The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Opinion

February 2, 2014

Maureen Hayden: Gay marriage debate overshadows other legislative activity

(Continued)

— To the irritation of some lawmakers from the state’s worst crime-ridden cities, the Senate also passed a bill that forbids local police from holding gun buy-back events aimed at getting firearms off their streets. The bill also requires police to auction or sell nearly all guns they seize or obtain, including those used in crimes, instead of destroying them.

Senate sponsors argued that the guns could be put to better use. Opponents argued that no firearm deserves an indefinite lifespan.

— Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House passed a controversial bill to subject the state’s 27,000 recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits — mostly single mothers with children — to mandatory drug testing.

The rule wouldn’t apply to food stamp recipients or other welfare beneficiaries. Nor, despite attempts by some lawmakers, would it apply to state legislators.

Courts have struck down similar measures in other states.

— Both the House and Senate have been working on bills that seek to protect high school athletes from the ravages of brain injury.

The measure, pushed by the National Football League, would require all high school football coaches to complete an NFL-endorsed course on concussions. It comes as the NFL is trying to settle a concussion-related lawsuit brought by 18,000 retired players.

Finally, despite the hopes of some lawmakers who wanted to revive an old bill to decriminalize marijuana, the issue has gone nowhere this session.

But cannabis hasn’t been forgotten. The conservative-led Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved a bill to legalize the cultivation and production of industrial hemp. The plant, used to make fiber for paper and cloth, is derived from the same herb that produces marijuana. It’s similar in appearance to the illegal drug but lacks the psychoactive punch of pot.

If the legislation passes, Indiana would have to get a waiver from the federal drug laws that ban hemp production. Backers of the bill predict hemp could be Indiana’s next big cash crop.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.

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