Senate Democrats try and mostly fail to advance agenda in budget bill

By Emily Ketterer
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Senate Democrats made one last effort Monday to pass a comprehensive hate crimes law– this time within the state budget. 

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis offered two different amendments that would address the protected classes of age, gender and gender identity, which were left out of legislation Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law two weeks ago. The amendments defined a bias crime as one committed against an individual because of color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation plus age, gender or gender identity.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, introduced an amendment to add hate crime language to the budget bill.Photo by Andrew Longstreth, TheStateHouseFile.com

Republican Sen. Mike Bohacek of Michiana Shores argued the bill signed into law includes everyone with a wrap-around statement that says, “including but not limited to,” and therefore, Taylor’s amendments were redundant.

Taylor and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, fired questions at Bohacek, asking why gender identity wasn’t specifically included.

“Isn’t it true the reason gender identity isn’t in the bill is because you couldn’t get the votes to pass it?” Lanane asked.

Bohacek said he could not answer why gender identity was not specifically listed.

Taylor’s efforts both failed 12-37. His amendments were two of 34 amendments called to the Senate floor during the lengthy debate on the state budget.

The Senate’s version of the state budget, House Bill 1001, includes the same $34.6 billion expenditures as the House version, but differed in funding to the Department of Child Services funding and K-12 education. The budget leaves $2.2 billion in reserves which is much higher than Holcomb’s original proposal of $1.8 billion.

DCS requested a $286 million annual increase in their budget, and the Senate stripped that down to $243 million in 2020 and $223 million in 2021. The Senate did not back down on using half of the budget to go toward K-12 funding, but does not specify a mandatory teacher pay increase, a contentious topic throughout the session.

In an attempt to accomplish what they couldn’t before, Democrats passed five out of 31 amendments they called––which is an increase from the one and a half amendments the House Democrats passed on the budget in their chamber. 

The failed amendments included a five percent teacher pay increase, equal pay, raising minimum wage to $11, a cigarette tax and including gender identity as a discriminatory factor in schools and the workplace.

Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, also offered an amendment to prevent state funding from going to schools who choose to discriminate, such as when a Roncalli High School guidance counselor was fired because she was married to a woman. His effort failed.

“The state should not be promoting the hurting of families with our taxpayer dollars,” Ford said.

One of the five victories for the Democrats was the passage of an amendment to increase funding to local jails from $35 per day a prisoner is in jail to $45 per day to address the overcrowding issue. The amendment, authored by Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, passed in a close 27-22 vote with bipartisan support.

The different versions of the budget will have to be sorted out between the House and Senate. The Senate’s budget will go to the floor for a vote Tuesday. 

Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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