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Indiana Legislative Update – The Hard Questions    

Lawmakers continue to be hard at work this week with Education dominating the Statehouse headlines. While stakeholders tap the brake for more time, the House and Senate continue to move bills and ask very basic, hard questions that all boil down to this: “Where did we go wrong as a State? We spend $10B on education and still have 3rd graders who can’t read,” said Sen Fady Qadourra (D-Indianapolis). Front and center to the debate is SB1, “This is a reading bill aimed at identifying whether students can read, and, only as a last resort, retained,” said the bill’s author Senator Linda Rogers (R-Granger). As lawmakers attempt to work through worst case scenario fiscals to the overhaul of education, some express frustration that the changes ultimately stop well short of providing real solutions until Indiana invests in PreK and changes the mandatory age for Hoosier students to attend school from age 7 to 5. “There is no magic bullet with reading. If there was, I would fire it,” said Indiana Secretary of Education, Dr. Jenner, but offers hope saying, “Literacy is one of the most solvable problems. For our adults who are illiterate, the impact on the economy and on the individual, it far surpasses the cost we will pay if we make sure they can read before 3rd grade.”

Two House priority bills in the education arena have also now passed major hurdles. Last week, HB1002 passed the House 83-0 as lawmakers attempt to define anti-semitism and protect students on K-12 and college campuses. This week, the House passed HB1001 with an 80-17 vote. The bill is a follow-up to last year’s bill creating Career Scholarship Accounts (CSA’s) to support HS students as they pursue more work-based learning opportunities. An amendment from Rep. DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) on the House floor keeps the CSA largely intact, but delays the use of 21st Century Scholarship Funds to pursue technical training until the 2025 budget is included (current use is only for traditional 4-year college). 

Two other education bills to “address the emotional needs of students” and “build character” drew heated committee discussion this week as they ensure student access to religious instruction and chaplains during school hours, passing out of their respective committees in the House and Senate. Rep Kendell Culp’s (R-Rensselaer) HB1137, requires schools to permit students with parental permission to leave school for 120 minutes per week for religious instruction. “If the students can go off-site and learn character qualities, and become better students, they’re going to have a greater experience in the classroom, and I think that’s really important,” said Rep Culp. Similarly, Sen Stacey Donato’s (R-Logansport) SB50, allows schools to hire chaplains to provide “secular support” to students. Chaplains, who currently are permitted to volunteer at schools, will be required to adhere to the same mandatory reporting requirements as school counselors to report child abuse. Stakeholders were divided in their support for the bill that could provide relief to the overwhelmed traditional counselors in Indiana schools. As of 2021-22, Indiana had a student-to-counselor ratio of 694 to 1 while the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 to 1.  

While the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has been credited with many success stories in attracting business and development over the years (including the recent Meta data center in Jeffersonville), growing concerns about the LEAP district in Boone County – specifically large water diversions – have brought new legislative scrutiny to the IEDC. Several bills have been filed to increase the legislative oversight of the agency, but only SB295 has begun moving through the process. The bill adds two legislators as non-voting members to the IEDC Board and requires notice to local units 30 days prior to the purchase of more than 100 acres  

In local political news, candidates continue to line up to replace retiring Congressman Larry Bucshon. This week State Senator Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) announced his candidacy joining other Republicans who have announced or filed – Jeremy L. Heath, Richard Moss and Jon Schrock. Heath is an administrator at the Good Samaritan Home in Evansville and ran for EVSC School Board in 2022 and as a write-in candidate for Secretary of State in 2018. Moss is an ENT surgeon from Jasper running his 3rd campaign for the 8th District. Schrock is a pastor from Covington, IN (north of Terre Haute at the northern border of the district). While some potential candidates have declared they are not running for the seat, there are still others contemplating the race. Candidates have until Friday, February 9th to file for the ballot. 

Your updated Bill Track is attached with each bill marked as High, Medium, and Low Priority. The report will get a bit shorter next week as bills that haven’t had a committee hearing will be considered dead for the Session. As always, please let us know if you would like us to remove any bills, add any bills or change the priority coding of any bill. 

Be sure to check out the Important Dates section at the end. Remember that Committee meetings only require 24 hours’ notice, so there will be more hearings next week, but they are not yet posted.

