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Indiana Legislative Update – Cell Phones, the Constitution, and Committees 

You may recall a year ago this month, a Chinese spy balloon entered U.S. airspace and left Americans looking skyward, waiting and wondering until it was shot down by a fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina. Many opined whether the balloon was able to transmit information in real-time to our foreign adversaries and what we could be saying that would be of interest to anyone but our next door neighbor. When the nation’s “most reliable network” crashed this week, Americans were once again bewildered, raising questions about the cause with the greatest concern coming as customers were unable to reach emergency services in many large cities. A day later, AT&T blamed the incident on an error in coding and the FBI acknowledged their coordination with the network saying “should we learn of any malicious activity we will respond accordingly.” Most of us may never know what caused the outage, but speculation will likely continue to swirl. 

In a lesson that was part civics class and part constitutional law primer, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a robust discussion on HJR 3 on Wednesday. The resolution would have engaged a process for proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution creating term limits for members of Congress and the U.S. Senate, as provided for under Article V. Once two-thirds of states made a similar application, Congress would be required to arrange the convention. An Article V convention of states has never been called in the history of the U.S.

Proponents of HJR 3 cite the need for new blood in Congress that also would allow quicker access to seniority positions. Opponents of the resolution fear that once an Article V convention is established, the entire Constitution is up for amendment. The resolution failed in Committee by a vote of 5 to 6.

The rest of the week was dominated by committee hearings with a few bills clearing final hurdles to head to the Governor. You can keep an eye on the Governor’s Bill Watch page to see when bills reach his desk and start the 7-day clock for his action.

Your updated Bill Track is attached – it will get shorter once again next week when bills that don’t get a committee hearing in the opposite house die. As always, please let us know if you would like to add/remove any bills or change the priority coding of any bill. Here are  highlights from action this week on your bills: 

