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Star throwing, EMS services, food and drink tax bills pass through Indiana legislature

 

Dozens of bills are already moving through committees and legislative chambers in the middle of the third week of Indiana’s 2023 session.

The main focus of the General Assembly is on the development of the state budget for the next biennium. Numerous bills relating to health care, education, fiscal policy, and public safety also top the list of Republican-dominated legislatures.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle follows other bills as well. Here are a few to keep an eye on as lawmakers continue their deliberations.

Village Appraisers

Township assessors in several Indiana counties may face voters firing them from their jobs under a bill passed by the House of Representatives 61-37 on Monday.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, is now heading to the Senate for further consideration.

The bill would require county election commissions to place an open question on the ballot for the November 2024 general election asking whether the county should “stop paying the expenses of city assessors in the county.” All residents of the district will say, and not just residents of the affected town.

There are currently 13 City Assessors in nine different counties in Indiana. Lake County has five City Assessor Offices that will be abolished. Allen, Elkhart, Howard, LaPorte, Porter, St. Joseph, Vigo, and Wayne counties each each have one city office of appraiser.

Pressel argued that eliminating the single city assessor in LaPorte County could result in annual savings of up to $250,000, but Democrats in the House of Representatives opposed the bill. They stressed that cost savings in one county will not necessarily be the same in others, especially those requiring thousands of parcels to be evaluated.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, noted that Lake County, which currently has five City Assessors, is geographically dispersed. The liquidation of city offices would place a significant burden on the district assessor, he said. It will also create “difficulties” for residents who need to get to the county office.

“I think the premise is wrong. Our citizens have already made a record in Lake County saying what they want (Township Assessors),” Smith said. “I think we need to make some amendments to this bill so that ultimately we don’t feel the pulse of the people and how people worry about their city assessors.”

throwing stars

Legislators can make an exception in the Indiana code to allow recreational use of throwing stars, which have been banned in Indiana since 1985.

Under current law, a person who manufactures, imports, sells, or possesses a “Chinese Throwing Star” commits a Class C offense punishable by up to 60 days in prison.

The bill, introduced by Senator Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, would legalize the recreational use of star throwing at certain businesses, however, as long as there are safeguards in place for track throwing and spectators. Brown said the actions allowed would be similar to throwing an axe.

The bill would also replace the term “Chinese throwing star” with “throwing star” throughout Indiana’s state code.

The measure advanced 8-0 from the Senate Corrections Committee on Tuesday.

However, Democrats questioned whether one part of the bill should still be amended. They specifically pointed to a provision that allows minors as young as 12 to patronize the throwing star business without parental or guardian consent.

Committee chairman Senator Aaron Freeman of Indianapolis said the GOP Senate caucus is likely to support an amendment to the clause next week when the bill is considered by the full house.

Joel Wieneke, an attorney with the Indiana Board of Public Defenders, said the group supported the bill but recommended that lawmakers go one step further and remove the state’s star-throwing provision entirely. He referred to the lack of violations of the rules of throwing stars in the judicial system – since 2015, 10 charges have been filed for this offense.

Wieneke also pointed to existing state laws that provide appropriate penalties for individuals who endanger others when using weapons.

Costs for coroners and autopsies

County coroners can increase their pay and avoid certain autopsy costs under a bill that was unanimously advanced by the House Public Policy Committee on Tuesday.

Under current state law, the coroner of the county where the person died must bill the county where the incident that caused the death occurred to pay for the autopsy. Under the proposed change, the coroners of both counties are to discuss and agree on whether an autopsy is warranted at all.

A qualifying incident might include, for example, a car accident victim who had an accident in one county but died in a hospital in a neighboring county.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Heath VanNutter, Republican Kokomo, additionally provides that a medically licensed coroner should receive 1.5 times the remuneration of a non-licensed coroner. This provision applies to coroners elected or re-elected in the 2024 general election and thereafter.

EMS Services and 911 Operators

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 316 by Sen. Kyle Walker, R-Lawrence, to facilitate communications through various computerized emergency calling systems used by public safety agencies across the state.

The State 911 Council will explore the possibility of connecting to different systems so that emergency alerts can be relayed to the nearest agency, regardless of county boundaries.

Hancock County Emergency Director John Jokantas shared how public alerts have enabled emergency services in neighboring Shelby County to quickly arrive at the scene of an emergency near the county line and advocated greater inter-agency data sharing.

“People in an emergency don’t care what the name is on the side of the machine,” Jokantas said. “They just want to help.”

The bill goes into appropriations for approval before going to the full Senate.

A separate measure, drafted by Senator Jack Sandlin of Indianapolis, would eliminate residency requirements for 911 operators. Sandlin said the bill should help increase the number of operators hired at a time when 911 centers are “really” needed. The bill was moved from the Senate chamber on Monday in a 47-1 vote.

Taxes on food and drinks

An estimated $90 million a year food and drink tax may soon be revised.

Lawmakers say Senate Bill 37 will promote transparency and ensure that cities and counties use funds appropriately, while some of those communities resist change and say they are already accountable to taxpayers. It was passed unanimously by the Senate on Tuesday and is now under consideration in the House of Representatives.

The bill would eliminate all existing taxes on food and drink without a built-in expiration date either in 2045 or when the debt associated with the tax is paid off.

It would also require governments with such a tax to submit to the Local Government Department of Finance a list of each outstanding bond or lease by early May and report annually on the distribution of tax revenue and expenditure.

Senator Gaskill, R-Pendleton, failed in a similar attempt last year when the bill’s language was removed during a conference committee meeting – the latest step in the lawmaking process. But this year it is back on track, and the Senate unanimously approved it. Now he is moving to the House.

Protection of non-profit organizations

The Indiana Senate voted 50-0 to approve Tuesday a bill that provides privacy protections for nonprofits.

Senator Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, said, “We have great charities in Indiana. This ensures that their donors have privacy protection. Some people like to remain anonymous when they donate.”

Democratic Senator Greg Taylor of Indianapolis thanked her for proposing a bill that would protect all organizations equally, regardless of political or personal ideology.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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