Bad bills may get better – or not

Two of the worst bills filed in this year’s Indiana legislative session are on the agenda Monday morning for a meeting of the House Education Committee. At least, they started out as two of the worst.

The authors of the bills have said they will offer amendments Monday to remove the most egregious provisions. But advocates for public schools and their students need to make sure they do that – and that the provisions don’t return somewhere later in the legislative process.

House Bill 1641, as introduced, would require public school districts to share the proceeds from property-tax referendums with local charter schools. It would also force public districts to sell unused building to private schools, most of which are religious schools, for half their value. Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education has a good explanation for why both are bad ideas.

Rep. Robert Behning, the bill’s author, released an amendment Friday that would remove those provisions. It would leave in the bill language expanding the state charter school board from seven to nine members and making changes in charter-school admissions rules.

But the provisions he plans to drop have influential supporters. As the Indianapolis Star explained, they are tied to a deal that would enable Indianapolis Public Schools to make money by selling the recently closed Broad Ripple High School building while also helping the Indy Eleven soccer franchise.

House Bill 1253, as authored by Rep. Jim Lucas, would repeal the state law that bans the possession of firearms in schools, on school property and on school buses. (Current law makes an exception to the ban for school resource officers and other individuals authorized by school boards to have weapons). Lucas’ bill would make it legal, at least technically, for 18-year-old students to bring guns to school.

Lucas, who seems to think the answer to gun violence is for everyone to be armed, has made a legislative career out of tilting at gun laws. His introduced bill also would provide broad immunity to lawsuits for people who engage in “justified use force” on school property.

According to a Twitter post by Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, the bill is expected to be amended Monday to remove those provisions, leaving a proposal for state funding for teachers to take part in NRA-certified firearm training. “Concerning but not alarming,” she said.

But as Joel Hand, who lobbies for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, wrote, “Just because the amendment is posted does not mean it will be offered or that it will pass in committee.” And even if the objectionable provisions are dropped, they could come back later as amendments on the House floor or in the Senate, or in other bills.

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