The Statehouse this week has been like a limestone roller-coaster, keeping your advocacy team working nearly non-stop. In the wake of the Amazon news, there was a new sense of purpose and plenty of HQ2-inspired rhetoric around economic development. We took two steps forward on transit flexibility and redistricting, but stood still (hopefully temporarily) on bias crimes.
Other bills were heard but held in committee, as sponsors and supporters maneuvered to measure opposition and make deals for the final push before third reading deadlines. It added up to a long week that was sort of like Wednesday’s icy morning commute in Indianapolis – slow going, lots of braking and finger-pointing, and more than a little cursing.
But we won’t stop pushing towards our destination – getting as much of our agenda through the General Assembly gauntlet before March 14th – even if travel gets tricky along the way.
Rotunda repair work:
Public Works crews are busy fixing our winter-worn streets, the General Assembly worked on some public policy repairs this week, too:
Bias for action:
For all of our eagerness to welcome global firms to our state – the kind of companies that have put Indy on the high-tech map in recent years – lawmakers shied away this week from taking a bold step towards positioning Indiana as a more welcoming, inclusive state…the climate preferred by these innovative employers that value a diverse workforce.
The bias crimes bill (SB418) was denied a committee vote this week after a tough hearing that saw the measure take heat from those who believe it doesn’t go far enough (arguing for tougher sentences) and from those who are oblivious to any problem with being one of the last remaining states without any hate crime laws.
Some argued that the bill goes against “equal protection” – while at the same time fighting tooth and nail against equal protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We ask legislators to reject this tired type of cognitive dissonance and make it clear that hate isn’t tolerated by Hoosier elected officials or employers.
It’s also undeniable that some Hoosiers face unique hurdles to employment…or that we’re a stronger state when more of us are working and paying taxes. HB1134, creating a workforce drug recovery program, passed the Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee but was referred to Ways and Means. SB11 (qualifying ex-drug offenders for SNAP benefits as they look for living-wage work) passed out of Senate Appropriations after being amended to take effect next year.
“I go to work”
To make the Kool Moe Dee classic relevant to more Hoosiers, several more straightforward workforce and education bills saw committee action (though the two biggest bills were held back for some additional homework):
Speaking of dual-tracking, both the House and Senate versions of Sunday alcohol sales (SB1 and HB1051) have passed their respective chambers. In this case, as the bills are identical, a conference committee can be avoided altogether by one house concurring with the other version of the legislation – regardless, it looks like July 1st (the day when new laws take effect) will be a Sunday to remember across Indiana.
Small loans, big impact:
Indiana’s workforce is our biggest economic asset – human capital. But let’s face it, especially for small start-up companies, financial capital is pretty important, too. HB1288 expands the definition of “lenders” under the state’s Capital Access Program, opening the door to supporting microloan initiatives like the Chamber’s. President of our Business Ownership Initiative Carrie Henderson testified on behalf of the bill; her team has closed nearly $370,000 in microloans, backed by the SBA and regional investors, to help up-and-coming businesses deal with temporary cash flow issues or get much-needed growth capital without meeting traditional lending standards. The bill passed the Small Business and Economic Development Committee on Thursday.
Up in Smoke:
No, this isn’t a Cheech and Chong reference aimed at the various cannabis measures being passed around the House and Senate this year – we’re more interested in the cigarette tax and smoking age going up.
On Monday morning, January 29th, the House Committee on Public Health will consider HB1380, which would raise the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack and the legal smoking age to 21. As we’ve stressed repeatedly, we support these moves (along with repealing the so-called ‘Smoker’s Bill of Rights’) as a way to cut healthcare costs, contribute to a healthier, more productive workforce, and yield a revenue stream for public health.
Advocates for health and economic development will storm the Statehouse to show their support for the bill at 10:00AM Monday, and groups like the Chamber will release a statement of support to lawmakers. Consider joining us if you’re able.