This was the week where legislators had their nose to the grindstone digging into the details of bills and moving difficult subjects forward. We are seeing some bills coming together very close to the anticipated final version of the bill. Others saw big changes that are clearly just one step in the negotiation process with many steps to go.
Most eyes in the Statehouse were on the House and Senate Public Health Committees as they met simultaneously and separately to consider HB1001 (in Senate Public Health) and SB3 (in House Public Health). Both bills contained language requested by Governor Holcomb to put several items into statute so that he can discontinue the COVID-19 emergency orders while still preserving enhanced Medicaid & SNAP benefits, vaccination authorities, and licensure for some medical professionals. HB1001 also contained the potentially costly and limiting requirements on employers choosing to/mandated to require COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees.
SB3 emerged from Committee still limited to the emergency-related items except for the medical professionals licensing as that is now in HB1003 and without any of the closely watched employer vaccine language. Because those items were moving forward in SB3, the Senate amended HB1001 to focus only on employer vaccine requirements with several updates including: employee exemptions will follow federal ADA rules (vs. the loose exemption allowances in the previous version); employee testing may be required twice a week (vs. once per week); illness acquired immunity will qualify for only 3 months (vs. 6 months); employee testing is not at the cost of the employer; and employees who do not meet exemption requirements and refuse vaccination will not be entitled to Unemployment Insurance. The bill also allows sports and entertainment venues to require vaccinations per contracts with performers.
While rumors had swirled about some of these changes, it was not clear until the hearing exactly what would be in the final amendment. Business advocates who intended to speak in opposition to the bill now testified in support. “Government interference in private business is not another thing we need added to our plate,” said Caryl Auslander who represented several local chambers, including E-REP, “Employers know what is best when it comes to the safety and health of their businesses, employees and customers.” And several individuals who had planned to support the bill found themselves opposing the updated bill that removed some of their protection from losing a job.
While we are likely seeing nearly final versions of HB1001 and SB3, the changes made Tuesday morning to HB1002 in Senate Tax & Fiscal Committee are not likely final at all. As passed by the House, HB1002 was a $1B tax cut package through income, business personal property, utility receipts tax cuts, etc. All of that was stripped and replaced with language to reinstate the rules requiring large state surpluses be divided between paying down pension debts and sending tax refunds to Hoosier citizens. Legislators also inserted SB390 (sunsets on food, beverage, and lodging taxes) as it is likely to die in the House. Another amendment clarifies what constitutes an expansion of gaming to prevent the Hoosier Lottery from beginning online lottery sales that is currently under consideration. After adopting the amendments and hearing testimony, legislators held the bill in committee for consideration at a meeting this coming Tuesday.
All bills must move through committee (before February 24th) and then pass the full House or Senate before March 1st. After that, Legislators will work in “Conference Committee” to reconcile any differences in the versions of bills. Here are the highlights from the action this week (bills are listed as they are in the Report: numerically in order of High, Medium, Low priority):
- HB1094 requires the department of education to issue an RFP to contract with a company to provide adequate employer liability and worker’s compensation insurance coverage for employers that employ students in work-based learning courses. The overall goal is to increase work-based learning for high school students. The bill passed out of Senate Education 11-0
- The Senate stripped and almost entirely replaced the language of the controversial HB1134 with an amendment proposed by bill sponsor Sen Linda Rogers (R-Granger) removing many, but not all of the most concerning aspects of the bill. Still, educators are unhappy with the bill, “Even in improved form, HB 1134 still feeds divisiveness and the politicization of our public schools,” Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill. The bill now makes curricular advisory boards a “may” provision, requires results from assessments of students be in aggregate, requires learning managements systems with parental access to ensure transparency, reduces the 8 “divisive” tenants to 3, changes the complaint process, removes the “materials harmful to a minor” language, and loosens language regarding ongoing consultation or daily interactions between teachers and students concerning mental health. “If people don’t like it on either side of the spectrum, I think you have a good bill,” said House bill author Rep Tony Cook, (R-Cicero). The amendment passed 11-1 and the bill was held for further amendment next week.
