INDIANAPOLIS - As the 2020 Indiana General Assembly begins, Republicans and Democrats in both the Indiana House and Senate have released their legislative priorities for the short session. The issues range from standardized testing in Hoosier schools to raising the smoking and vaping age to 21, as well as increasing healthcare cost transparency and lowering prescription drug prices.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) released the House priorities, which focus on education, healthcare, and fiscal responsibility from state government. Among the priorities is House Bill 1002, which would remove the state requirement that student test scores be tied to teacher evaluations. Another bill would allow the State Board of Education to streamline and merge teacher training requirements or recommend their elimination.

House Republicans will also look to prohibit healthcare providers from charging surprise out-of-network rates at facilities that are in a patient's insurance network. A House bill will also aim to raise the smoking and vaping age in Indiana from 18 to 21.

“We are hitting the ground at a record pace and fast-tracking a number of priority bills this week, including those supporting teachers and saving taxpayers over $130 million,” Bosma said in a news release. “House Republicans are also focused on reducing growing health care costs and helping Hoosier workers reach their potential. We remain committed to making Indiana a better place to live, work and raise a family while remaining fiscally responsible.”

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) detailed his caucus' priorities for 2020 which, in addition to education and healthcare, also focus on school safety.

GiaQuinta says House Democrats will focus on fixing the state's standardized testing system, increasing teacher pay, and holding charter, virtual charter and voucher programs to the same accountability and transparency standards as traditional public schools. They will also look to fund more school protection officers, create access to mental health services for more students in public schools, and expanding access and fully funding statewide pre-K programs.

On healthcare, House Democrats will seek to lower prescription drug prices, expand access to the Healthy Indiana Plan and invest in paid family medical leave.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rod Brady (R-Martinsville) unveiled the priorities for Senate Republicans, which align with the House Republican caucus. They include increasing healthcare cost transparency, reducing government debt by using cash to pay for several capital projects, and raising the smoke and vaping age to 21. 

“In this short session my caucus members and I will focus on some key areas where we want to move our state forward,” Bray said in a news release. “Chief among them is reducing health care costs for Hoosiers and holding schools harmless for the 2019 ILEARN results as we transition to the more rigorous test. Though session will move quickly, I’m confident we will make strides that will positively affect our state.”

Senate Bill 2, which would hold schools harmless from the 2019 ILEARN exam results, passed through the Senate Education and Career Development Committee on the first day of the session.

Senate Democrats did not release a specific list of priorities for 2020, however Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) released a statement in response to the Republicans' priorities.

“My colleagues across the aisle have once again released an uninspiring list of priorities that come nowhere close to meeting the demands of Hoosiers. They have further doubled down on their promise not to address inadequate teacher pay. They have neglected the burning issue of gerrymandering in the final year that the redistricting process can be altered. They have ignored the voices of thousands of Hoosiers who demand gun safety and marijuana decriminalization.

Prioritizing the transparency of health care costs without also fighting to lower those costs does little to help sick Hoosiers who are fighting bankruptcy due to unaffordable medicine, whether they know the costs up front or not.

Holding K-12 schools harmless from ILEARN results without also restructuring the entire accountability system so this does not happen once again in another four years does nothing to restore integrity to our school evaluation process.

Addressing government debt pre-approved in the state budget by cash funding projects with unexpected revenue does nothing for long-term success for our state’s economy. Nonetheless, Indiana’s taxpayers bear the burden of an overwhelming surplus in which they reap none of the rewards.

Raising the smoking and vaping age in Indiana to 21 is a rather pointless priority when the federal government raised the age nationally less than a month ago. Additionally, the same argument used by my colleagues to justify state action to raise the age is the exact opposite reason they will not legalize marijuana in our state. With marijuana, they cower at the feet of the federal government, even when Hoosiers demand reform.

While I am disappointed yet again that the Senate Republicans failed to put Hoosiers first in their priorities, I will continue to push forward on my own caucus’ priorities to end gerrymandering, stop preventable gun deaths and decriminalize marijuana.”