Education, public health are topics at Third House

Three state lawmakers representing parts of Bartholomew County chatted online with constituents Monday at the first Third House session of the year, with most of the questions revolving around education and public health.

Third House sessions, sponsored by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, are opportunities for community members to interact with legislators during the legislative session, and are continuing in a virtual format with questions submitted in advance from the public. Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus; Rep. Jennifer Meltzer, R-Shelbyville; and Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, logged in to Monday’s Third House.

One bill that was discussed was HB 1620, co-authored by Meltzer, which would require school board candidates to declare a political party and “be nominated in the same manner as candidates for all other elected offices are nominated.”

“Despite the fact that we don’t actually at the moment declare a political affiliation, our school boards are political,” Meltzer said during the event. “I think we saw in our last cycle for school boards a significant uptick in the number of school board elections that were being funded by outside sources and that the candidates were hiding behind the fact that they didn’t have to declare a political party, and when I was knocking on doors and talking to constituents, this is the feedback I was getting, that they wanted them to declare a party. They thought that it added transparency.”

Another bill that discussed, HB 1406, co-authored by Lauer, would add the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and five other school corporations to a high school equivalency pilot program.

“There had been a previous pilot, and this is an expansion of that pilot,” Lauer said during the meeting. “…And what this (pilot) is going to do is to really give more opportunities to those (students) that have not completed high school or are at risk of not graduating to really focus and provide extra help and work for these individuals to be able to just go out and complete their high school, to get their degree and hopefully along the way get exposure to other opportunities out there to take that extra step after they’re done. But I think we’ve seen that this program does have a positive effect, and the whole goal is to make sure that we’re not losing track of these individuals who are at risk of dropping out and at risk of not completing their high school education.”

According to the most recent version of the bill, the other school corporations that would be added to the pilot program include Elwood Community School Corp., Anderson Community Schools, Clark-Pleasant Community School Corp., Center Grove Community School Corp. and Greenwood Community School Corp.

Walker was asked about SB 368, which would would establish an early childhood care and education pilot program that would provide a cost-sharing approach to fund early childhood care and education. Under the pilot program, participating employers, the state and the parents or guardians would each pay one-third of the cost for an eligible child to receive care, according to the current version of the bill.

Currently, Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties are listed as participating counties.

While Walker is not an author or co-author of the bill, he chairs the Family and Children Services Committee, where the bill is pending.

“I think there is broad support (for the bill),” Walker said. “…I do think there is a broad recognition that this is a business-friendly and family-friendly need.”

One submitted question from the public was asked by “the parent of a child with gender dysphoria” who wanted to “understand the passing of legislation to prevent doctors from giving gender-affirming care to minors,” referring to bills introduced by Lauer and other members of the Indiana General Assembly.

Lauer authored HB 1231, which would bar health care professionals in Indiana from providing children younger than 18 with gender reassignment surgery, puberty blockers, hormone therapy, among other treatments that aim to help enable them to present as a gender different from the sex on their birth certificate, according to a copy of the bill.

The measure also would prohibit public funds from being used to reimburse or cover the procedures for minors, bar the distribution of public funds to organizations that provide gender-affirming procedures and punish medical providers who provide the treatments anyway by exposing them to civil liability.

Lauer defended his support for his bill, saying that he was “shocked” that these procedures and treatments have “come in so quickly, not only to our culture, but to our state.”

“My bill prohibits surgeries on children, puberty blockers and cross-sex sex hormones that shunt the growth of children that have repercussions — that there are no long-term studies that we’re aware of — but we’re seeing some of the deleterious effects just a few short years later in these very consequential times during a child’s development and growth,” Lauer said. “…I think we have a duty to protect these children, and it’s, I believe, time to do something about that. So, there are other bills in the House that have similar goals, and we’ll see, as we start the debate, where the legislation goes.”

Walker, for his part, has signed onto SB 480 as a co-author. The Senate bill also would prohibit a physician or other practitioner from knowingly providing gender-transition procedures to an individual who is less than 18 years of age that are intended to alter the gender of the minor or delay puberty.

Walker said he signed onto the bill “in order to have that conversation about some of the long-term effects of administering estrogen and testosterone or other agents that there’s not a physical, medical need (or) indication for these particular hormones.”

“I hope this is not seen as a prejudice or a bias against children and their families who are looking for this kind of medical treatment, but there does seem to be a rising tide of requests for this kind of treatment, and I want to understand better are there long term effects of estrogen and testosterone on development if, with time, the gender preference changes back to that from the biological beginning, and does that cause long-term harm?” Walker said. “I’m aware of statistics that talk about the mental anguish that may result from those who are transitioning gender or seeking to or believing they want to. There’s unfortunately a lot of mental anguish in a lot of kids these days, And I’m not sure that we’ve got a good handle on why all that is.”