- HB1306 establishes the housing task force to review issues related to housing and housing shortages in Indiana. “The goal has been to work with the general assembly and increase housing across Indiana. This is a nationwide problem that has escalated since 2010 and COVID. Our goal is to come up with solutions,” said bill author Doug Miller (R-Elkhart). Stakeholders such as the Indiana Builders Association, Indiana Apartment Association, Indiana Manufactured Housing Association, Indiana Association of Realtors, Habitat for Humanity, Indiana Bankers Association and AARP all spoke in support of the bill before it passed out of Senate Commerce 10-0.
- SB157 allows small parcels of land be disposed of after they are no longer needed by INDOT and extends INDOT’s ability to enter into P3 projects, extending the sunset date for P3 authorization to June 30, 2031. The P3 extension is important to SW IN and the I-69 bridge over the Ohio River. The bill successfully passed the House 79-11. It was not amended in the House, so will move quickly to the Governor.
- Southwest Indiana joined with several communities to amend SB245 to potentially bring more funding to the region. The bill establishes a statewide sports and tourism bid fund for communities to support competitive bids to bring sports and tourism events to Indiana. After an amendment in Ways & Means Committee, at least 30% of the funds approved will be allocated for use outside of Indianapolis (the bill previously only committed 25%). The bill passed out of committee 22-1.
- SB382 is a comprehensive update bill for the Dept. Of Revenue. The Senate included a reduction in the closed cartridge vaping systems taxes that were just established last year. Unfortunately as the bill passed out of Ways & Means Committee on Thursday, the reduction in taxes remains part of the bill Health advocates had argued to keep the taxes at the higher rate to help reduce smoking rates, esp. Among teens.
- HB1003 allows nursing schools to hire part-time faculty, enroll more students and hopes to address the severe nursing shortage in Indiana, only worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, with a projected deficit of about 1,300 nurses that need to be graduating a year to fill the gap. “The bill is timely and who better than a community college to address the workforce shortage,” said Sen Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis). “This bill adds an additional 5K nurses by 2031 – an increase of 1,350 students a year,” said Sen Mark Messmer (R-Jasper). The bill passed in the Senate 48-0.
- While Sen Rodney Pol (D-Chesterton) argued for a bigger increase, Rep Matt Lehman (R-Berne) said, “We are working to find the right balance in the face of record inflation.” HB1153 increases the benefits for injuries and disablements by 3% each year for four years, beginning on July 1, 2022, and provides parity to the Ambulatory Service Centers reimbursement rate. The bill passed out of Pensions and Labor 9-1 and is recommitted to Appropriations.
- HB1221 allows electric utilities to create pilot programs deploying charging infrastructure for “public use” electric vehicles, such as public transit, school buses and emergency vehicles, and recover the cost of those programs by charging higher public rates. The bill also allows private companies, like gas stations, to buy and sell electricity from the utilities that service their area for the purpose of electric vehicle charging. The bill passed second reading this week.
- HB1318 continues to move forward as an attempt to add childcare options by easing licensing requirements for daycare operated by a public or private school on school premises. House Family & Children Committee approved the bill 6-0 on Monday to send the bill to the full House.
- Sen Boots (R-Crawfordsville) presented SB74 in House Government and Regulatory Reform, noting “This bill does three things. We discovered there is no definition in code for what a manufacturing business is; it changes the small business preference for a manufacturer to be less than 100 employees and 4 million in fiscal in a year; and asks agencies to track preferences given to bidders.” Rep Hostetler (R-Patoka) expressed concerns that perhaps all preferences should be eliminated and cast the lone vote against the bill; it passed 8-1.
