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Indiana Legislative Update – The Last Week of Winter

This week, Hoosiers enjoyed their last official week of winter and “celebrated” the time change, advancing an hour forward. For some of us, our patience finally paid off and the clocks on our cars and kitchen appliances were right again. For others, the celebration may be more about St. Patrick’s Day and the basketball fever that overcomes so many of us each March.

Indiana lawmakers wrapped up week two of the second half of the legislative session “getting back into the flow of things,” said Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) on Thursday, “We are really excited about SB1003, 1007 and 1009 moving. We are working through SB4 and already passed SB2. We are also excited about Accord production coming to Indiana from Ohio.  It’s been a recent streak of great economic news across Indiana with more to come.”  

The state’s $40+ billion budget is the focus of this session and in the coming weeks, the House and Senate will hammer out a final agreement. In interviews this week Speaker Huston was quick to add, “We respect the timeline the Chairman, Sen Ryan Mishler (R-Mishawaka), is on. I know how busy it is in the second half.” On the Senate side, when Sen Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) was asked how budget talks were going, Bray assured “conversations are underway” and to anticipate a few changes to “make it better”. One issue under consideration is a cell phone surcharge to generate new revenue to support SB1, though there are some “challenges” to the phone surcharge bill with uncertain limitations to the use of those federal dollars. “Hoosiers are hard at work and creating revenue. Depending on the final forecast, it is possible SB1 will be funded without a new revenue source,” said Bray.  

Minority leader Sen Greg Taylor (D-Marion) anticipates “common sense compromise” to come in the budget regarding vouchers, “I see some great opportunities coming up and I am looking forward to the next few weeks of session, hopeful that we can make Indiana a better place to live,” said Taylor. He called the elimination of textbook fees for parents being rolled over into school funding a creative solution, but “just another shot in the foot of traditional public schools. When we talked about giving parents a break from what I call the “textbook tax,” I never thought we’d have this budget surplus and not pay for it,” said Taylor. The minority leader was excited fellow Democrat lawmaker Rep Earl Harris’ (D-East Chicago) HB1449 that automatically enrolls in the 21st Century Scholars program, passed unanimously out of Senate Education this week with Republicans piling on as Senate sponsors of the bill intent on increasing higher education attendance in the state.  

An explanation was offered by House and Senate leaders for why it appears we are not seeing bills moving as quickly as expected. In an effort to avoid conference committees on the back end of session, “Chairs are working through bills with the other chair and the Senate or House authors and trying to get agreement behind closed doors,” said Sen Bray, “Relationships are outstanding and communication is very good. Conference committees are hectic and we remind members you will deal with the same people in conference committee as you are in the second half.” We certainly appreciate the extra effort and will appreciate it even more in the final days of session.

Your Rideout Public Affairs team really enjoyed and appreciated spending time with many of you this week who participated in the E-REP Day at the Statehouse. It was truly a pleasure to get to know you better and interact on a more personal level. We know these visits take time from your usual schedule and are an invaluable opportunity to strengthen our working relationships and gain a deeper understanding of your needs and goals. We hope you enjoyed your time and that you’ll share any feedback regarding the trip to ensure we can make the time even more beneficial in the future. 

Please find your updated bill report below; bills are listed numerically within High, Medium and Low Priority rankings. And below, you’ll find updates on your bills that had action this week and a list of relevant committee hearings scheduled at this time. 

