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Harris: The three best and three worst bills I’ve voted on during the first half of the 2024 legislative session

State Rep. Earl Harris highlights mixed legislative progress, emphasizing victories for retirees and public health while opposing bills that threaten community safety and economic development. Photo credit: Canva

Now that the 2024 legislative session has reached its halfway point, there is no better time to reflect and take stock of the flurry of bills passing through the House of Representatives. This year has been a mixed bag of bill proposals that reinforce the pride I feel in representing my community, and others that remind me of the battles worth fighting for my constituents.

Chief among those battles is a hard-fought victory that, if passed in the Senate and signed into law, will go a long way in helping retired Hoosiers pay their bills. House Bill 1004 would introduce a 13th check to address the rising cost of living. With this bill in place, recipients would have to worry less about balancing groceries, utilities, and other costs that can be difficult to manage on a fixed income. The passing of this bill would ensure an even greater degree of economic freedom for our seniors and stimulate the wider economy. Most importantly, it would increase the standard of living for Hoosiers on a fixed income.

I am thrilled to see HB 1004 pass through the House, and hope that Republican lawmakers will do the right thing and stand behind Hoosier retirees. With this bill, we can signal to Hoosiers of all ages that a lifetime of paying taxes will guarantee a respectable payout.

This session, House Democrats have made great strides in providing solutions that will better the health of Hoosiers across the state. One such bill is House Bill 1053, which would affirm in Indiana code that test strips are not drug paraphernalia, but a powerful harm reduction tool. Not only would this save lives by preventing overdoses, it would also bring Indiana into alignment with other states like Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi. Additionally, HB 1053 would also make Indiana eligible for up to $977.5 million in critical federal funding for substance use disorder recovery and other behavioral health initiatives.

Another bill aimed at improving Indiana’s public health is House Bill 1058. The bill would open the door for more women to detect early-stage breast cancer. Women with dense breast tissue experience a higher risk of developing breast cancer. But currently, there is no requirement for health providers to inform women if they do have dense breast tissue. When detected during its early stages, an individual’s chance of survival rises to 93%. HB 1058 would establish a protocol for doctors to inform mammogram patients if they are discovered to have dense tissue so they can take further precautions. If passed into law, this bill has the potential to save thousands of Hoosier lives from this devastating disease.

While I am proud to see these three bills move to the Senate, other pieces of legislation that have surfaced are deeply concerning. This year, Republicans have the following three bills to strip away protections for the most vulnerable in our communities, threaten public safety and limit the power of local governments.

House Bill 1093 calls to roll back protections for Hoosier children working in agriculture. It would extend the allotted hours children are able to work and permit them to operate dangerous machinery. HB 1093 works against child labor laws meant to protect our kids. It places them directly in harm’s way, allowing them to work with machinery that can easily result in injury or death if mishandled. The consequences of this proposed legislation are far too great, and we cannot allow it to become law and put our kids at risk.

Another baffling piece of legislation is House Bill 1143, permitting police to sell firearms confiscated by convicts. Essentially, if a firearm cannot be legally returned to these people, police could trade them in exchange for new police gear. Trading to third parties is a step towards enabling more guns on the streets; a disturbing prospect considering gun violence is the leading cause of death for children and teens in Indiana. This bill offers a solution to provide police funding, an issue that would not even exist had we not enacted permitless carry. The answer is not encouraging the further trade and distribution of guns. Instead, we should be focusing on measures that preserve Hoosier’s 2nd amendment rights while also protecting our children from senseless violence.

Republicans are also promoting legislation to uproot efforts to fund improvements for the Indianapolis Mile Square. House Bill 1199 would repeal the Mile Square Economic Enhancement District (EED) law, created with the passage of the Republican state budget last year and adopted by the Indianapolis City-County Council last fall. Effectively, last year’s efforts to raise additional to funds to finance outreach programs for unhoused individuals and increased safety downtown would be erased.

Though Republicans seem determined to send our state backwards, us Democrats will not sit idly by and allow that to happen without a fight. As we make our way into the final half of session, I will continue to champion Democrat-led bills that will benefit Hoosiers and staunchly oppose those that stifle progress in our state.

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