INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus announced its 2019 legislative agenda Monday morning, focusing on four main issues for the session: hate crime legislation, increasing teacher salaries, a study of violent crime and traffic amnesty.
Thirteen Democrats, from both the House and the Senate, make up the IBLC.
At a press conference Monday morning, IBLC Chair Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, said the main issues not only reflect the IBLC, but minorities across the state. In addition to those four issues, the IBLC is also pushing for legislation on equal pay wage disclosure, racial profiling, driver instructions on traffic stops, a study on housing and food insecurity among college students and more.
Rep. Gregory W. Porter, D-Indianapolis, has been pushing for a hate crime law in Indiana for more than 15 years.
Porter said people seemed excited about moving hate crime legislation forward over the summer, but things move slow in the legislative session, so he wants to make sure it gets done.
“Yes, the governor has said that he would like this to move forward,” Porter said. “However, it’s a long way from Jan. 8. … I’ve already seen some bottlenecking on the Senate side.”
Porter said the law would need to have the list of categories protected, unlike one bill already filed in Indiana. He said to not do so would be a “step back.”
“Because, for example, we use the term ‘race,’” Porter said. “Race doesn't just mean someone of African-American descent. It doesn't mean someone of Mexican-American descent, Latinos. It means everybody. It means Caucasian, Europeans, everyone. The dialogue that's been going on around this bill needs to change. It protects everyone. Let's understand that. It protects the homosexual as much as it does the heterosexual.”
Increasing teacher salaries
Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, wants to increase teacher salaries by 5 percent, which would come out to 2.5 percent in each of the next two years.
Local school communities have done all they can on their end to increase teacher pay, Melton said. It’s just a matter of giving them the money for it.
How would Indiana pay for the teacher pay increase? Melton said the money would have to come from different budgets, such as corporate income taxes and the tuition reserve.
“We can’t forget about our [$1.8 billion] surplus as well,” he said. “We can’t be afraid to make the investment in our educational system.”
Violent crime study
The IBLC will push to create a summer study committee to look at violent crime as a public health issue.
“Gun violence is a significant public health danger that has had devastating effects, both nationally and in our state,” Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, said. “Far too many people have lost their lives through this senseless violence, and it becomes particularly hard to bear when the victims are children.”
2018 was another record-breaking year in Indianapolis, with 159 criminal homicides. The city broke the record for four consecutive years.
Shackleford has proposed a bill that would give relief to the nearly 500,000 Hoosiers who currently have their driving privileges suspended from unpaid fines, such as parking fees, traffic violations, and reinstatement fees.
Her bill would establish a traffic amnesty program that would reduce the amount of obligations based on a person’s income.
“It's a win-win because right now, the state is not receiving a lot of that money,” Shackleford said. “They're just sitting on a lot of those fees. On average, people owe about $5,000-$6,000 in taxes and fees. Not only are we getting people back on the streets, they have to have insurance. It'll create a win-win situation."
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