  • The Senate Education Committee made a few changes to HB1001 – the bill making updates to the newly created Career Scholarship Accounts (CSA’s) to support HS students pursuing work-based learning opportunities. Committee Chair Jeff Raatz’ (R-Richmond) amendment added reporting requirements for determining whether a driver’s license was a prerequisite for completing a program of study needed to access the CSA. An amendment to change the definition of an eligible student, to include the siblings of other eligible students failed 6-5, but they did add new language requiring a review of an entity’s liquidity if services purchased from the entity from CSA accounts exceed $50,000. The Committee also added language from SB287 (looks like that bill will die in the House) re: career navigation. The bill passed the Education Committee 7-4 and was recommitted to Appropriations.
  • HB1093 will ensure state language regarding the employment of minors mirrors federal language. It has raised eyebrows as it allows greater employment for those as young as 14 and confirms that young people from the Amish & Mennonite communities who often stop traditional schooling at 8th grade can begin working. The bill requires the submission of a statement from a parent to an employer verifying the child has been excused from compulsory education in order to be exempt from hourly work restrictions. The bill passed the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee by a vote of 7 to 3 on February 22nd.
  • Following up on legislation from 2023, HB1387 intends to “clean up inconsistent language,” which established a revolving loan fund for residential infrastructure. The Indiana Finance Authority will provide reporting for the program and will document the impact of the 2023 bill into the future. The bill unanimously passed the Senate Local Government Committee, without amendments, on February 22nd.
  • SB2 is a comprehensive child care bill that addresses regulatory standards while maintaining health and safety standards. As Sen Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso) likes to say, “this is an infrastructure issue and we wanted to make changes this year without spending additional funds.” Sally Rideout represented E-REP in sharing our support for the bill and joined several other colleagues encouraging committee members to move the bill forward. Committee members asked good questions and ultimately passed the bill without amendments 8-0. It will stop next in the Ways & Means Committee due to overall budget requirements. 
  • SB6 requires the DOE to identify students currently in grades 4-8 who did not pass ILEARN and identify those kids “who were left behind,” said Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) and determined to be at risk as determined by their Lexile scores. The DOE is required to develop guidance for schools regarding how to support these students who are not reading at grade level. “This bill has the support of the Democrats,” said Dr. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) and is, “moving in the right direction.” The bill passed 92-1 and heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.
  • SB8, an agenda bill for Governor Holcomb and the Commission for Higher Education, focuses on affordability, acceleration and streamlining of the education process in the Hoosier state. Despite concerns regarding a “clunky” timeline and access for small schools, several amendments were proposed and approved by consent, including language directing the Commission for Higher Education to review College Core only dual credit syllabi no later than November 2025, provide online access to College Core classes through the Indiana Course Access, and disclose foreign gifts from and contracts with foreign adversaries – of any amount – by Indiana colleges and universities. In an effort to “make sure more of our students complete their degrees,” Rep Cash proposed Amendment #9, which would provide religious exemptions for vaccinations during their clinical rotations. The amendment was opposed by the Chair – deemed too late to be properly vetted – failed 4-7. The college core is a block of 30 hours of credit that are fully transferable to colleges, with an impact exceeding $100M in savings to families and students across the state. SB8 ensures that all high schools offer College Core by 2025 or submit a feasibility report for help from CHE. The bill passed 9-0.
  • On Wednesday, we witnessed emotionally charged testimony regarding HB1002, the antisemitism bill.  “2021 was statistically the highest year on record in the United States for antisemitic activity and harassment,” said Rep Chris Jeter (R-Fishers). “Then last year, we saw a 400% rise in antisemitism in the U.S.” The bill defines “antisemitism” and specifies that the public policy of the State of Indiana is to provide educational opportunities free of religious discrimination; it also clarifies that antisemitism is discrimination on the basis of religion. However, others felt the bill weaponized the term antisemitism to silence students, threaten academic freedom, and impose undue burden on educators. In response to these concerns, the definition was removed. While some stakeholders became sudden supporters of the bill, the stunned Jewish community withdrew its support for the bill, with one faith leader sharing “In the past I have been asked if the Holocaust could ever happen again? Before October 7, I would have said possibly. Since October 7, I say absolutely.” The bill passed 12-0 out of committee with some members qualifying their support, expressing sympathy for the “gutted” bill, lending their vote to “keep the bill alive.” It is anticipated that an amendment will be offered on 2nd reading that will change the support and opposition lines once again. 
