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Indiana Legislative Update – Priority Bills Taking Center Stage

As promised, former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels ended speculation this week that he would jump into the 2024 Senate race to replace Senator Mike Braun, “With full credit and respect for the institution and those serving in it, I conclude that it’s just not the job for me, not the town for me, and not the life I want to live at this point,” Daniels said. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City), a far-right leading Republican in the U.S. House announced in January his run for the Senate seat held by fellow Republican Mike Braun who is running for the Indiana Governor’s seat.

Inside the Statehouse, big bills with unknown price tags emerged with the first priority bills (Senate Bills 1-10 and House Bills 1001-1010) making it past their initial hurdles. Rep Chuck Moseley (D-Portage) called Rep Greg Steuerwald’s (R-Avon) HB1006 “one of the best bills I’ve ever seen.” The bill, which hopes to “move people with mental health issues into treatment, not jail,” specifies the circumstances under which a person may be involuntarily committed to a facility for mental health services; provides qualified immunity to officers and hospitals; and establishes a local mental health referral program to provide mental health treatment for certain persons who have been arrested. It received bipartisan support, passing the House 99-0. 

State Rep Doug Miller’s (R-Elkhart) HB1005, a housing bill meant to reduce construction costs, incentivize “workforce housing,” and create a revolving loan fund under the Indiana Finance Authority for building infrastructure, sailed through Ways and Means 18-0 with an unknown fiscal. 

Skepticism of Governor Holcomb and his handling of the Covid-19 epidemic was revived this week during the committee hearing for SB4, the bill with recommendations from the Governor’s Health Commission. What was intended to be a conversation about increasing public health services in local communities turned ugly with some convinced the opt-in funding program that floods local communities with cash for programs like smoking cessation and eye exams for kindergarteners is actually a step toward state control. The bill passed out of Committee unanimously and will head next to the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Sen Eddie Melton (D-Gary) took a moment to recognize February as Black History Month and remember those who contributed to the advancement of this country. He then addressed his fellow lawmakers, “We have a unique ability, unlike most citizens, to directly alter and pass public policy that promotes principles like acceptance, equity and tolerance. I challenge every person here to keep those ideals in mind – to not merely praise tolerance, but promote tolerance in the State of Indiana.” Senator Melton may have been speaking just to the Senators, but it was a heartfelt, inspiring message for us all. 

Here are details on bills that had action this week (in the order of bill report) and after that, a list of committee hearings or other upcoming events/deadlines.. 