  • HB1003 emerged unanimously (7-0) from the Senate Insurance Committee this week and has been reassigned to Appropriations due to the fiscal impact.  The bill, designed to “bring the needed competitiveness back to health insurance in Indiana” hopes to lower healthcare costs by incentivizing employers with less than 50 employees to adopt a health reimbursement arrangement in lieu of a traditional employer provided health insurance plan. Since the Affordable Care Act went into place, the number of small businesses offering coverage has dropped to 31% nationally and this bill will give them another choice.
  • The Senate Education Committee made a slight amendment to HB1449  on Wednesday to clarify information about what students qualify for the 21st Century scholarship. By automatically enrolling 7th and 8th graders who meet the programs requirements, the bill should expand the use of the scholarship program by not relying on parents to be aware of the program and enroll their children. After the amendment, the Committee passed the bill 13-0 and it has been recommitted to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further review. The bill is similar to SB435, which previously passed the Senate, so there is strong hope the bill will continue moving forward. 
  • SB4 is a comprehensive plan to address the needs of 6.8M Hoosiers taking direct aim at reducing healthcare costs. “We’ve been chasing our tail by focusing on treatment of sick individuals, when public health should be all about prevention,” said the bill’s author, Sen Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso). “We have been treating sick people expensively rather than preventing healthy people from getting sick,” he said, as he called the Indiana statistics “appalling,” building his case for the measure that aims to overhaul the quality of care local health departments provide, “We live in a state where where you live has an impact on how long you live…where we have major highways with no trauma care access within 45 minutes…with a life expectancy 2 years below the national average…where a mother in 36 of our 92 counties has no access to inpatient birthing facilities. We are 42nd in infant mortality, 43rd in mental health, 45th in smoking and public health spending, 46th in obesity.  We are talking about Indiana, not Mississippi,” said Charbonneau, “We can’t afford to remain at the back of the pack.”  While former Senate Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley called it “the best bill we have ever passed to help rural Indiana and the entire State of Indiana” some committee members remained concerned about ROI on the massive spending proposed, “It’s tough to pull back funding. How do you suggest we say this isn’t working without being perceived as you don’t care?” asked Rep Matt Hostettler (R-Patoka), lending support to Rep Joanna King’s (R-Middlebury) concerns about the ability to evaluate programs across the state, “In just the 7 year span I’ve been raising my children, we’ve heard changes in safe sleep position from our pediatrician. We want measurable positive outcomes,” said Hostettler. When asked how long it would take to evaluate the efficacy of programs, Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box replied, “I don’t think anything less than 10 years would be acceptable.” Endless stakeholders testified – some still opposed, but most speaking in support of the bill touted to have the “potential to change lives and consequently the future wellbeing of our state.” Those opposed feared that “Governments tend to grow and become intrusive over time regardless of if individuals within the bodies do not have malicious intent,” drawing attention to the fact that lawmakers on the House side “elected as ‘limited government Republicans’ just passed the largest budget in state history.”  After considerable testimony the bill was held for further consideration.
  • SB155 is proposed by the Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to allow increased air permitting fees for Title V and Federally Enforceable State Operating Permits (FESOP). The bill will increase the base fee for both permits to $6,100 starting in 2024 (up from $2,381) and keep existing “guardrails” limiting the frequency and amount of future increases (from 2019 legislation) in place, which was not what IDEM originally asked for in the bill, but seems to be a “compromise” that the agency has reached in working with several industry groups. SB 155 passed out of the House Environment Committee the week of March 15, without amendment and moves to the full House for consideration.
  • Rep Shane Lindauer’s (R-Jasper) HB1106 will provide a tax credit for a qualified investment for development on reclaimed coal mining land. The Senate Tax & Fiscal Committee heard the bill on Tuesday and discussed several potential amendments including increasing the total available through the tax credit, which is currently set at a very low $3M. Chair Holdman did not call a vote on the bill noting that after hearing several bills assigned to his committee, he hopes to determine which ones will move forward and hear the bill again, perhaps considering an amendment to change the total dollar amount.
  • HB1451 is a Department of Workforce Development bill cleaning up several provisions designed to reduce overall costs of administering the Unemployment Insurance program. Additionally, it will allow individuals to keep more earnings when they are working part-time and also earning unemployment insurance benefits. The Senate Pensions & Labor Committee passed the bill 9-0 on Wednesday moving it to the full Senate.
  • SB9 started as an attempt to slow down the closure of base-load power generation through an increased review and permission process from the IN Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC). The bill was amended while in the Senate to soften opposition from groups concerned the good intentions might actually drive higher costs. This week, in the House Utilities Committee, language broadly termed as “deferred accounting” was added in response to a recent Court of Appeals decision on accounting and recovery through the IURC. SB9 is now closely related, by content, to HB1417 currently under consideration by the Senate. SB9 will be eligible for 3rd reading early next week.
  • SB167, the bill hoping to increase the number of students/families that complete the Financial Aid for Student Assistance (FAFSA) passed the House Education Committee on Wednesday after an amendment that will sunset the provision in ten years to give the legislature a chance to “see how it’s working.” The bill passed 11-1 after the amendment was approved. Similar bills in past years have not passed this hurdle, so this is good news. The full House will consider the bill next week. 
  • SB176 changes the statutory definition of the rated electric generating capacity of “small modular nuclear reactors” from 350 megawatts (MW) to 470 MW. The original definition of 350 MW was set in 2022 and could be adjusted in the future if/when the federal government creates applicable regulations. Officials from Rolls Royce, a manufacturer of the reactors, spoke in support of the change noting the increase in competition it will create among the supplier base. SB 176 passed the full House by a vote of 70 – 21 and returned to the Senate for final disposition with a concurrence being the most likely outcome.
  • SB340 establishes the Indiana Imagination Library program.  It hopes to use state funding to pay for the postage for books from the Dolly Parton Library Foundation to provide books to Hoosier children from birth to age 5 in order to better prepare them for school. The House Education Committee approved the bill with a 10-1 vote on Wednesday to add Indiana to the 13 other states that have passed similar legislation. One note of caution: there are currently no funds in the budget to pay for the program, but legislators seem hopeful those funds will be added as the process moves forward.
  • HB1382 will encourage public-private partnerships to support robotics programs in K-12 schools. The bill was amended in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday to ensure it applies to any robotics program that students may participate in and keeps the goal of increasing the number of students pursuing STEM fields. The bill has been recommitted to the Senate Appropriations Committee and will require another hearing there before moving to the Senate floor. 
  • The love fest between utilities, rate payers, and environmental groups that started early in the process for SB298 continued in the House Utilities Committee this week. The bill “cleans up” some details in the statute governing infrastructure improvement charges for water and wastewater utilities. Rarely seen in legislative battles, the utilities, rate payers and Citizens Action Coalition all supported the bill in committee. Unamended in Committee or on the House floor, SB 298 will be eligible for 3rd reading in the House early in the week of March 20.

Important Dates:

  • Tuesday, March 21
    • Senate Corrections & Criminal Law, 9:30 a.m.
      • HB1006 Mental Health Programs (Steurwald)
    • Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee, 9:30 a.m.
      • HB1290 Earned Income Tax Credit (Goodrich)
    • Senate Veterans Affairs & the Military, 9:30 a.m.
      • HB1266 Cyber Civilian Corps Program Advisory Board (Judy)
    • House Utilities, Energy & Telecommunications
      • SB33 Solar Panel & Wind Power Equipment Disposal Study (Walker)
      • SB390 Commercial Solar & Wind Energy Ready Communities (Messmer)
  • Wednesday, March 22
    • House Ways & Means, 1:30 p.m.
      • SB46 County Option Circuit Breaker Tax Credit (Sandlin)

*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.