Lawrence hosts Indiana Black Legislative Caucus


Members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus gathered at Lawrence Government Center April 13 for the first of a series of town hall meetings throughout the state, designed to inform constituents about bills that were approved — and some that were not approved — during the recently concluded legislative session,

Lawrence Mayor Deb Whitfield, the first Black female mayor in Marion County, welcomed the state lawmakers to the community.

“I want to personally thank you for your time and your effort,” she said. “I want to thank the audience for coming. This is a great opportunity because it’s the first time the town hall is being held in Lawrence.”

Caucus members who participated included Sens. Andrea Hunley (D-District 46) and Greg Taylor (D-District 33); and Reps. John Bartlett (D-District 95), Earl Harris Jr. (D-District 2), Rene Pack (D-District 92), Greg Porter (D-District 96) and Cherrish Pryor (D-District 94).

The lawmakers took turns providing summaries of bills that focus on different areas. Porter serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and the State Budget Committee and gave an update on the state’s budget. He noted that the state spends about $22 billion annually, with a projected surplus of about $2.7 billion.

Taylor focused on courts and the state criminal code. Among the bills approved was one that is meant to deter the use of drones to drop drugs into correctional facilities.

“Believe it or not, there are people who actually drop off paraphernalia and other items over the fence, if you will, from the sky,” he said. “I didn’t know it had become that creative. So, we’ve created a new law that makes it a Level 6 felony for someone to control the drone and actually drop off paraphernalia inside a correctional facility.”

A bill that the caucus opposed removed the ability of municipalities to bring legal action against a firearms manufacturer. Taylor said that law targeted the City of Gary, specifically, which was in the middle of such a lawsuit.

Pryor discussed what she called a “voter suppression” bill that passed. She said HB 1264 adds hurdles to first-time voters and new residents and allows the state to collect information from vendors that provide personal credit data to verify residency.

Harris discussed education, and the caucus’ continuing efforts to reduce the age when kids in Indiana are required to start school. That age currently is 7, and he said they want to reduce that to 5 and for the state to fund pre-kindergarten education to help children get ready to learn.

Pack, a U.S. Army veteran, reported that the Legislature passed a bill to establish a Green Alert for missing veterans — similar to the Amber Alert for missing youth and Silver Alert for missing adults. She said having an alert specific to missing veterans is important because they have specific needs, and the alert will ensure that resources to meet those needs will be ready when the person is found.

Following the presentations, some audience members asked questions or gave comments. Several expressed support for providing more state services to address homelessness, especially for youth who are unhoused. One audience member asked the lawmakers to address the need for day care options for seniors who are being cared for at home by family members. Another said she was concerned about state education funding going toward charter schools rather than established public schools.

Indianapolis City-County Councilor Ali Brown (D-District 10) discussed the need for more screening in schools for children with autism and said she would like to work with state lawmakers on that issue. Brown said one in 36 people is autistic, regardless of heritage, but children of color are diagnosed at a lower level and/or when they’re older.

“We’re working in Marion County to offer free testing for autism, and that’s a big thing,” she said. “But there are so many counties that, not only is there no place to be tested, but there’s little to no resources.”

Additional IBLC town hall meetings are planned throughout the spring and summer in Evansville, Elkhart, Michigan City, Fort Wayne and Gary.

For more about IBLC, visit Information also is available on IBLC social media accounts.