Legislative Update: Booze Cruise

We won’t bury the lede – the biggest story in the General Assembly this week (and likely the whole session) was Sunday alcohol sales cruising through the legislative process without so much as a hiccup.

This glide path to passage wasn’t shared by many bills – plenty of legislation perished this week, and the House and Senate worked to clean up differing versions of other proposals (like how best to clarify the sales tax status of software products).

Outside the Statehouse, another legislative body did some pre-spring cleaning, too: The Indianapolis City-County Council brought an end to a messy leadership fiasco with the resignation of Stephen Clay and elevation of Vop Osili (a strong supporter of our ex-offender re-entry, transit and entrepreneurial priorities) to council president.

But let’s stay focused on the General Assembly, where legislators kept working against their March 14th adjournment deadline to build common ground on some bills, unceremoniously dump others, and create campaign fodder by offering politically-motivated amendments on hot-button issues.

We’ll drink to that!
SB1, allowing Sunday carryout alcohol sales, passed the House 82-10 on Tuesday and the Senate concurred 38-10 on Thursday after the bill was amended last week to make it effective immediately after being signed by the Governor (instead of July 1, when new laws typically take effect).  Since Governor Holcomb pledged to sign it quickly, you’ll be able to add to your Sunday shopping list within the next couple of weeks.

Bridging a bicameral ‘digital divide’ on tech taxes
Consensus also seems to be breaking out on a plan to affirm that software-as-a-service transactions are exempt from state sales taxes.  The House Ways & Means Committee finally passed the Senate version (SB257) preferred by the tech community, with a minor amendment clarifying that retail software transactions may still be taxed. So don’t expect big savings if you get your Microsoft Office updates from Best Buy, but this tax code tweak tips the balance toward a more competitive business climate aimed at employers like Salesforce.

Swept under the rug?
Hoosiers may have to wait for a cleaned-up electoral system, as SB326 (redistricting standards) didn’t get a hearing this week in the House Elections Committee and is likely dead for the session.  The Chamber, reflecting broad business and community support, has endorsed non-partisan redistricting reform – like a competitive marketplace, we believe more competitive elections would bring more productive policymaking.

SB326 takes only a small step in the right direction, but was still tripped up without even a committee hearing or roll call – the unfortunate irony that a modest reform to make voters more powerful was itself denied a vote.  The electorate deserves better.

On the other hand, we wouldn’t mind if HB1278 continued to languish in the dustbin of bad legislative ideas.  We detailed the bill’s efforts to curtail Economic Improvement Districts (EIDs) last week, limiting a tool that allows local property owners voluntarily fund important investments (such as extended transit routes to address the need for a reliable, accessible workforce).  The bill didn’t get a committee vote this week.

Speaking of regional transit and committee maneuvering, we’re pleased that HB1080, repealing the ban on light rail in Central Indiana, is now scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday in the Senate Homeland Security and Transportation Committee.  We’ll be there to testify on behalf of regional flexibility and mass transit options.

Drop it like it’s hot
Remember that song, by Snoop Dogg and Pharrell?  It hit #5 on the Billboard Hip-Hop Chart in 2005…the year Indiana finally settled our long-running Daylight Saving Time debate.  Fortunately, lawmakers listened the Doggfather and dropped an ill-considered plan to assign a study committee to evaluate appropriate time zone (or zones) for Indiana’s 92 counties.

School dazed:
HB1001 attempts to address a sudden shortfall in K-12 funding by authorizing transfers from the general fund – it passed the Senate on third reading, 48-0.  As we detailed last week, the Indy Chamber supports less confusion and guesswork about school district enrollment by authorizing multiple official ‘count days’ to help create a more accurate education funding formula.

Watching the clock:
Other bills of note moved forward this week as the clock counts down towards sine die (a clock that now gets to stay on Eastern Standard Time):

  • SB353, studying a regional development tax credit, was amended and passed Ways & Means 19 – 1; it was broadened last week to evaluate certified tech parks and study development of a residential TIF;
  • SB386 creates flood control improvement districts to finance much-needed projects along the White River; it passed out of House Ways and Means by a 20 – 0 vote;
  • HB1245 – occupational licensing – passed unanimously as amended out of Senate Pensions and Labor; in a rare win for home rule, a preemption of local licensing and certification authority was struck from the bill, which also loosens restrictions for ex-offenders reentering the workforce.
  • A companion bill to HB1245, SB399, also passed one committee hurdle (Employment, Labor, and Pensions) and was referred to Ways & Means;
  • The Senate’s workforce development bill (SB50) was heard and held in House Ways & Means, but is on the schedule again for Monday (representing a last grasp at tinkering on the margins of workforce reform, given the likely demise of HB1002);
  • The Employability Skills Curriculum legislation (SB297) passed the House Education Committee (after being amended to remove a proposed work ethic certificate fund) and was on to third reading after an additional amendment failed on the floor;
  • HB1047, making education benefits – financial aid – more accessible to veterans, passed out of Senate Veterans Affairs and was ordered engrossed for third reading;
  • HB1267 establishes a water infrastructure taskforce to study the State’s drinking water systems, wastewater management systems, and stormwater management systems; the bill was heard and passed the Utilities Committee Thursday after being amended to broaden the taskforce representation.
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