Here are highlights from action this week on your bills:

  • The House passed HB1001 on Tuesday with an 80-17 vote. The bill is a follow-up to last year’s HB1002 that created Career Scholarship Accounts (CSA’s) to support HS students as they pursue more work-based learning opportunities. An amendment from Rep. DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) on the House floor keeps the CSA largely intact, but delays the use of 21st Century Scholarship Funds to pursue technical training until the 2025 budget is passed (current use is only for traditional 4-year college). 
  • Originally billed as “deregulation of child care,” HB1102 was amended in committee to do several things designed to increase accessibility and affordability of childcare through regulation changes that redefine “child care home,” amend some licensure requirements; increase the organizations that can accept vouchers; and formalize programs for businesses to enter contracts with schools for care. After a 2nd hearing, some committee members were still unsure that the amended bill provides enough protections for children, so they opposed the bill. It did pass Committee 8-4 on Thursday morning and we will likely see more changes as it moves forward.  
  • In 2023, the General Assembly passed HB1005, establishing a $75M resolving fund to reduce costs for infrastructure costs. On Tuesday, Rep Tim O’Brien (R-Evansville) presented HB1387 as a bill to “clean up inconsistent language” and received some questioning from committee members as to whether it was really more significant. There were also a few moments of contentious debate over taxpayers “picking up the tab” for infrastructure normally borne by builders and homeowners. The IN Finance Authority, which will now provide reporting for the program, hopes to “help rural communities grow,” and will document the impact of HB1005 into the future. The bill, which received support from AIM and the IN Bankers Association, passed 10-0. 
  • SB8 will require all high schools to offer the IN College Core with secondary class credits on their transcripts; creates more avenues for associates degrees; and requires all state institutions to offer at least one baccalaureate program specifically structured to allow graduation within 3 years. The bill is an “agenda bill” for the Governor and the Commission for Higher Education to increase post-secondary degree attainment and affordability. After passing the Senate Education Committee 12-0 with minor amendments, the bill has been recommitted to the Appropriations Committee.
  • SB10 creates a new pilot program allowing communities to receive a grant from FSSA for up to $100,000 to build out a first responder program designed to address calls that don’t require traditional public safety response, but can connect the community member with the services and the providers who can help with addiction, mental health crises, etc. The bill passed the Senate Health Committee 10-0 on Wednesday and will be recommitted to the Senate Appropriations Committee due to potential fiscal impact. 
  • SB147 is one of several bills trying to increase child care access and affordability. This bill grants property tax exemptions to for-profit and employer-based child care providers. Sally Rideout, on behalf of E-REP, was one of several speakers supporting the bill’s efforts to reduce costs for providers that could ultimately create more slots and improve access to quality care. We did suggest some improvement options to the employer-provided care section and are working with the author to consider potential changes before a final committee hearing on the bill next week.
  • HB1003 dissolves the Office of Environmental Adjudication (OEA) and transfers cases to the Office of Administrative Law Proceedings (OALP). After concerns about maintaining the environmental expertise of those working on environmental cases were resolved by amendment, the main point of contention is that the bill removes the currently required deference to the agency. The House passed the bill on Tuesday with an 85-10 vote.
  • HB1243 includes a variety of K-12 education topics, but the one most applicable to our concerns is the creation of a computer science requirement for high school graduation. The bill passed Committee 12-0 on Wednesday and moves to the House floor.
  • The Commissioner of IDEM must decide within 10 days after the close of a public comment period if additional meetings would be necessary under HB1276. Legislative leaders are fearful that additional delays for hearings, yet to be held, will slow construction schedules. “This is a pretty simple bill,” began Rep Ed Soliday (R-X), “It was unclear when the commissioner had to decide if an additional public hearing was warranted. HB1276 allows no more than 10 days after the close of the public comment period.” The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.
  • Rep Jim Pressel presented HB1329, a bill that allows the Vanderburgh Solid Waste Management District (SWMD) to loan money to the county for road repair and emergency cleanup, adds clarifying language to license and permit bonds, allows counties to use 3rd party inspectors to complete backlogged inspections, and prevents local units from having or adopting ordinances that require septic inspections at point of sale of real estate. Most of the committee discussion was on the septic inspection language with the bill ultimately passing out of Committee 8-3.
  • 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.” Despite the objection, the bill that originated from the American Chemistry Council with support from the business community, passed the House 64-30.