  • HB 1399 establishes a definition for Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS), AKA “forever chemicals” because they are nearly ubiquitous in our waste streams. The Environmental Rules Board would be required to use the definition in any future rule promulgation. Rep. Maureen Bauer (D-South Bend) objected to the carve outs in the bill, “After all we have accomplished – the first state to establish a biomonitoring pilot program for firefighters – we will be the first state to no longer call thousands of PFAS chemicals, PFAS. We should be making every effort to strengthen protections for the people we serve.” Controversy over the bill was even more on display during a hearing in the Senate Environmental Committee on February 19. Legislators appear apprehensive to advance the bill. No vote was taken during the first hearing and it is set for a 2nd committee hearing on Monday.  
  • SB15 requires the Dept. of Labor to consult with the Office of Veterans’ Affairs to create a poster that outlines benefits and services available to veterans. The bill requires employers with at least 50 employees to display the poster to create more awareness among veterans about their opportunities. The House Veterans Affairs Committee amended the bill to include that all children of service-level benefits can attend a state higher ed institution for free (slight change from current tuition discount based on disability rating). The Committee passed the bill 10-0 on Monday morning.
  • SB20 allows any municipality (currently only cities are eligible) within a Riverfront Development District to obtain additional alcoholic beverage permits from the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission. The House passed the bill 89-2 on Tuesday; the bill was not amended while in the House, so it goes straight to the Governor.
  • After listening to 3+ hours of testimony and discussion, the House Roads and Transportation Committee did not take a vote on SB52; the bill that prohibits any local unit of government from moving forward or establishing “dedicated lanes” for public transportation until after July 1, 2025. The Committee can still consider amendments and take a vote on it this coming week, so it is not yet dead, and we don’t know if the House will change the bill in response to more opposition than support from the Indy community. While the bill applies statewide, only Indy has an active project that would be delayed – the “Blue Line” that would create these lanes on main east/west thoroughfare.
  • Originally, a bill to help “specialty markets” increase their sales, SB58 would have allowed those markets with existing retailer’s (alcohol) permits to increase their carryout business above the current 40% limit of the market’s overall business. The bill was amended in House Public Policy to apply only to markets with a permit issued before September 2019, so it is unlikely to help many businesses. The House passed the bill 88-6 on Monday. The amendment means the Senate will have to vote to Concur or send it to Conference Committee.
  • SB61 would have allowed communities to establish Tourism Improvement Districts (TID’s) if 65% of the businesses in the district and 65% of the owners’ assessed real property value support it (TID supporters think that threshold is too high). The bill was scheduled for a hearing in Ways & Means Committee Wednesday afternoon, but as the Committee convened, Chair Thompson announced that he would not be hearing the bill during that meeting nor adding it to another meeting, effectively killing the bill this session. 
  • SB146 would allow an employee 18 years of age to ring up the sale of alcohol or serve drinks prepared at a bar in a restaurant. (Current age is 19). A 10 minute grace period was added to the civil penalties portion of the code regarding time clock violations. The hire date for youth employees would be the first day they show up to work. Current law requires reporting of employment for some who agree to take the job but never actually start work. The bill was returned to the Senate after a vote of 81 – 10, where a concurrence is likely.
  • SB148 author Sen Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) says she hopes the bill will “provide good clean data” to help DWD evaluate the effectiveness of programs through requiring employers to provide an employee’s current standardized classification code and starting compensation on an employee’s withholding allowance certificate. The info will go to the state’s management performance hub, and made available to the DWD and Governor’s Workforce Cabinet. The bill, opposed by NFIB, is seen to be just another requirement for small businesses. “Regulatory compliance limits small business expansion and its ability to grow and operate. Growing layers of reporting requirements is particularly burdensome on small businesses.” Despite opposition, the bill passed the House Committee on Employment, Labor and Pensions unanimously, sending it to the full House for consideration.
  • SB190 updates state disaster relief efforts for communities, businesses, and individuals. When several communities were hit with disasters in 2023, the IN Dept. of Homeland Security found the state’s Disaster Relief Fund had limitations that inhibited the state’s ability to support Hoosiers. The bill simplifies the formula used to calculate how much funding a community can get; decouples individual assistance from federal action; increases the maximum a household can get; and allows the fund to be available not just for recovery, but for mitigation. Sen. Cindy Carasco (R-Indy) noted that “for every $1 spent on mitigation, $6-7 are saved in recovery later. The bill is part of Governor Holcomb’s legislative agenda and passed out of Committee Monday morning 9-0 and moves to Ways & Means Committee for further consideration. 
