ownership and requires the surrender of firearms from a person who is convicted of domestic violence.

“It’s time to stop giving chances to individuals who have already proved themselves to be destructive,” Smith said. “We must do everything we can to keep victims of domestic violence safe.”

House Bill 1487 requires a person who carries a handgun to obtain and continuously maintain a liability insurance policy that covers losses or damages resulting from the negligent or accidental use of the handgun.

“Handguns are amongst the smallest and most easily concealed firearms that can be mishandled outside of a monitored situation,” Smith said. “Having measures set in place that safeguard the owner from any negligent or accidental misuse are long overdue. This is ultimately about responsible gun ownership.”

House Bill 1488 establishes a Food and Beverage Tax Receipts Fund that can be used for financing a convention center, community center or other economic development projects in Merrillville.

“The town of Merrillville is currently undergoing an economic struggle that will not go away on its own,” Smith said. “This community is in need of an additional revenue stream to help develop local establishments which will not only revitalize the region, but also provide new sources of income for Merrillville residents.”

House Bill 1489 prevents landlords from experiencing liens on their properties due to tenants’ unpaid utility fees regarding sewer and stormwater fees.

“There are many cases where a tenant refuses to pay any supposed ‘final expenses’ owed to their account due to a lack of understanding between the tenant and landlord,” Smith said. “This bill eliminates any gray area by making it clear on what expenses belong to who under these circumstances.”

House Bill 1490 permits a civil rights action to be tried by a jury in a case of employment discrimination, removing the requirement that both parties must consent before a civil rights claim is heard as a civil cause of action.

“Discriminatory claims handled by the employer may result in differences in quality or manner in which the claim is handled,” Smith said. “These cases involving the nature of the employee should be considered by a non-affiliated group in order to preserve integrity.”

House Bill 1491 transitions the currently state operated financial management of Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC) back to the city of Gary.

“We conducted workshops over the summer where community members came in to discuss the future of Gary Community School Corporation, and the will of the people in the district is as follows: to improve academic outcomes and grow our historically under-invested community,” Smith said. “We have seen their accomplishments and it’s time to give them back the power to make further changes.”

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