INDIANAPOLIS - Lawmakers bumping up against a deadline to clear out of town for basketball scrapped controversial education standards and overhauled proposed drug testing rules for some welfare recipients Wednesday. They were still seeking compromises on two of the session's biggest items: spending for major road expansions and a proposal to send low-income children to preschool.
Legislative leaders planned to end their 2014 session Thursday, shortly before lawmakers make way for the Big 10 Tournament being played just down the road from the Statehouse this weekend.
The Senate gave final approval to a bill that formally pulls the state out of the Common Core set of education guidelines. The measure is somewhat symbolic -- the State Board of Education is already well on its way to crafting Indiana-specific standards as a result of legislation passed last year -- but still a mark of growing anger among both conservatives and liberals on the issue.
Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, wrote the measure, but had his name pulled from the bill Wednesday after learning a compromise had been reached that would see the state set its standards to meet critical federal funding requirements.
"This goes beyond the issue of this bill," Schneider said. "And that is the whole issue of state's rights versus federal intervention in whatever policy we're stressing."
Supporters of the national standards, which were pushed by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett, are generally quick to note that the Common Core was originally created by organizations representing the nation's governors and schools chiefs.
The Common Core measure was one of several top-tier items approved by lawmakers with only one day left in their 2014 session. As of Wednesday afternoon, legislative leaders were still working on two major issues, the road spending and preschool proposals.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who included both measures in his agenda this year, left the Statehouse in the middle of the day Wednesday to speak at the 100th anniversary of Purdue University's road school, a transportation conference. The Lafayette Journal and Courier reported Pence said he is "cautiously optimistic" he will get the road money he is seeking from lawmakers.
"I am profoundly grateful to the Indiana General Assembly, and I hope at this time tomorrow I'm even more grateful to the Indiana General Assembly for their efforts and their support of infrastructure," Pence said. "I believe it's absolutely essential that in this session in the General Assembly we also free up additional resources."
House and Senate negotiators also considered a late overhaul of a proposal that would drug-test welfare recipients. Most of the changes made to a contested bill set to test certain welfare applicants were dropped days before the final legislative deadline.
Bill author Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, reinstated provisions in a proposal circulated Wednesday to screen all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for the likelihood of addiction. Certain applicants then would be drug tested.
The draft also adds back in a ban on buying foods not deemed "nutritional" by the state -- such as sugary drinks or candy -- with money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Senate changes to the bill eliminated the food benefits restrictions and limited drug tests to only applicants with prior drug convictions.
The constitutionality and feasibility of addiction screening and limits on SNAP benefits have been questioned as the bill moved through the House and Senate.
Critics say the bill would unfairly target the poor, while supporters argue it safeguards taxpayer dollars from being used to buy drugs and increases accountability for public assistance recipients.