  • One of the House GOP priority bills, HB1002, will “redesign High School” with an emphasis on increasing the exposure for HS students to work-based learning options and career opportunities. There are some concerns that funds for the program can come from traditional financial aid for higher education, such as 21st Century Scholars programs. Last week more than 20 people spoke during the committee hearing leading to a few amendments being adopted today before members voted it out of House Education Committee by an 8-4 vote. It is expected the bill will have a next stop in the Ways & Means Committee before heading to the full House. 
  • Legislators remain focused on finding ways to reduce healthcare costs for Hoosiers and their employers with House members putting forward HB1003, authored by Craig Snow (R-Warsaw) as one of their attempts. The bill would allow employers to offer HRA plans as an alternative to traditional healthcare plans and also receive a state tax credit against some of their healthcare coverage costs. The bill also targets prior authorization requirements and puts some limits on the reimbursement rates negotiated between providers and employers. While there was strong support for the tax credit, other parts of the bill had detractors from hospitals, insurers, and other healthcare providers. Legislators acknowledged the bill is a work in progress and continue to draft and review potential amendments that will be considered at a future meeting before the Committee votes on the bill. 
  • Another bill designed to “lower healthcare costs” is HB1004, a bill the Ball State University economist Mike Hicks said would “dismantle the tools of monopolization” in the hospital industry. As introduced, the bill provides a tax credit for physician-owned practices; eliminates non-compete agreements from hospital settings; and penalizes non-profit hospitals for charging more than 260% of the federal rates. Hospital leaders pointed out that the bill does nothing to address highly profitable insurance practices and by treating rural and urban hospitals differently will create significant, unanticipated problems across the state. Like other bills, there is much more to come on this one when the Public Health Committee hears the bill again in a future meeting; read more here if you’re interested. 
  • HB1160, connects underskilled TANF recipients and Hoosiers with disabilities with jobs and collaborates with private companies, focusing on training TANF recipients who he sees as, “an untapped workforce pipeline that could really fill this workforce shortage.” Rep Ed Clere’s (R-New Albany) innovative workforce training program provides career counseling and wraparound services to TANF recipients and increases eligibility guidelines and benefits that have not seen an increase since 1988. Stakeholders were enthusiastic about the bill, “Morale goes up when a company hires people with disabilities, because they always show up and after they learn the job, they are always excited to have this opportunity to work.” The bill passed unanimously 12-0 out of Senate Family and Children Services committee and was recommitted to Ways and Means.
  • Both HB1349 and SB20 would allow municipalities to establish Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas (DORA’s) where patrons would be allowed to leave a bar/restaurant with an alcoholic beverage to enjoy the outdoors or walk to another establishment in the DORA (currently you cannot leave an establishment with an open container). HB1349 passed the House on Monday 87-7 – the first time a bill like this has even received consideration in the House. On Wednesday, the Senate Public Policy Committee passed SB20 with a 7-0 vote with members noting it’s the 4th year in a row, they have passed the bill. The ultimate passage of this legislation can be a positive entertainment development for our cities and towns throughout the E-REP region.
  • The 21st Century Scholars program has long been a valuable tool providing significant need-based financial aid for more than 50,000 Hoosier students since it was established. HB1449 is one of several bills proposed to eliminate a key hurdle that has minimized the positive impact the program could have had all these years by automatically enrolling all income-eligible students during their 7th or 8th grade year vs. the fewer than 50% of students who currently get enrolled even though they are eligible. Bill author Rep. Earl Harris (D-Gary) noted: “The phrase win-win applies here. Students win. Educational bodies win. Businesses win. The State wins. We want to give students access to as many resources as possible.” The bill passed the House Education Committee 11-0. Because this bill has begun moving, we have deleted other House bills doing the same thing from your bill track; similar Senate bills remain on the list as they may choose to move one of their own. 
  • Sen Scott Baldwin’s (R-Noblesville) SB2 addresses the taxation of pass through entities. The bill, which promises to “make a more level playing field” between large and small business entities joins 29 other states in reducing taxes and penalties for small businesses. The bill authorizes certain pass through entities to pay tax at the entity level based on each owner’s aggregate share of adjusted gross income and provides a refundable tax credit equal to the amount of tax paid by the electing entity with regard to the owner’s share. The bill passed 12-0.
  • SB160 would add Indiana to the 17 other states that have adopted the Professional Counselors Licensure Compact increasing the ability for providers and patients to cross state lines for counseling services, esp. via telehealth providing a significant benefit for college students and military personnel/families. The bill passed the Senate 48-1 and will move to the House.
  • The Senate unanimously passed SB271, a bill that will allow Certified Technology Parks (CTP’s) like Innovation Pointe in downtown Evansville,  to retain more of the income taxes generated in the district. The increased amount of income taxes retained will continue to support the services provided to support and grow businesses. This bill has passed the Senate in past years, but the idea has been unable to gain traction in the House. We’ll see if this year is any different.
  • After a committee hearing filled with love for SB340 last week, Sen Vaneta Becker’s (R-Evansville) bill to bring the Imagination Library program to all kids across Indiana was approved without amendment by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday with an 11-0 vote. The bill’s next stop is the Senate Appropriations committee for the fiscal impact considerations.
  • SB347 would provide an option for employers and workers to utilize unemployment benefits during a downturn in the economy or business cycle where a reduction of hours is necessary. For example, if a company has to cut hourly production by 25%, the employees could continue to work, receiving 75% of normal wages and 25% in unemployment benefits. The bill was heard in the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee on Thursday. No vote was taken as the bill, but it has been scheduled for another hearing next week. Proponents offer the bill will help keep employees who have already been trained on the job and provide stability. Opponents argue the change would put state unemployment funds at risk.
  • HB1106 would create an IEDC-controlled tax credit to assist the development of land previously mined, like much of SW IN. Pike County Economic Development Corp. spoke in favor of the bill noting the continued loss of coal mining jobs and the reluctance of new employers to develop on land that has been reclaimed; the issues have culminated in a significant loss in their assessed value (over $100M lost in 2019-20). They believe this tax credit will provide an incentive to new employers that can keep the community on the radar instead of being written off as too difficult to develop. The Ways & Means Committee heard the bill on Wednesday and did not make a final decision about moving it forward.
  • HB1382 will promote robotics programs in K-12 schools with an ultimate goal of increasing students pursuing STEM fields. The bill will expand opportunities by creating a competitive grant progress for schools to receive funding to support their robotics programs. Schools must show a public-private partnership with an adult mentor engaged to help develop a unique custom robot. The bill is expected to grow students participating in these programs to 18,000 from the current 3000. Toyota spoke in favor of the bill noting their $3.5M in total donations to K-12 schools for programs like these. The bill passed Committee 12-0 to continue moving forward.
  • For the 2nd year, the IN legislature has considered a bill, SB188,  to require School Board candidates to declare a political party (could be Independent) on the ballot. Advocates argue this would give voters a more clear picture of the “political leanings” of the people on their school boards while opponents note that it would mean any federal employee (post office, Crane NSWC, etc.) would no longer be able to serve due to the federal Hatch Act and might discourage some who don’t have a strong political affiliation from running. It was also noted that there is no current prohibition against a candidate campaigning as a member of a political party. The bill generated strong debate among committee members and those who signed up to speak on the bill. The bill was held for potential future consideration by the Committee. There are several other similar bills in the Senate and in the House that have yet to be scheduled for a Committee hearing.
  • SB300, a bill that removes the threshold for establishing a residential TIF and tackles the housing crisis, endured a rocky road toward passage in the Senate. An exasperated Sen Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg) invited dissenting lawmakers who feared the bill shortchanged schools, to “feel free to step back to my corner for a financial literacy course” and he would “explain how this works.” Sen Linda Roger (R-LaGrange) showing grace under fire, closed prior to the vote with thanks to her fellow lawmakers for the “robust discussion”. The bill passed 28-19.

