INDIANAPOLIS — A legislative bill to change the state’s handgun licensing fees briefly dueled with tobacco taxes, a state takeover of Muncie schools and the Second Amendment before passing out of the Indiana House on Monday.
House Bill 1424, authored by Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, would eliminate fees for a lifetime state handgun license beginning in 2020. Local law enforcement officers would conduct background checks with assistance if needed by Indiana State Police, who currently conduct the checks.
Wesco’s bill passed 71-20 out of the House and now heads to the Senate.
Eliminating the lifetime license fee revenue could result in a decrease of between $6 million and $7 million that is distributed to local law enforcement agencies for training. During next year’s budget session, the legislature would likely need to look at replacing the funding, Wesco said.
Currently, people without a valid Indiana license pay the highest fees for a lifetime personal protection firearms license: a $75 state fee, a $50 local fee and a $11.95 fee for a fingerprint check.
During debate on the bill, some legislators found a way to inject their frustrations over unrelated legislation.
Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, questioned why his unsuccessful proposal to raise the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 didn’t pass out of the House Ways and Means Committee like Wesco’s handgun permit bill did.
“My bill did not make it out ... because it had the additional impact of $10 million of lost revenue by virtue of raising the age to 21 to legally possess tobacco products,” Brown said. “I’m still trying to figure out the rationale that we would spend additional state revenue to pick up the loss of revenue from eliminating a lifetime license but yet we would not consider saving lives.”
Also, last week, the House passed a bill that placed additional restrictions on distressed school districts including Muncie schools. In part, the bill would allow school board members to live outside the school district.
An amendment by Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, would have allowed more local board representation through a local vote, but the amendment failed. “This body (Indiana House) seems to have a double standard on things in the Constitution,” Errington said. “Do we think the right to bear arms has more weight than the right to vote? I don’t think so.”
And Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, considered a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, spoke against the bill because he does not believe fees should be associated with owning a handgun.
“I think licensing a Constitutional right is not only wrong, it’s immoral and it’s dangerous,” Lucas said.
About 800,000 Hoosiers have a permit to carry a handgun. Of those, 600,000 are lifetime permits.