Legislative Update: Cold Shoulder

Starting off with a weather reference may be really predictable, but it’s pretty amazing that Indianapolis is in the midst of a ninety-degree swing from subzero temperatures to spring-like conditions. We need the same kind of thaw in legislative attitudes on public health and protecting Hoosiers from hate – because at this writing, bias crimes legislation and common-sense tobacco reform are still stuck in a policy polar vortex.

Rolling with Heat
It’s up to us to turn up the temperature on these issues. The ‘Raise It for Health’ coalition was ready to bring the heat on Wednesday, with a Statehouse rally for a $2-a-pack increase in the state cigarette tax – but the event was put on ice due to weather (not the chilly reception from lawmakers) and is being rescheduled for February 19.

Before the state capital turned into a frozen hellscape, the Ways & Means Committee did hear HB1444, proposing a $0.08/milliliter tax on ‘e-liquids.’

We’re not opposed to a tax on vaping, but it shouldn’t give legislators an excuse to say they took action on nicotine products – cigarettes, and Indiana’s high rate of smoking, is the public health menace (and economic threat) that needs attention.  (Keep in mind that HB1444 would raise $8 million a year at most, while a cigarette tax increase would yield hundreds of millions of dollars a year for health investments.)

On the positive side, we hear encouraging things about SB425, which would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco (and e-cigarette) products from 18 to 21, a move towards a healthier workforce of the future.  It gets a hearing next Wednesday in the Health & Provider Services Committee.

Visit Raise it for Health to join the fight for public health and a more productive economy, and don’t forget to keep spreading the word on Indiana Competes (and follow @INCompetes).

Tryin’ to Make a Dollar Out of 15 Cents
Ways & Means continued budget hearings this week, as more state agencies – including high-profile notables like the Department of Child Services, the IEDC and Department of Workforce Development – presented their plans to the fiscal solons.  But we also got a look this week at how legislators get creative to free up money, addressing funding issues without making new appropriations.

Ways & Means passed HB1003 on Thursday, for example, a bill that takes aim at the teacher pay issue by encouraging districts to be more efficient with money they’ll already get in this year’s budget (creating a 15% acceptable limit on transfers from state tuition support to administrative and capital costs).  The bill was influenced by the work we did last year with IPS; we hope the operational assessment serves as a model for other school districts as they work towards the 85% threshold and driving more dollars to teacher salaries.

Similarly, HB1177 focuses on the need for local capital investment by pushing township governments that are hoarding large budget surpluses to put a capital plan in place and spend accordingly – an overdue “use it or lose it” mandate for an obsolete unit of government.  It passed out of the Government & Regulatory Reform Committee this week (but needs to get through Ways & Means before hitting the House floor).

And as we mentioned last week, SB83 also works to help local government spend more on infrastructure, by giving them more flexibility over a portion of tax increment financing revenues to reinvest in the physical assets surrounding the TIF project.

Warming Up to the Workload
While the temperatures plummeted outside, the schedule inside the Statehouse started to heat up with more committee votes and bills moving to second and third readings.  A quick rundown of the highlights:

  • HB1002 (Career and Technical Education Matters) makes a number of changes to career readiness efforts, including creating a coaching grant program for K-12 career counseling and allowing the skill enhancement fund to be used for certain incumbent workforce education purposes – it passed third reading unanimously;
  • HB1008 (Teacher Career Ladders) also earned a 100% passing grade on third reading, as did HB1009, creating a Teacher Residency Grant Pilot Program;
  • HB1344 (Nurse Licensure Compact) kept the hot streak going, passing unanimously in an effort to fill a ‘Hoosier Hot Job’ – putting Indiana on the path to recognizing nursing credentials among states;
  • HB1473 (Indiana Bond Bank) – Ways & Means unanimously approved this measure to help the Bond Bank put more security behind their securities;
  • HB1115 spins the state tourism department into a quasi-government agency like the IEDC to more aggressively market Indiana – Ways & Means aggressively agreed, passing it 19-0;
  • SB235 (Expungements) passed the Senate 46-3 in a step forward for ex-offenders seeking to re-enter the job market; it specifies that certain information relating to: (1) an arrest; and (2) a collateral action is required to be sealed or marked expunged if a petition for expungement is granted;
  • SB496 – Voluntary Family Leave is left in limbo, hearing testimony but held in committee;
  • SB535 (Extraterritorial Powers of Cities and Towns) would define certain eminent domain powers and how municipalities provide services outside their boundaries, but the Local Government Committee exercised its eminent domain in holding the bill for now;
  • HB1269 would streamline governance of the Professional Licensing Agency and clarifies occupational requirements, but the Indiana Board of Optometry will need to wait for reform as the bill was held;
  • SB216 (Educational Cost Exemptions) and SB362 (Tax Credit for Classroom Supplies) both passed committee unanimously;
  • SB434 (Alternative School Accountability Standards) requires alternative benchmarks, performance and accountability standards to be used in the assessment of schools that focus primarily on providing programs for students with developmental, intellectual, or behavioral challenges – it passed committee (as amended);
  • SB508 (School Employee Training Requirements) also passed committee as amended;
  • Finally, HB1641 got a lot of attention this week, and was ultimately held for further discussion – the bill tweaks the law surrounding the transfer of traditional school facilities to charter providers, and calls for the sharing of revenues from school referenda with charters within the districts; we’re looking for a common-sense balance between expanding charter options and supporting districts like IPS as they work to balance their budgets while providing diverse learning opportunities to students.

Coming Attractions:
While we wait for action on issues like bias crimes and cigarette taxes – as well as issues like the CIB (SB7 and related support for a new Indy Eleven stadium), we do know about some other key bills with hearings coming up:

  • SB563, covering a variety of economic development matters including the redevelopment tax credit, will be heard on February 12th;
  • HB1365, finally removing the heavy-handed ban on Central Indiana light rail projects, gets a hearing on Wednesday;
  • HB1628, expanding pre-K programming across the state – while protecting funding in existing pilot counties like Marion – also gets a hearing next week.

And for even more up-to-the-minute news on #INLegis, follow the Business Advocacy team on Twitter:

Mark Fisher - @FisherIndy
Tim Brown - @TimJBrownLaw
Taylor Hughes - @STaylorHughes

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