  • SB 206 is the IDEM agency bill for this year. The introduced version contained language on easements and restrictive covenants and created a cause of action to gain access to property in need of remediation where an owner resisted. These two items were too much of a load on the bill and were stripped out in committee in the Senate. The remaining content of the bill deals with email communication for the purpose of notice by IDEM and some boards along with enhancements to the permitting of biomass gasification facilities. The bill was voted out of the House Environment Committee with unanimous approval on February 21st.
  • As one of several bills impacting Indianapolis, HB1199 would have eliminated the Economic Enhancement District in the “Mile Square” which applies a tax based on assessed value to property in the district with funds dedicated to public safety, beautification, and homeless services. On Tuesday, the Senate Tax & Fiscal Committee amended the bill to make it an “opt in” for apartments and “homestead” properties and allows businesses or others outside the area to participate if they wish. While some Committee members expressed that their primary goal would be to kill the bill, ultimately they voted unanimously to support the compromise bill. In a bit of intrigue, after passing this hurdle, the bill was reassigned to Senate Rules Committee, which is generally considered a graveyard for bills. This compromise on the EED also allows for the increase in Marion County Local Income Tax included in HB1121 to be eliminated; the Committee heard the bill, but held it for further consideration next week. The negotiations on these Indy-related bills will continue through the last hours of session. 
  • HB1243 is definitely a “various” education bill. Some of the pieces more relevant to E-REP members include: providing more data on the effectiveness of training and apprenticeship programs and about the earning potential of certain programs as Hoosiers progress in the workforce; requiring students take a course in digital literacy in preparation for their entry to the 21st -century economy; requiring the department to look at the fee structure for the curriculum across the state, as there is a large disparity across Indiana. The Committee approved several amendments without controversy, including language that allows schools to cancel instruction for the once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse this Spring; however, language to reduce paperwork for school counselors was rejected 8-5. Stakeholders expressed support for the bill overall, with some concern expressed over the addition of the digital literacy piece and “sweeping changes every few years.” The bill passed 13-0. 
  • State and federal programs for implementation of broadband must be clearly separated in statute. HB1277, will ensure federal money continues to flow to projects. The bill was amended in the Senate Utilities Committee for a typographical error and then passed unanimously on February 22nd.
  • SB132 was heard in two committees this week, first in Public Health, and then in Insurance to address the contentious issue of in-network savings and assignment of benefits. Minor amendments were taken by consent in Public Health updating the bill, which moves Indiana toward managed care, hopes to address the nursing shortage by tightening up language proficiency tests for foreign nurses, and makes telehealth providers subject to Indiana law – all significant issues by themselves. The issue of red tape and rising healthcare costs took center stage with “laser focus” on assignment of benefits (AOB), which is said to “weaken healthcare networks.” During lengthy discussion, stakeholders educated lawmakers about the cost savings to consumers of in-network care and voiced their opposition to assignment of benefits for dental procedures saying, “We can’t keep shielding patients from the cost of this system. After we pay employees, health benefits are our next highest cost.” Committee members excoriated one provider for “record profits” during covid, “We have been duped by the insurance companies,” railed Rep Rita Fleming (D-Jeffersonville), a retired physician. Rep Martin Carbaugh’s (R-Ft Wayne) Chairman’s amendment to remove the assignment of benefits language failed 6-6.  A compromise amendment to keep assignment of benefits, which prevented balance billing except for a 2% billing fee offered by Rep Peggy Mayfield (R-Martinsville) also failed 6-6. The bill passed 11-1, with the chair getting in his final two cents, “This AOB language is bigger than they make it out to be.”

Important Dates

*Reminder: Committee Hearings only require 24-hours’ notice, so this list will grow

  • Monday, February 20
  • Senate Agriculture
    • HB1183 Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land (Culp)
  • Senate Environmental Affairs
    • HB1276 Notice of a Public Hearing or Meeting (Soliday)
    • HB1399 PFAS Chemicals (Lindauer)
  • Tuesday, February 27
  • Deadline for Senate Bills to pass out of House Committee
  • House Ways and Means
    • SB2 Child Care (Charbonneau)
    • SB15 Veterans’ Benefits (Tomes)
    • SB190 State Disaster Relief Fund (Carrasco)
    • SB228 Various Tax Matters (Holdman)
  • Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy
    • HB1121 Local Income Taxes (Thompson)
  • House Roads & Transportation
    • SB52 Prohibition on Use of Dedicated Lanes (Freeman)
  • Wednesday, February 28
  • Senate Judiciary
    • HB1003 Administrative Law (Steurwald)
  • Thursday, February 29: Deadline for House Bills to pass out of Senate Committee
  • Monday, March 4: Deadline for Senate Bills to pass the House
  • Tuesday, March 5: Deadline for House Bills to pass the Senate
  • Thursday, March 14: Deadline for Legislature to Adjourn Sine Die