Days of the living dead

This is the season of the zombie bills, the bad bills that refuse to die. You think you’ve driven a stake through their heart, but they rise and keep coming. Or so it seems.

For example, House Bill 1134, Indiana Republicans’ response to the phony outrage over schools teaching “critical race theory,” faced overwhelming public opposition. It was supposedly dead after the Senate failed to approve it by a deadline. Then it wasn’t: Legislative leaders said they would revive parts of the bill. Then it was dead again when they couldn’t agree on how to do that. But will it stay dead?

We won’t know until the session is adjourned.

As approved by the House, HB 1134 would have banned teaching about certain “divisive concepts,” required teachers to post lesson plans online, let parents sue over supposed violations, and so on. A Senate committee removed some of the worst provisions; but the Senate Republican caucus, after an apparently contentious closed-door meeting, let the bill die.

“We had some members of our caucus who felt like it didn’t go far enough,” Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray told reporters. “We had some members of our caucus that felt like it was too much of a burden on education and just not good policy that we wanted to move forward.”

Bray thought lawmakers would add parts of HB 1134 to other bills. Here’s how that would work:

When a bill is passed by one chamber, then amended and passed by the other chamber, it can be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to work out the differences. But a conference committee isn’t limited to the provisions of that bill. It can add language from any bill that was approved by the House or the Senate, provided the topic is related to the underlying bill.

Because HB 1134 was approved by the House, any of its language could be added to another education bill. And there are at least 10 education-related bills that conference committees are working on.

House Speaker Todd Huston said it’s unlikely that HB 1134 will be revived. House members, he said, want all or nothing. Maybe, but I’m not holding my breath.

The same holds true, theoretically, for House Bill 1072, which would have required school districts to share revenue from property-tax referendums with charter schools. The House barely passed the bill, 52-39. It died without a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Because it was approved by the House, the language could be added to another bill by a conference committee. Rep. Bob Behning, chair of the House Education Committee and the author of HB 1072, is the House Republican on seven conference committees, so he could find it a home. Fortunately, the idea seems to have little support in the Senate.

Lawmakers can also “strip and insert” a bill, deleting all its content and replacing it with language they prioritize. That’s what they’re doing with legislation to let Hoosiers carry handguns without a license.

The bad news is that most of these machinations will take place behind closed doors. Reporters, lobbyists and advocates are scrambling to keep track, but with nearly 50 bills assigned to conference committees, it’s not an easy task. There’s no accountability for who decides what.

The good news is that legislators are reportedly in a hurry to finish their work and get the hell out of Dodge. While they don’t have to finish until March 14, leaders hope to wrap up this week, possibly today. The sooner they’re done, the less opportunity for mischief.

2 thoughts on “Days of the living dead

  1. Pingback: Session could have been worse for education | School Matters

  2. Pingback: Steve Hinnefeld: Indiana Legislature Ends Session with Minimal Damage to Schools | Diane Ravitch's blog

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