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Variety of legislative proposals win approval at Statehouse
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2016 Indiana General Assembly

Variety of legislative proposals win approval at Statehouse

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Republican-controlled General Assembly doesn't just act on major legislation, such as the "hold harmless" ISTEP testing "hold harmless" protections for A-F school grades and teacher performance pay that were enacted into law last week.

Representatives and senators also vote on dozens of other measures early in the 10-week legislative session that ultimately may or may not become state law.

Here's a look at some of the proposals that won approval last week by either the House or Senate (vote in parentheses). Each still must pass the opposite chamber to go to Republican Gov. Mike Pence for his signature or veto.

Cursive writing (30-18) — For the fifth year in a row, the Senate approved a mandate that public and private elementary schools teach cursive writing. Cursive writing instruction was made optional in 2011 by the Indiana Department of Education in favor of teaching keyboarding skills.

Similar measures repeatedly have failed to advance in the House because state Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, the chairman of the Education Committee, does not believe a cursive mandate is needed because school corporations still can teach cursive if they choose. Senate Bill 73 includes state Sens. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, among its co-sponsors.

Spay or neuter (96-0) — House Bill 1201, sponsored by state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, requires cats and dogs at public and private animal care facilities be spayed or neutered prior to being made available for adoption, starting in 2021. The measure also directs the Board of Animal Health to compile a registry of every animal control center, shelter and similar companion animal adoption facility in the state.

Lawson said Indiana's lack of a spay or neuter requirement leads to thousands of abandoned animals each year and significant animal care expense for local governments. "I truly believe that this legislation will have a positive effect on both Indiana and the cat and dog population, while lifting a tremendous burden off the shoulders of animal care facilities," she said.

BMV regulations (96-0) — After Indiana was forced to refund millions of dollars in Bureau of Motor Vehicles overcharges, state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, agreed to take on the largely thankless task of simplifying and clarifying the thousands of rules, regulations and fees implemented by the state's vehicle registration and driver licensing agency.

The result, House Bill 1087, is a 431-page monster that eliminates 163 different fees, reduces the 191 ways to register a vehicle to 23 and simplifies processes that motorists must deal with at least once a year. "We worked in a bipartisan manner to produce clear and comprehensive legislation that will positively impact Hoosiers and help the BMV become more user-friendly," said Soliday, chairman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee.

Unclaimed veterans (50-0) — Senate Bill 145 permits veteran service organizations to take possession and bury the remains of a military veteran who is unclaimed by family or friends one year after death. State Sens. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and Randolph were among 13 Senate co-sponsors.

Disability ID (93-0) — House Bill 1012, co-sponsored by state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, requires the State Department of Public Health issue an identification card, upon request, to Hoosiers who have been medically diagnosed with a developmental disability.

Fresh food initiative (37-11) — Senate Bill 15, co-sponsored by Randolph, establishes, but does not fund, a state grant and loan program to support grocers and other retailers of fresh, unprocessed foods that choose to operate in a "food desert" — generally a low-income area where fresh foods are scarce.

Foreclosure mischief (48-0) — Senate Bill 183, co-sponsored by state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, makes it a misdemeanor crime to intentionally damage the structure or fixtures of a home in foreclosure. The crime is a felony if the damage is more than $50,000.


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HAMMOND — Don't expect everyday to be like a typical episode of CSI on television but Hammond Police crime scene investigators and detectives say a day of investigation can be painstaking, tedious and overwhelmingly sad.

"We're not all dressed in suits or having a cup of coffee like you see on TV," Det. Jason Gonzalez said.

Hammond Master Sargeants Allan Retske and Robert Vaught, who share responsibilities in charge of the department's crime scene unit, Sgt. Butch Logan, Community Affairs, and Gonzalez spoke to more than 150 Bishop Noll Institute students Thursday to give them a better picture of how they gather evidence.

This is an entry-level STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Math) offered to freshmen students as they explore STEM topics. The students also have done projects on drones, website design and energy-efficient housing.

Three BNI teachers are involved including Rebecca Dostatni, Paul Douglass and Anthony Hoolihan.

Dostatni said the STEM class has eight different projects. She wanted the Hammond police to talk to students about the importance of problem solving, and how police have to think critically on a daily basis to solve a crime.

BNI Principal Craig Stafford said the high school offers a STEM elective to students in grades 10 through 12.

"Over the next three years, we will be developing a 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-grade STEM class," he said. "The current freshmen will take a STEM course every year they are enrolled at BNI. The curriculum has been (and will be) developed by teachers representing all departments, including myself, and Dr. Carla Johnson from Purdue (West Lafayette). She is a professor and STEM expert."

Dostatni said the students are collecting data on the City of Hammond and other communities in Northwest Indiana and the Chicago suburbs, looking at the crime rates and creating data.

The Hammond officers brought numerous items to show students including casting for footprints and a fingerprint kit. The police authorities said a laser projection of bullet trajectories is one of the latest innovations in crime scene investigation. The kit contains all of the tools necessary to provide vital information about the flight of the bullet.

Retske and Vaught said after the evidence has been collected, they go back and diagram the crime scene.

Gonzalez said his work is to investigate the case, and he told students the first 48 hours are critical.

"It's important to talk to witnesses, neighbors, the family and the suspects," he said.

"A lot of them are willing to come and discuss with me what happened, how it went down. what the beef was  and why everyone was angry," Gonzalez said. "When I was in patrol working at high schools as a resource officer, I often talked to kids. The next thing you know, they may be sitting in a box and we're talking about why he or she had a situation that turned violent and someone was killed."

Noll freshmen Alejandra Wedryk and A.J. Vazquez said the students are collecting data, and putting together statistics about various types of crime in Hammond and neighboring cities.

Wedryk said she is interested in forensic science and thinks that could be an interesting career. Vaqquez said he has been watching CSI, and is more interested in it after listening to the Hammond officers.

Stafford said Bishop Noll has a total enrollment of 536 students, a 14-year high for the Catholic school. He said about 48 percent of the students use a voucher. A voucher or Indiana Choice Scholarship allows a family to use public school tax dollars to enroll in a private school.

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