Indy Chamber / Be Active / Advocacy / Legislative Updates / For Whom the Gavel Falls

For Whom the Gavel Falls

Posted by chamberadmin on February 24, 2017

As the General Assembly is wrapping up, bills are flying through the House and the Senate. Use Voter Voice to find out how the legislation important to you has fared. 

Today the City-County Council is expected to take a full and final vote on Prop 3, funding the Marion County Transit Plan. Please join us at 6:30PM at the City-Council Building to push the transit bill over the finish line! Check in at Transit Drives Indy and keep following @Transit4Indy for any last-minute updates.

It’s been another frantic few days at the General Assembly, filled with deadline drama.  As we explained last week, it’s a pivotal time in the session: The last days for House and Senate committee reports came earlier this week; the House cut off second reading votes on Thursday, and third readings will be wrapped up in both chambers by noon next Tuesday.

(The schedule is made even tougher by the timing of the FDIC International – on April 24th, firefighters flood into Indy and douse the action at the Statehouse.  The convention books so many hotel rooms that displaced lawmakers are looking to wrap up a week earlier than usual.)

Hundreds of bills have already answered the great quorum call in the sky, either bottled up or voted down in committee or failing on second or third reading.  Some proposals managed comebacks earlier in the session (i.e. the short-term rental bill) – but for others, the odds are getting slimmer than IU’s tournament chances.

Gavel or Guillotine? 
Ironically, plans for an appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction now involve another appointed official – the Senate parliamentarian.  After SB179 narrowly failed, government reform supporters are staring down a Senate rule against “re-voting” defeated legislation that’s in a successful House bill.  (Senator Long has floated the notion of tweaking HB1005’s residency requirements or other details to revive the measure.)  

On critical issues like education, we believe the buck should stop with the Governor, and that fragmented authority means diminished accountability.  We’re hopeful a policy making the Superintendent an appointed, professional administrator of the Department of Education (DOE) can still become law this year.  For now, it’s uncertain whether the gavel ending Monday’s vote was a temporary setback or a guillotine to its chances.   

A Taxing Workforce Challenge 
The Ways & Means Committee stripped the employer training tax credit provision from HB1008 on Tuesday, sending it to the full House to pass second reading and be engrossed with limited fiscal impact.  The bill now focuses on strategic planning and coordinating efforts among DOE, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and Ivy Tech to build an effective training pipeline for high-wage, high-demand jobs.    

The bill also survives as a potential vehicle for additional reform of the state’s billion-dollar workforce system.  (We noted last week that the latest budget includes $2M for ‘Workforce Ready’ tuition grants for targeted job training instead of employer-directed tax credits; it also includes $2M for to strengthen K-12 STEM education.)  

On the Senate side, SB198 (Career Technical Education - CTE) continues the push to consolidate functions under DWD: $110M originally earmarked to DOE for CTE would move to the agency, which will continue to track high-demand occupations – but now with a ‘real-time,’ supply-and-demand mandate to match employer needs with career programming and student awareness efforts.   

Pre-K Peril? 
Earlier on the education continuum, Senate Appropriations passed its pre-K bill (SB276, companion to HB1004) 12-1 this week. The good news stops there.   

Early learning advocates already viewed HB1004 (doubling the existing pilot to $20M annually across ten counties) as tepid progress on a key priority.  The Senate has slashed even this modest expansion, from $20M to $13M – just $3M above current levels.    

The Senate added a $1M iPad pilot for remote delivery of early learning curricula – ignoring the proven social, emotional and educational value of high-quality, in-person programs. You can’t replace a child’s earliest classroom experience with an app, and Siri is no substitute for a caring teacher.  This adds insult to injury by diverting from truly underfunded, impactful efforts.   

It remains to be seen whether the Senate’s fiscal solons are hedging against bad revenue news with a hard line on new spending, signaling displeasure about the addition of pro-voucher language in the House, or if pre-K is being used as a bargaining chip for future negotiations among the House, Senate and Governor on other budget issues…most notably, the wide gap on road funding we detailed last week.   

The Indy Chamber continues to urge long-term thinking on issues like early learning, infrastructure, and economic development (i.e. Regional Cities, which is vulnerable inHB1001 and SB507):  We envision a future where today’s kids are prepared for a high-skill job market – and can get to work on well-maintained roads (or hey, even mass transit).   

More Action: 
Meanwhile, other key bills kept moving – or stalled out – as the session clock kept ticking: 

  • HB1578 (the tobacco bill, per the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana) moved to third reading with some key changes – the cigarette tax was moved to the budget and dropped from $1.50 to $1 (as we noted last week), and raising the smoking-age from 18 to 21 was removed – but support for anti-smoking programs keeps moving; 
  • SB277 on food deserts passed third reading (a major issue in Indianapolis, where a lasting solution also involves accessible, expanded transit);
  • SB9 allowing supplemental SNAP benefits to former drug offenders has moved to 3rd reading;  
  • SB312 passed third reading after amendment; in a win for the Chamber agenda, the current version supports hiring of ex-offenders by putting reasonable limits on civil liability against employers that do so;
  • SB439 (Bias Crimes) seemed to have stalled on 2nd reading after unfavorable amendments discouraged the author to call the bill for debate – at this point, essentially killing the legislation for 2017 and leaving Indiana one of just five states without some ‘hate crime’ statute on the books.    

We’ll provide a more comprehensive list of survivors (and ‘zombie bills’ – think ‘Walking Dead’ meets C-SPAN) next week, as well as a perspective and predictions as we move towards endgame on key issues.  But to close on a more positive note:   

Next Stop…Victory? 
On Monday (2/27), the City-County Council is expected to take a full and final vote on Prop 3, funding the Marion County Transit Plan.  We’re cautiously optimistic about the bipartisan support for improved mass transit service among councillors (19 of whom represent districts that spoke out loud-and-clear for transit options in November) – but we want to keep up a visible show of public support.   

Please join us at 7:00PM at the City-County Building to push this critical civic priority over the finish line.  In the meantime, check in at Transit Drives Indy and keep following @Transit4Indy for any last-minute updates.   

Of course, our ultimate vision is regional transit system that connects population and employment centers to support regional economic growth.  But action in Marion County is a monumental milestone in more than a decade of advocacy on this issue.  Michael Huber and Steve Sullivan, former CEO of our steadfast partner MIBOR, summed it up nicely in the IBJ back in July – writing to voters, but relevant to the Council:   

“A ‘yes’ for mass transit is a vote for growth, and giving local workers and families a better opportunity to reach the middle class through education and employment.  It’s a vote to bring new investment to struggling neighborhoods, and make our city even more appealing to new talent and business.”