Amid the winter weather, the Statehouse schedule heated up this week. Lawmakers heard more than 100 bills in three days, bringing to mind the words of John Wooden: “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” Despite the frantic pace, few issues have been settled – the biggest battles still lie ahead.
As reported in our last update, the House and Senate have lined up behind two competing visions for infrastructure funding. This week, SB 67 passed the full Senate 49-1, and HB 1001 cleared the House Transportation Committee – moving one step closer to a showdown that’s become too focused on the election year politics of tax increases versus the state’s transportation needs.
The Chamber prefers the longer-term approach outlined in HB 1001, raising the state gas tax and indexing it to inflation: A competitive transportation system demands ongoing investment with a predictable revenue stream. (Our position is summarized in this piece by Transportation, Infrastructure and Environment Council chair Greg Fennig.) We anticipate a protracted debate to reconcile these differences.
There’s also been more debate but little meaningful movement towards expanding Indiana’s civil rights laws to include LGBT Hoosiers. That should change next week, when Senate Bills 100 and 344 are expected to be heard in the Rules & Legislative Procedure Committee (along with SB 66, which could receive a hearing in the Judiciary Committee). Senator Long has shown real leadership in managing the discussion and making progress possible – now it’s time for action.
As these bills wait on committee dockets, a new study from Visit Indy reinforces the urgency of action. The survey of national meeting planners and Chicago residents (Indy’s top leisure market) highlights the continued damage to the region’s reputation done by last year’s RFRA controversy. (And the economic fallout goes far beyond the hospitality industry…any employer that counts workforce as a priority should be concerned about Indy’s ability to recruit and retain talent.)
As with road funding, it’s about half-measures versus lasting solutions: The RFRA “fix” mitigated the worst of the law’s potential consequences…but the time has come to settle the issue. If you haven’t done so already, visit Indiana Competes to learn more, sign the business pledge and contact your legislator.
One area where talk quickly turned to action is ISTEP, where bills shielding schools'A-F accountability grades and teacher pay from being affected by last year’s scores have already been passed and signed by the Governor – there was certainly no “pause” in getting these fixes passed.
There are many bills addressing the other hot topic in education, the potential teacher shortage. Speaker Bosma introduced HB 1002 to increase scholarships for new teachers, though without associated funding. Other bills, like HB 1034 (passed this week), SB 328 and HB 1339 (to be heard Tuesday) also address recruitment and retention.
Two other promising bills made progress this week: SB 251 (creating a fund to support afterschool activities) passed out of committee and SB 301 made it through second reading. We expect both bills to be passed out of the Senate next week.
We are excited to support HB 1394 on Monday, granting IPS more flexibility to establish innovation network schools by resetting the clock on state accountability in favor of local oversight. We’re also optimistic about HB 1330 on Early Childhood Education quality measure, to be heard on Tuesday.
This year’s education “Frankenbill” is clearly SB 93, which had six different bill amended into it this week. Among many other things, the new bill allows more flexibility for schools to provide incentives in hiring teachers in high needs areas, especially STEM subjects.
In utterly unsurprising news, the issue of Sunday alcohol sales has again sparked vigorous debate. Regardless of how it’s resolved, the push for consensus on transportation funding, civil rights and other issues is likely to leave everyone needing a drink – stay tuned for further updates as we move closer to the endgame on these and other business priorities.