Important Dates:

  • Monday, February 6
    • Senate Environmental Affairs Committee, 9:00 a.m.
      • SB155 IDEM Matters (Niemeyer)
      • SB246 Excess Liability Trust Fund (Niemeyer)
    • Senate Family & Children Services, 9:00 a.m.
      • SB375 Child Care Assistance (Rogers)
  • Tuesday, February 7
    • House Local Government, 8:30 a.m.
      • HB1599 Tourism Improvement Districts (Baird)
    • Senate Homeland Security & Transportation Committee, 9:00 a.m.
      • SB248 Driving Privilege Cards (Doriot)
    • House Public Health Committee, 8:30 a.m.
      • HB1004 Health Care Matters (Schaibley)
    • Senate Tax & Fiscal Committee, 9:00 a.m.
      • SB339 Attainable Homeownership Tax Credit (Rogers)
    • House Government & Regulatory Reform Committee, 10:30 am.
      • HB1179 Professional Licensing (Clere)
      • HB1317 Interstate Compacts (Miller)
      • HB1623 Administrative Rulemaking (Bartels)
  • Wednesday, February 8
    • Senate Pensions & Labor Committee, 10:00 a.m.
      • SB347 Work Sharing Unemployment Benefits Program (Bassler)
    • House Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development Committee, 1:30 p.m.
      • HB1132 Land Use Task Force (Culp)

*Committee hearings only require a 24(ish) hour notice, so this schedule is updated frequently and is therefore not comprehensive of all the activity we anticipate next week.