- An amended SB145, the “dark store issue” passed out of House Ways and Means 23-0. “The bill provides clarity and consistency,” said Sen Brian Buchanan (R-Lebanon) calling on the DLGF to annually set a statewide price (assessed value) per square foot. This would only apply to new properties. The bill saves taxpayers and cities from a costly appeals process. Stakeholders feel the language will certainly go a long way in narrowing the differences in values between the counties.
- Sen Kyle Walker (R-Lawrence) presented SB166 in House Ways and Means where it was amended to include railroads in the list of qualified projects. The bill, which allows governmental bodies to enter public-private partnerships for certain transportation or infrastructure projects, passed out of committee 19-4.
- SB290 does three things: establishes a career coaching pilot program to help students explore career paths with a third party, assigns “null” letter grades to school corporations for yet another school year, and allows the budget committee to review instructional days if they appear unrepresentative of the norm. An amendment which requires the school board attorney at the first meeting of every year to remind members and the public what the powers and duties of school board are and provide information about appropriate employment relationships was added to the bill. An amendment to ensure school superintendent salaries did not rise faster than teacher salaries and another to mandate public hearings for superintendent salary negotiations both passed by consent. The bill passed out of Committee 13-0.
- HB1034 has been described as a “simple” bill confirming that a lien resulting from an agreement between a commission and a taxpayer in a TIF takes priority over any subsequent mortgage. Senators added language in Committee Tuesday to allow 7.5% of the revenues generated in a TIF to be used for marketing and land allocation expenses. The amended bill passed 8-0.
- While realtor and builders’ associations spoke in support of the bill and expressing a willingness to pay their “fair share of infrastructure costs, but not overpaying for connection,” stakeholders opposing Rep Pressel’s (R-LaPorte) HB1245 left committee members and the author looking ill-prepared for the technical discussion. The original intention of the bill was to provide transparency in determining a “fair and equitable” cost for sewer district projects and parity amongst the three types of sewer districts; however, it quickly became clear that there was more work to be done when Sen Shelli Yoder (D-Bloomington) questioned Rep Pressel about the impact of his bill on a current project involving 260 homeowners on Lake Michigan. This was followed by an exchange where Sen Blake Doriot (R-Goshen) felt he needed to “call out” a stakeholder for what he referred to as a “misleading” offhanded comment about how long the life is of a septic system if you have children. “I may be a dumb surveyor. I am very upset,” said Sen Doriot. A contrite apology quickly followed. While Chairman Eric Koch (R-Bedford) initially announced an intention to consider three amendments in the hearing, none were discussed, and the bill was held for “members to do their homework” and return next week.
- The House considered SB1 Thursday ensuring that more Hoosiers will be eligible for the automatic taxpayer refunds coming later this spring by removing a provision that requires taxpayers to have adjusted gross income tax liability to qualify. More than $500M in excess rainy-day funds from the last fiscal year will be used to provide $125 checks to Hoosiers across the state. The bill passed 88-0. It was not amended while it was in the House, so after several procedural stops, it will move to the Governor for his consideration.
- SB5 provides for reciprocity for healthcare workers in Indiana and was amended to include the six professions that were already in Indiana code for reciprocity. The bill requires the Indiana Professional Licensing Board to make decisions within 30 days with some incentives built in. The bill passed out of House Ways and Means 24-0
- Farmers moved one step closer to getting abatement for farm property this week. “The cost of equipment is so much higher, and it’s costing so much more money to do business,” Sen Rick Niemeyer (R-Lowell) said. “If they are creating jobs, creating something there with their farm, that can be abated. Farmers deserve the same advantages as manufacturing.” SB119 passed out of the House 76-16.
- Sen Liz Brown (R-Ft Wayne) presented SB251, the interstate medical compact bill, which creates a process for reciprocity with physician licenses. The bill applies solely to physicians, and does not preclude the Indiana Board of Licensing from having authority. The bill which has enjoyed unanimous support thus far, again passed 23-0.
