In his State of the State address last week, Governor Pence declared that “our third century will be the greatest Indiana century yet.” But for lawmakers, the next hundred years is less important than the next 300 days – the countdown to Election Day 2016.
It’s no surprise that the campaign season is affecting the legislative session, but last week brought several reminders of how much electoral politics is influencing policymaking.
The political calculus around LGBT rights was clear in the State of the State, as the Governor tried to stay above the legislative fray - condemning discrimination, defending religious freedom and invoking the state constitution while offering few details.
The Indy Chamber continues to advocate for a clear, unambiguous expansion of Indiana’s civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. We’re also working to protect local anti-discrimination ordinances in Indianapolis and elsewhere: SB100 provides LGBT protections with some religious exceptions but overrides such ordinances, while SB344 covers sexual orientation but not gender identity while ‘grandfathering’ existing local protections.
We expect these and other civil rights proposals to be heard in committee during the week of January 25th. Learn more about how you can make your voice heard on this critical issue.
The debate over infrastructure is also being impacted by election year reluctance to raise revenues. The House and Senate heard competing transportation funding bills last week: Senate plans reflect the short-term approach preferred by the Governor (avoiding a tax increase), while HB1001 increases the state gasoline tax by $0.04 while indexing it to inflation.
The Chamber prefers the comprehensive, longer-term package proposed in HB1001, and testified in support of a solution for sustained investment in roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
It’s been a lovefest in the House and Senate Education Committees this session as traditional adversaries are mostly in agreement on a pause in accountability due to significant drops in this year’s ISTEP test scores. HB1003 pauses any accountability measures for teachers that would normally take a hit to their evaluations due to drops in test scores. Similarly, SB200 pauses accountability measures against schools’ A-F grades. Both bills are on the fast track and expected to be signed by the governor next week.
On a positive note, Representative Austin filed HB1398 creating a public-private study commission on small business lending issues, exploring ways to fuel homegrown companies and encourage entrepreneurship in Indiana. The Indy Chamber, leading the nation’s largest Chamber-affiliated microloan program as an SBA partner, would be a participant in this important commission.
Of course, there’s little political downside to supporting small businesses. But on many issues, we expect the lines between campaign rhetoric and legislative debate to be blurred (or erased altogether). Stay tuned for our next update, following a busy week of committee hearings.
You can also be a part of the conversation on Twitter @IndyChamber and make your voice heard by joining Team317 and becoming a social media advocate for the Chamber’s legislative agenda.