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A Healthy Dose of Debate

Posted by chamberadmin on February 3, 2017

The General Assembly has settled into a fast-paced schedule.  With deadlines for first house passage towards the end of February in both chambers, the next few weeks are do-or-die for 1,200+ bills, as the major issues – the budget, infrastructure, pre-K – keep moving.   

So if you believe in healthy debate, skip the gym one day and stop by the Statehouse – you’ll see lawmakers getting a workout rushing among committee hearings.

On the topic of health, the Indy Chamber is proud to join the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, a diverse coalition whose members include the Indiana Hospital Association, Indiana State Medical Association, and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.   

The Alliance will take on pressing Hoosier health issues, including opioid abuse, obesity, and infant mortality, starting with public policy initiatives aimed at the ongoing epidemic of tobacco use.  They say you can’t put a price on health, but tobacco’s fiscal toll nears $7B annually in medical expenses and lost productivity…not to mention the lives of more than 11,000 Hoosiers each year.   

High healthcare costs and employee absenteeism erode Indiana’s affordable business climate; dismal health and wellness rankings undercut our promise of a competitive workforce and our appeal to new talent.  Tobacco is a public health and economic development challenge; our legislative prescription includes: 

  • Increasing Indiana’s current cigarette tax (Hoosiers pay one of the lowest per-pack taxes in the country, paired with one of the highest rates of smoking);
  • Dedicating a portion of resulting revenue to restore funding for Cessation and Prevention programs;
  • Raising the age of age of purchase from 18 to 21; and
  • Allowing employers to better manage the widespread liability of higher insurance rates and other workplace impacts of smoking-related ailments, eliminating the so-called ‘Smoker’s Bill of Rights.’   

Clearing Committee to Clear the Air 
These Alliance priorities are reflected in HB1578, heard in the Public Health Committee on Wednesday; supporters turned out in favor of the bill, the Chamber’s Mark Fisher testified for it, and it sailed through the committee 11-0.   

Education: Do the Math 
Turning back to education, this session has seen legislators weigh in on school start dates, cursive handwriting and other classroom issues.  But ask a veteran lawmaker (or lobbyist) and they'll tell you the subject that really matters is math – counting votes and assessing budget numbers.    

Vote-counting calculus has come into play on pre-K:  Earlier in the week, language granting a seamless transition from the pre-K pilot to the state’s K-12 voucher program (both serving low-to-moderate income families) was inserted into HB1004.  The amendment made the bill controversial to many Democrats, but gives skeptical Republicans another philosophical reason to embrace it.   

On balance, we believe the voucher addition won over some GOP votes; it remains to be seen whether voucher foes are willing to scuttle the entire pre-K program to kill this provision.  A broader issue for advocates is that the bill remains a $20M pilot expansion, not a $50M statewide investment.  HB1004 passed the Education Committee 9-4, but there’s a lot of time (and twists) ahead before this issue gets a final grade.   

Ease On Down the Road 
(This subheading courtesy of Tim Brown, Indy Chamber Director of Policy and R&B Musicals.)

HB1002 keeps on truckin’ with its long-term strategy for road and highway funding.  Passing the House Roads & Transportation Committee 8-5 after last week’s joint hearing, the bill moves on to Ways & Means (chaired by co-author Representative Tim Brown).   

One bill that’s in the slow lane so far is HB1008, the workforce opportunity tax credit (supporting employer-driven training for high-wage, high-demand jobs).  We urge the Ways & Means Committee to act on this plan to upskill Indiana’s workforce.   

On the other hand, HB1036 is already on its second lap – the Chamber-supported Marion County judicial selection bill passed third reading with a two-thirds majority and heads to the Senate.   

Finally, kudos to HB1470, improving collection, coordination and transparency for state data.  Information means accountability, but open source data also allows us to harness the creativity of our tech community to make state government work smarter; the Indy Chamber supports this idea through our ‘Hackathon’ partnership with TechPoint (which recently brought high-tech innovations to mass transit issues).

Partners in Progress 
There is an “I” in TIF, but it’s still been a team effort to protect the tax increment financing district around the Indianapolis Airport.  The Indy Chamber, Airport Authority, Gateway Community Development Corporation, the West Side Chamber have worked closely with Councillors and legislators on the Airport TIF issue (SB186, which passed the Rules Committee and is being considered in Appropriations).   

Strengthening the TIF is part is part of a broader strategy for redevelopment on Indy’s west side, including the potential extension of the Blue Line rapid transit route along West Washington Street to spur reinvestment in an area that’s struggled through the transition of traditional manufacturing.     

And Speaking of Transit 
Thanks to everyone who attended the recent City-County Council hearing on Marion County mass transit:  200 supporters packed the Assembly room to hear dozens of civic leaders and concerned citizens testify in favor of Proposal 3.  If Councillors didn’t get the message on Election Day, enthusiastic support for transit options came through loud-and-clear again on Monday.    

Prop 3 will next be heard in the Metropolitan Economic Development Committee on Feb. 13th at 5:30 and the Rules Committee on Feb. 21st at 5:30pm, with a final vote expected on Feb. 27th.  Go to Transit Drives Indy to get a full schedule and keep following @Transit4Indy for updates.