Indiana Senate Democrats have unveiled their priorities for the 2021 legislative session, including changes to the minimum wage, worker’s compensation, police reform and voter access.
Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor was joined by other members of the Democratic Caucus to discuss their action plan.
“As we know, things look quite different from the past,” said Taylor. “However, this caucus will continue to make sure that all Hoosiers are heard in this building. This pandemic has quickly and overwhelmingly showed how public policy is lacking in many ways.”
Democrats plan to introduce legislation to hike the minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 per hour.
State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary) says his bill would raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour beginning January 2022. The hourly pay would increase $1 each year until reaching $15 per hour in 2027.
“A worker making this amount ($7.25) would have to work 73 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment or even childcare. That does not include other expenses such as gas, groceries, transportation,” said Melton.
Melton points out Illinois is incrementally raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.
Democrats also intend to introduce Senate Bill 220 which would address Worker’s Compensation, which provides benefits to workers injured on the job. The benefits are set by state statute.
“In 2013, we set a new benefit schedule, setting raises for 2014, 15 and 16. That benefit schedule has been capped out since 2016. And we should have reset it in 2017. So, it’s now 2021. We are five years late,” said State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes).
Tallian says her bill would call for a 10% boost of benefits on the front end to make up for the lack of increases in recent years.
“No one should financially struggle because they’re injured at work. And injured workers should not be penalized because the failure of the legislature to act,” said Tallian.
The senators said they will also be pushing for a justice reform agenda in 2021, including the ban on no-knock warrants and chokehold maneuvers used by police.
“As we’ve seen incidents that occurred with George Floyd and Brianna Taylor, these incidents should not take place any longer. We want to be proactive in the state of Indiana to address these issues,” said Melton.
Melton says the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus called for a special session during the summer to address these issues, but the session was never called.
“So, I’m urging our colleagues who support these initiatives,” said Melton.
The Democratic leadership says it will also be pushing for an expansion of voting laws, including the addition of no-excuse absentee voting.
Senator J.D. Ford, who serves as Democratic Caucus Chair, says Indiana has some of the strictest voting laws in the nation.
“We should be making sure all Hoosiers have full and easy access to their constitutional right to vote. Barriers to voting need to be struck down,” said Ford (D-Indianapolis).
Ford says the state was able to adjust to voting challenges brought on by COVID-19 restrictions during the May primary by allowing mail-in ballots. He says the flexibility should have been allowed in November.
“If Indiana wants to be a leader in this country, and demonstrate our commitment to free and fair elections, then this is a necessary step for us to expand access to one of our most important constitutional rights,” said Ford.
While not one of the top four priorities, Tallian says she intends to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana use in Indiana.