By Victoria Ratliff FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmail TheStatehouseFile.comINDIANAPOLIS- Indiana’s lawmakers have reached half-time of this year’s session, with major bills to keep motorist’s hands off their phones and to raise the age to use tobacco still alive; the effort to raise teacher pay now effectively dead and a bill to help pregnant employees essentially put off until at least next year.Senate Bill 342, which would have made most businesses provide “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers and new moms who are pumping breast milk, was gutted by the Senate on Monday. The bill now urges legislative leaders to send this issue to an interim study committee, with no guarantee that the issue will ever be heard by a committee.SB 342, authored by Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, originally would have made most businesses provide “reasonable” accommodations for pregnant workers.Alting told his colleagues that Indiana ranks seventh in the nation on maternal mortality rate, and third in the nation on infant mortality rate.“Research has demonstrated that the working conditions affect premature births,” he said.The amendment reducing the measure to a request for a study committee, authored by Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, passed 34-15, with Zay and other Republicans saying more study is needed to understand the bill’s impact on small businesses. Tuesday, Alting urged his colleagues to keep the bill, and the issue, alive despite his disagreement with the change.It passed, 41-8 – with all Democrats except Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago – voting ‘no’ to register their disappointment that help for pregnant workers was being delayed.Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, said pregnant women don’t need to study this issue, they live with it every day.“The original bill had wide bipartisan support, was a priority of the governor’s and received overwhelmingly positive testimony from Hoosiers,” he reiterated in a statement after the vote. “This legislation could have gone a long way toward helping lower Indiana’s abysmally high infant mortality rate”Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, called the bill “pro-life.”“Economic pressure is a significant factor in women choosing abortion, and protecting a working mother protects the unborn child and reduces the pressure for abortion,” she said. “Women should not have to choose economic stability over the health of she and her baby.”Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, singled out SB 342 in a news conference assessing the first half of the session with House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.“It’s a simple question: should we allow discrimination in the workplace against pregnant women or not?” Lanane said.With only five weeks in the session left, Lanane said there nonetheless is still hope from Democrats that the issue identified as a goal by Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, will become resurrected this session.“We’re more than willing to show the other side of the aisle how we can do these things, how we can do them responsibly and how we can do them this session,” Lanane said.In other legislation, one bill has already flown through the House and Senate and been signed into law by Holcomb.House Bill 1007, signed into law Jan. 29, allocates $300 million, a portion of which is from an unexpected surplus, to pay cash for six university construction projects, rather than borrow for them through bonding.Democrats were repeatedly rebuffed in their attempts to change the bill to instead allocate those funds to give teachers a pay boost this year, instead of putting off any potential pay hike to next year’s budget-writing session as preferred by Holcomb and the GOP.The measure – SB 299, authored by Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne — also mandates women to be informed they can collect the products of a pill-induced abortion, which typically are expelled at home in a toilet or bathtub, and return them to the abortion provider for burial or cremation.Breaux, who opposed the bill, said it needs more clarification regarding safety and cleanliness for the women bringing their own fetal remains to a facility after an at-home abortion. She read to her Senate colleagues a letter from a constituent about the trauma she suffered after needing an abortion after an incomplete miscarriage and her concern that this bill would add to the distress.Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said the Senate should be passing the original pregnancy accommodation bill. Photo by Lacey Watt, TheStatehouseFile.comThe bill, approved 40-9, now goes to the House.Also moving through the process are House Bill 1006, the tobacco and vaping products bill, and HB 1414, the bill affecting coal plant closures.HB 1006 follows the federal government’s lead in raising the age to buy tobacco and vaping products to 21 from the current 18, and sets in place provisions on how to prosecute retailers who violate that age restriction. It passed the House 84-14 and is headed to the Senate.House Bill 1414 would require the state’s utilities to notify the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission if they plan to close an energy-producing plant. Its author, Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, has said it is needed to slow the closing of the state’s coal-fired power plants to ensure no disruption of electricity. The bill was amended in the House to have it expire in May 2021 and to require the IURC to only review closure plans, rather than approve or reject them.House Bill 1070, also heading to the Senate, would prevent drivers from using phones while driving, unless it is used alongside a hands-free device, or to call 911 in an emergency. The measure, authored by Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, passed the House 86-10.Among the casualties of the first half of the session is House Bill 1331, authored by Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, which would have prevented ticket sellers from barring the purchaser from reselling or transferring the tickets. It passed out of committee but was never heard in the full House.FOOTNOTE: Victoria Ratliff is a reporter with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.