Legislative Update: Make It Rain

There’s been a celebratory mood around the Statehouse this week, as Governor Holcomb signed SB1 on Wednesday and rolled back centuries of restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales. As everyone not living under a large piece of limestone knows by now, the House amended the bill – with Senate concurrence – to take effect “upon passage,” qualifying this Sunday’s grocery list for potential curation at the Indiana State Museum.

But Sunday Sales isn’t the only reason to be upbeat this week. Though the victory party for SB386 would certainly be less raucous than SB1’s, its passage by the House 97-0 is a huge win for Indianapolis. The bill creates flood control improvement districts to finance much-needed projects along the White River; it now heads to the Governor’s desk and we expect it to take effect.

This legislation is a silver lining to the literal stormclouds that have swirled around Indy, as we end a February with twice as much precipitation as the norm. This rainy month highlights the strain on local stormwater and flood control infrastructure, particularly in the areas around Mars Hill (in Decatur Township), Rocky Ripple and 96th Street…where drainage and flooding issues have been chronic (and worsening in recent years) without quite meeting federal funding standards.

SB386 creates a tax increment finance-type district (with additional public input and project guidelines) to capture revenue for these flood control projects as assessed property values rise with improvements (and reduction of flood insurance premiums).

It’s a creative solution that allows local control and flexibility in financing critical needs, protecting property owners from the elements and capitalizing on our waterways as aesthetic and economic assets to the community. And speaking of rain, rainy day funds and local infrastructure solutions, the City-County Council rallied to respond to the Mayor’s call for $14M in emergency funds to keep patching our pockmarked streets.

(Director of Policy Tim Brown burnished his old-school hip-hop credentials on this topic by asking if De La Soul could make a comeback with an Indy-centric remix track called “Potholes in my street.”)

Pregaming for 2019

The fast-paced consensus around SB1 and SB386 has been rare. At this week’s Sunday sales ceremony, the Governor proclaimed that now “all the aisles will be open to you if you want to make a pit stop before the tailgate."  But this session gives another meaning to ‘pregaming’ – deferring action on many issues until next year’s budget session, setting up others for further study. Workforce development is a notable example…

Wait-and-see workforce

The Senate’s workforce development bill (SB50) unanimously passed Ways & Means, second and third readings this week, rocketing through the House after major retooling in committee deleted authorization for a new secretary of workforce training post, employee relocation and employer training tax credits, and the “real world career readiness program.”

It instead set up a larger panel tasked with creating a “comprehensive career navigation and coaching system” for the state (including high schools); a progress report is due in mid-summer, and recommendations for implementation of the system are due by October.

The House companion bill to SB50, HB1002, also received a last-minute hearing and significant changes this week.   It now creates a ‘workforce cabinet’ with similar aims to SB50, but also creates and tweaks some existing programs. Specifically, it replaces the Training 2000 program with the Next Level Jobs employer training grant program, tinkers with Ivy Tech’s regional campus governance and provides specific criteria for the creation of apprenticeship pathways. Language in the original bill aimed at loosening teaching and licensing for nursing also survived the committee gauntlet, to help ease the shortage that DWD perennially lists as one of the state’s most dire occupational needs.

Finally, HB1002 also commissions several studies pertaining to workforce development programs and how best to fund them – again, setting the stage for more robust debate in 2019.

Both HB1002 and SB50 were on second reading as this is being written. Also on the workforce front, HB1047 – making education benefits more accessible to veterans – passed Senate third reading unanimously. (Combined with a new provision in HB1002 that lets part-time postsecondary students participate in the employment aid readiness network Indiana program, there’s strong sentiment towards helping non-traditional students afford to advance their skills.)

And at the ‘intersection’ of K-12, workforce and technical education, SB297 – creating an Employability Skills Curriculum — also passed the House on third reading 97-0, and the Senate quickly concurred with the House amendments on a 46 – 2 vote.

Potholes or Progress?

With less than two weeks remaining in the session, remaining bills are on the clock as lawmakers drive towards the finish line. It remains to be seen whether they get there intact or suffer the proverbial blowout or snapped axle from a pothole in the legislative process – either on the floor or in conference committee.

SB399OCCUPATIONAL REGULATION OVERSIGHT AND REVIEW – Similar to the path of its companion bill last week (HB1245), SB399 was passed out of House Ways and Means and awaits second reading. The amendment excludes most of the language creating new licensure oversight for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, but retains loosened restrictions on licensing requirements for ex-offenders.

SB257SALES TAX ON SOFTWARE – Passed the House on third reading 96 – 0 and is now eligible for conference committee, strengthening our high-tech business climate by clearing up the cloudy tax status of digital software-as-a-service sales.

HB1341AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES – The bill governing the testing and deployment of autonomous (self-driving) cars was heard, amended and passed the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday after being amended, setting up conference committee collision course between the auto industry (preferring the Senate version) and state regulatory authorities (stronger as introduced in the House).

SB419OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING – this bill has taken an interesting turn; the original subject matter dealing with local professional licensing requirements has been stripped away to provide a vehicle for “fixing” a 2011 Indiana immigration law that is now preventing professional licensing for ‘Dream Act’ residents (creating an added Indiana obstacle in addition to uncertainty swirling around that program at the federal level).  The bill now allows ‘Dreamers’ to continue as productive members of Indiana’s workforce, a move we support along with Governor Holcomb (the bill’s original Senate author has also expressed tentative support for concurring with the new language and legislative intent) to keep an inclusive, ‘open door’ to global talent.

HB1426EDUCATION MATTERS – While we couldn’t consolidate townships this year, we did streamline Indiana high school diplomas as HB1426 passes Senate Appropriations on 13 – 0 vote. The bill changes student assessments, more prominently creating one Indiana Diploma with four designations: general, Core 40, Core 40 with academic honors, and Core 40 with technical honors.

SB172COMPUTER SCIENCE – Passed as amended out of House Ways and Means by a 19 – 0 vote, requiring all schools to include computer science in their K-12 curriculum by 2021. The bill also creates a computer science fund for training teachers (though a new fund for local tech career pathways was deleted), and it is effective upon passage.

HB1080CENTRAL INDIANA PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS – the bill lifting the prohibition on light rail projects in Central Indiana was held by its sponsor before second reading in the Senate Thursday after passing its Transportation Committee test on Tuesday; with third reading deadline in the Senate coming up Tuesday, its chances as stand-alone legislation is uncertain – but since the bill passed the House, we have the opportunity to push it in conference committee…so we haven’t stalled our push for regional flexibility and mass transit options.

SB232ACCESS TO NUTRITIOUS FOOD PROGRAM – While House Ways and Means Committee opted not to hear this SNAP bill again this session, the bill is still alive for conference committee as the language of the bill has passed the full Senate. We will update as the advocacy for this bill continues over the conference committee process.

HB1278ECONOMIC IMPROVEMENT DISTRICTS – the bill passed out of Senate Local Government 7–0. In what was interesting political theater, several amendments were inexplicably not heard at the appointed hour after being offered to the committee.

SB189K-12 FUNDING – The companion bill to HB1001 was passed as amended out of the House Ways and Means Committee by a 19 – 0 vote. The bill was amended to set a first year allotment of funds to schools at $25 million and a higher second year allotment of $75 million.

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