INDIANAPOLIS – In a short session for the Indiana General Assembly, lawmakers must carefully consider which bills will get their time and attention. Rep Chris Jeter, R-Fishers, has prioritized issues this session that include hot-button cultural topics as well as legal reforms.
Jeter represents District 88, which includes portions of northwestern Hancock County, including Fortville and McCordsville.
One bill Jeter is prioritizing is one he introduced last year but which failed to move forward. It increases the penalty for killing a law enforcement animal to a Level 5 felony and makes the act an aggravating factor in sentencing for other crimes.
Jeter said the change was inspired by the death of a Fishers police dog and would be important to the law enforcement community. He’s hoping the House leaders will opt to move forward with the bill this time. It has been referred to the committee on courts and the criminal code.
Another bill, House Bill 1063, changes the process for what happens if a private citizen sues a government agency. Currently, courts give preference to agencies if a citizen is arguing that the agency broke the law, saying all the agency has to show is that it acted in accordance with its interpretation of the law.
“The agency essentially has a head start,” Jeter said.
His bill would put government agencies and citizens suing them on a more even playing ground, with courts instead required to decide whose interpretation of the law was the correct one. The bill has been considered and recommended for passage by the House judiciary committee.
Another Jeter bill is connected to recent debates over what kind of reading materials should be available to children in public schools and public libraries. Jeter’s bill is not moving forward, but similar language has been attached to House Bill 1134, an education bill that is advancing.
The language would remove an exemption in a law prohibiting the distribution of “material harmful to minors” that prevents teachers or librarians from being charged if students access books with material that could be considered obscene, offensive or pornographic. Families could also sue schools or libraries for damages.
Whether the language could pass the Senate is unclear; the Senate sponsor of a similar bill said there wasn’t enough support in the Republican caucus for it to advance, and Senate president pro tem Rod Bray said he thought the bill, while well-intentioned, was too vague. The Indiana Library Federation and numerous teachers associations testified against the Senate bill.
Jeter also put forth a resolution endorsing the introduction of term limits for U.S. senators and representatives. While the resolution would be non-binding, it would be part of a potential effort to change the U.S. Constitution.
To introduce a constitutional amendment that Congress hasn’t considered itself, 34 states need to vote in favor of a change. Fifteen have so far approved resolutions on federal term limits. Jeter said Indiana should join them to support a reform that he thinks would fight Washington cronyism and introduce new, younger blood into Congress.
“That’s probably one of the most important things we can do, to be honest, to save our democracy,” he said.
Jeter has also signed on as a co-author to several bills addressing high-profile cultural issues the Republican Party has been recently focused on, such as legislation to limit what teachers can say about racism and controversial political topics in class and another to limit transgender students’ participation in school sports. Both have been referred to the education committee.
One of the highest-profile bills Jeter co-authored is HB 1077, a “constitutional carry” bill that would allow Hoosiers to carry guns without obtaining a license. It has been approved by the House.
Critics have said the policy would make it easier for firearms to get into the hands of people who would use them to commit crimes, but Jeter disagreed. He said the bill would cut red tape for law-abiding citizens and is closer to what the Constitution intends for the right to bear arms.
“Criminals don’t get permits, and they don’t follow the law,” he said.
Representatives of several law enforcement agencies testified against the bill. The Indiana Democratic Party, in a statement, called it “extreme and partisan” and said it could create a public safety crisis.
Jeter said that people who buy a firearm would still have to go through a background check, and “Red Flag” laws, which aim to prevent people who could be a danger to themselves or others from accessing guns, would be unaffected by HB 1077.