Halftime Status (Quo) Report

We’ve reached a halfway point for the session: Bills that passed third reading in their chamber of origin early this week are now eligible for action on the other side of the rotunda.  But this session’s casualties have been as notable as its survivors, tough reminders of how stubborn the status quo can be at the Statehouse.

Like Josh McDaniels at a job interview, many legislative proposals showed great promise in January before disappearing at the last minute, leaving behind disappointment and frustration.  Last time we highlighted the demise of tobacco (smoking age) and bias crime legislation without an up-or-down vote.  This week, there are more unfortunate examples of how good policy gets tripped up by process.

Newsflash: Township trustees like having townships
One bright spot of this session was an opportunity to streamline Indiana’s sprawling township bureaucracy, as House GOP leaders supported HB1005 (forcing sparsely-populated townships to merge).

We believe township government as a whole is antiquated and inefficient.  An even more compelling case can be made for doing away with urban townships, where robust city and county government can easily absorb any remaining responsibilities.  But consolidating smaller townships was at least a small step forward.

But the 300 or so affected rural township trustees rallied to protect their paychecks and power to tax-and-spend, and even this small stab at consolidation died without a floor vote.  The bill did get further than SB231, a common-sense reform mandating tougher oversight of township property tax levies and budget surpluses.

It also got further than the attempt to get refunds for offended Colts fans (these days, the Colts have other issues).  But it makes you wonder if Hoosier taxpayers will ever get a refund for supporting too much local government for far too long?

Watered-down workforce:
Another high-profile bill – this one aimed at Indiana’s workforce system – also took a hit this week. HB1002  passed the full House (70-24), but in a very different version from the original: Instead of building an employer-driven workforce system from a “blank sheet of paper” (in the words of author Representative Huston) the surviving bill mandates ongoing legislative analysis of the effectiveness and return-on-investment of the workforce and technical education programs.

There wasn’t overwhelming consensus around HB1002 (or its Senate counterpart, SB50, which also passed third reading and heads to the House), beyond the recognition that workforce development is a critical challenge that demands bold action.  We admire their legislative ambition, but join Speaker Bosma in looking towards 2019 for a more comprehensive, employer-driven strategy.

In other workforce-related news:

  • SB28, a Nursing Faculty Loan Repayment Grant Program, passes on the House unanimously;
  • HB1245, Occupational Licensing Program, passes the House 54-39 (the bill helps clarify licensing opportunities for those with criminal records – part of an agenda helping ex-offenders transition to productive employment, along with bills like SB11, SNAP eligibility, which passed third reading last week);
  • SB399, Occupational Regulation Oversight and Review, passed 41-6 to hit the House; and
  • SB419 Ordinances Affecting Professional Licensing passes on to the House 35-12.

Just another Case of the P.T.A.:
While the session clearly gets an ‘incomplete’ on a whole host of issues, a number of education bills are moving at midterm:

  • HB1426 consolidates Indiana’s four high school diplomas and eliminates end-of-course assessment requirements; it passed third reading 84-5 to graduate to the Senate; the Senate counterpart creating a single diploma, SB177, also passed;
  • SB297, creating the Employability Skills Curriculum, passed unanimously to the House;
  • HB1399 creates a stronger focus on math in elementary school teaching licenses – the math on its passage to the Senate was pretty easy (91-0); on the Senate side, SB387 relaxed certain licensing requirements but created pay incentives for teachers specializing in science, math, and technology – it passed 35-12;
  • SB303, Various Education Matters (dealing mostly with enrollment counts, deadlines and transportation issues) also passes on to the House 45-3.

Small victories (and small loans) add up:
On the economic development front, there weren’t any sweeping plans to restructure the state’s tax system or business attraction apparatus.  There were a few ill-conceived bills that were killed or neutralized, and some improvements that – if they make through the legislative gauntlet of the next few weeks – will contribute to a stronger business climate.  And modest wins can add up to a major impact.

  • HB1288 expands the state’s capital access program to include more microlending partners – essential for small and start-up businesses to grow and manage cash flow – a big win for entrepreneurs and programs like the Indy Chamber’s Business Ownership Initiative – among other economic development matters; it passed the House 91-0;
  • HB1316, confirming that software-as-a-service revenues are not subject to state sales taxes (a key issue for our high-tech environment) passes on to the Senate 70-20 (while its Senate companion, SB257, also makes it to the House and lands in Ways & Means);
  • HB1374 (Financing and Transportation) passes 92-0, streamlining funds for infrastructure, water and transportation projects through the Indiana Finance Authority (and including funds for the South Shore Rail Line – we believe that every mass transit investment bodes well for regional growth across the state);
  • HB1080 lifts Indy-area ban on light rail passes 90-5 in the House and moves to Senate for first reading;
  • SB213 (Property Tax Exemption for Affordable Rental Housing) passes 45-3; and
  • SB386 (Financing of Flood Control Improvements) doesn’t get dammed up in the Senate, passing 39-8;
  • SB269 (Road and Utility Repair) passes 48-0 in Senate and picks up a House sponsor.

Second Half Pep Talk:
The last couple of legislative updates have been heavy on how the short session seems to be reverting to form – a small handful of significant bills, a few issues (like Sunday sales) grabbing headlines, but lawmakers hesitant to take on more substantial (or costly) proposals until the budget year.  It’s not surprising.

But with a few weeks to go before Sine Die, let’s not give up on the progress on economic development, public transportation, redistricting reform, and other measures still alive and kicking.  There’s still hope for productive action on a number of our agenda items…and after all, if the tiny firefly can illuminate its way to being the official state insect, isn’t anything possible?

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