  • Employers with at least 50 employees will be required to display a new poster outlining benefits and services available to veterans if SB15 from Evansville Senator Tomes survives the full process. The bill passed the Senate 46-0 on Monday to move to the House for consideration later this Session. 
  • SB20 gives towns and municipalities of any size within a Riverfront Redevelopment District the option to obtain additional alcoholic beverage permits from the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission – an option cities currently have. to take advantage of this opportunity. The Senate approved the bill 48-0 on Tuesday. 
  • In an attempt to learn more about professional licensing compacts already in place and how people might “get to work sooner” if they move to Indiana, a Senate Committee moved SB34 on to the full Senate Wednesday morning with a 10-0 vote. The bill requires the Professional Licensing Agency to study occupational licensing laws of other states and make recommendations no later than October 31, 2024 of how to improve IN laws.
  • 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) and extend work hours for 14 and 15 year old employees to 9 pm with written permission from a parent (current hours are 7 am and 7 pm). Further, the youth worker can work until 11 pm with parental permission on nights not followed by a school day. The bill passed easily out of committee despite the objection of the Indiana State Teachers Association and School Boards Association claiming potential conflict with federal law. Similar language is in HB1093 that awaits a final vote on the House floor next week.
  • Sen Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) presented SB223, which establishes the Construction workforce task force with a goal of studying ways of attracting more young people to the construction industry – union or non-union. With the impending retirement of baby boomers and an average age of 50 for construction workers, the task force hopes to identify practical solutions, study availability of training programs, and address the need for training at the K-12 and post-secondary levels. The minority rose in support of the bill’s requirement for minority appointments to the task force. The bill passed unanimously 45-0. 
  • SB264 creates an exemption for religious communities (eg: the Amish) from worker’s compensation participation requirements similar to the exemptions they have for programs such as social security. The bill establishes the process an employee must pursue to be exempt and provides some civil liability immunity for employers. The bill passed 10-0 and moves to the full Senate for consideration. 
  • Senator Ryan Mishler (R-South Bend) introduced SB285 to the Committee noting that he had no intention of moving the bill this year, he just wanted to have the discussion on the concept of a 100% homestead tax credit and the correct mechanism to replace the expected loss of revenue. While this was not a meeting of the State & Local Tax Review Task Force, the discussion goes hand-in-hand with those considerations as any look at a single tax requires a comprehensive look at the entire structure. Overall, it’s good to see the continued dialogue, even if nothing new was truly learned during the Committee hearing.
  • In one of the “twistiest” paths of a bill so far this session, HB1199 has passed the Ways & Means Committee (after the Committee Chair predicted it would fail earlier in Committee discussion while adding an option to increase the income tax in Indy as a substitute) and a week after hearing hours of testimony mostly in opposition to the bill. The bill repeals the authority (given just last year) for Indianapolis to establish an Economic Enhancement District (EED) in the “Mile Square” of downtown Indy. The City-County Council approved the district – similar to Evansville’s Economic Improvement District – in  November after months of meetings and consideration. The move also comes after several news outlets have covered the out-of-state “dark money” funding the organization pushing the bill over the past few days, questioning the true local opposition to the EED. More to come as the bill is considered next week by the full House.
  • In a first, an unlikely duo, Rep Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) and Rep Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) presented HB1277, a bill that “makes sure our [broadband] statutes are harmonized so there is no delay in getting the money,” said Pierce. Rep Soliday added, “This is one step to keep the money flowing.” The bill passed the House 93-0

Important Dates

  • Monday January 29
  • House Agriculture and Rural Development
    • HB1183 Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land (Culp)
  • Tuesday, January 30:
  • EREP Day at the Statehouse
  • Deadline for House bills to pass out of House Committees
  • House Roads
    • HB1022 Automated Tractor-Trailers (Ledbetter)
  • House Ways & Means
    • HB1387 Housing Development (Miller)
  • Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy
    • SB61 Tourism Improvement Districts (Holdman)
    • SB147 Child Care Property Tax Exemption & Evaluation (Rogers)
    • SB228 Various Tax Matters (Holdman)
    • SB260 Neighborhood & Individual Development Incentives (Becker)
  • Wednesday, January 31: 
  • Senate Environmental Affairs
    • HB1383 Wetlands (Morrison)
    • SB206 IDEM Agency Bill (Niemeyer)
  • Thursday, February 1:
  • Deadline for Senate bills to pass out of Senate Committees
  • Monday, February 5: Deadline for House Bills to pass the House
  • Tuesday, February 6: Deadline for Senate Bills to pass the Senate