- Sen Eric Koch began, “I am very pleased to bring SB271 which will bring Indiana into an age of nuclear power.” The bill concerns what are known as small modular nuclear reactors – this is not the image of the round dome and the cooling tower. The bill authorizes and requires IURC in consultation with IDEM to adopt rules regarding the use of small modular reactors in Indiana. This bill is a step forward to begin rulemaking on this very important initiative.” Testimony grew tense as some spoke in opposition to the bill. Rep Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) urged a caution, “This is risky, it makes more sense to let the industry develop and then look at it later.” Kerwin Olson from Citizen’s Action Committee agreed, “Nuclear delivers very little and makes many, many promises. What this bill does is put ratepayers on the hook for an extraordinary amount of risk and cost.” One stakeholder asked, “Who benefits from these? Only the companies who build them.” SB271 passed out of House Utilities 8-3.
- Sen Linda Rogers’ (R-Granger) SB343 specifies that “agritourism activity” includes camping, canoeing, kayaking, tubing on a river, and winter sports activities, including activities that take place on a facility or on grounds used for or in connection with winter sports activities. The bill passed 65-25. It was amended in the House, so the bill’s author will determine whether to move for a concurrence or send the bill to conference committee.
- SB366 codifies many of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education existing practices, and directly engages the legislature in higher education funding and monitoring the results-focused funding options. The bill passed the House 92-0 on Tuesday.
- As COVID cases rapidly decline in Indiana (down 40% from last week) – though remain high compared to many other times during the pandemic – the IN Dept. of Health (IDH) announced that K-12 schools will no longer be required to report new cases and the IDH will close the vaccination clinic at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that has operated for months.
- Statewide hospitalizations are now below 1500 – the fewest since November 16th. Fewer than 325 Hoosiers are in the ICU with COVID and the state now has more than 325 open ICU beds.
- Statewide, 56.4% of Hoosiers aged 5+ are fully vaccinated (2 or more doses of Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J). The 4-county SW IN region has 169,599 (59.3%) of 285,818 residents aged 5+ fully vaccinated. If you want to get vaccinated or boosted, you can make an appointment online.
- If you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed and want to get tested, find a test site here: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): COVID-19 Testing Information
- Indiana has had more than 1,672,761 positive cases of COVID-19; 64,530 of these are “reinfections since 9/1/21.”
- Four of Indiana’s 92 counties have moved to a yellow rating (low to moderate spread) with 36 in orange (moderate spread) and the remaining 52 rated red (high risk spread with 15% or greater positivity rate & 100 or more new cases/100,000 residents).
- The 7-day positivity rate as of 2/10 (lags by 7 days to include late-arriving test results) for all test results is 12.8% (down from 18.3% last Friday) and the 7-day rate for unique individuals tested is 23%. SW IN Positivity rates are: Gibson 25.1%, Posey 16.3%, Vanderburgh 17.2% and Warrick 20.4%.
- The state reported 45 new deaths on Thursday 2/17 (25 from the last 2 days). At this time 21,568 Hoosiers have died from COVID – more than the total population of nearby Spencer County. If you include presumptive deaths (clinically diagnosed as COVID by a physician, but no COVID-19 positive test), the total is 22,426.
IMPORTANT DATES (all times Eastern):
- Monday, February 21
- House Education
- SB82 FAFSA Requirement (Leising)
- SB356 Teacher Matters (Rogers)
- SB388 Foreign Gifts & Ownership of Agricultural Land (Messmer)
- House Ways & Means
- SB290 Various Education Matters (Raatz)
- SB411 Commercial Solar & Wind Energy (Messmer)
- Senate Environmental Affairs
- HB1226 Solid Waste Matters (Speedy)
- Senate Natural Resources
- HB1209 Carbon Sequestration Projects (Soliday)
- House Education
- Tuesday, February 22 – Deadline for Senate Bills to pass out of House Committees
- Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy
- HB1002 Various Tax Matters (Brown, T)
- Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy
- Tuesday, February 22 – Deadline for Senate bills to pass out of House Committee
* Committee hearings can be scheduled with less than 24-hours notice, so this schedule changes quickly