Indiana Republican leaders call for short, ‘fine-tuning’ session

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Keep it short. That has been the directive from leadership in Indiana leading up to the 2024 legislative session.

But with the approaching 2024 general election and following landmark conservative legislation in recent years, including a near-total ban on abortion, a wide expansion on school vouchers and a law restricting the use of students’ preferred pronouns in schools, that might not take place.

It’s likely legislation on similar social issues will reach the floor again, even while leaders of the state’s Republican trifecta say they want a session of “fine-tuning” policy.

Here is what is and isn’t expected this year.

The session beginning Jan. 8 must adjourn by March 14 and will be closed to items with a fiscal impact. Indiana holds longer, budget-making sessions during odd years.

The consistent top priority across the statehouse and political aisle this year is improving literacy and education outcomes following significant setbacks from the pandemic. About 18% of third graders did not pass Indiana’s reading test last year, according to the Department of Education.

Indiana policy is to hold back students who do not pass the test, but GOP lawmakers say exemptions allow students to easily move on to the next grade and want to tighten the regulation. More than 96% of students who did not pass the reading test were advanced to the fourth grade, the education department reported.

Critics say class sizes are at risk of becoming unmanageable and schools will not have the appropriate staff or resources to keep up should legislation cause more students to repeat grades.

Truancy also has been a focus for lawmakers going into the new year. About 1 in 5 students were chronically absent from Indiana schools during the 2022-2023 year, meaning they missed about three and a half weeks of class, according to department data.

Bipartisan concern has been leveled at the cost and availability of early childcare in Indiana. Republican leaders have indicated interest in easing regulations to make it easier to open and operate childcare facilities, while Democratic lawmakers have called for a childcare tax credit.

“Daycare is a constant challenge from the Ohio River to the Michigan line,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, a Republican, said in a speech outlining priorities in November.