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