Mid-term Exams

This was the last full week of legislative action before halftime of the 2022 session–the final chance for bills to get passing grades out of committee and through second reading amendments. That means plenty of pressure to test the patience of lawmakers, advocates, and observers as deadlines for final floor votes loom on Monday for the House and Tuesday for the Senate.

Keeping with the scholastic theme, a number of priority bills this week involved education:

  • The week started with bipartisan support for protecting school budgets from pandemic-related disruption: SB2 passed third reading, expanded the attendance “count day” to avoid funding losses due to enrollment fluctuations and shifts to e-learning caused by COVID outbreaks.
  • SB82 is similarly common-sense policy, requiring all graduating high schoolers to complete the FAFSA form; the Indiana Commission for Higher Ed estimates that last year’s graduating class left nearly $90 million in Pell grants on the table by not filling out this form. We need a nudge towards taking this basic step to ease access and affordability for post-secondary education, so we’re glad the bill passed committee and awaits second reading.
  • We can’t give a final pass/fail judgement to HB1072 (which passed third reading) quite yet: The bill compels school districts to share local referenda revenue with charter schools within their borders and provides more flexibility for districts to sell unused facilities without first offering them to charters (the so-called “dollar law”).

IPS has allocated referendum funds to raise teacher salaries at its innovation network (charter) partner schools (with our support), and we’ve urged the district to pursue private development of sites like Broad Ripple High School and its downtown headquarters–but we want to ensure new mandates don’t limit long-term flexibility to offer diverse learning options for students.

  • House leaders do get high marks for flunking HB1182–the proposal to politicize school board elections died in committee (similar provisions could be inserted into other election- or education-related bills, so we’re certainly not taking a victory lap on this issue yet).

On the other hand, HB1134 does push political controversy into the classroom, seeking to regulate discussions of systemic racism, historic inequities, and the biases confronted by students of different backgrounds and identities.

Despite widespread opposition, the bill passed third reading on Wednesday—but again, this isn’t the final exam for this unfortunate intrusion into local efforts to create more inclusive schools and learning opportunities. The Senate killed a similar measure before it hit the floor and can earn extra credit by consigning HB1134 to a similar fate, as they did with their version of the bill, SB167.

History 101:

Since the restrictions in HB1134 don’t extend to these updates, we feel okay to raise some uncomfortable lessons from the past: Many of you will recall the furor around RFRA in 2015—legislative attempts to codify discriminatory business practices resulted in a massive backlash, economic fallout, and damage to Indiana’s image as a welcoming place to visit, live, and do business. The business community joined a broad coalition pushing for change, and we’ve continued to campaign for policies like bias crimes protections to align Indiana’s legal reality with our long-held reputation for Hoosier hospitality.

We’ve seen other states provoke similar crises (remember North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” uproar in 2016?) and hope we can learn history before we drift towards repeating it.

We didn’t take a formal position on HB1041, which bans trans athletes from competing in K-12 school sports (it wasn’t on our radar before the session). But it passed third reading Thursday, putting Indiana in line to potentially become the 10th or 11th state to enact such a ban. We’re concerned about legislative indulgence of the divisive wedge issues reflected in HB1041 (and HB1134) crowding out more substantive public policy matters.

The work of this session is another kind of test of our tolerance and commitment to inclusion.  As communities across Indiana prepare to put $500 million in READI grants to work on plans to attract and retain talent, we should pause before passing legislation that seeks to exclude, isolate, or discourage our fellow Hoosiers or potential Hoosiers-by-choice.

Wordle, #INLegis edition:

If you guessed “taxes,” go ahead and post your ‘Wordle 1/6’ win: Taxes have been a matter of daily discussion this session as a host of revenue measures have been introduced sparking some interesting wordplay among Republicans in the House, Senate, and Governor Holcomb’s office.

On Tuesday, Senator Holdman pulled SB378 from the Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee agenda with comments opposing state-imposed reductions in local revenues (the bill would have lowered the depreciation floor on business personal property and raised exemptions). But Holdman also took aim at HB1002, which would similarly impact local budgets by lowering the 30% floor on new equipment (while using a state tax credit to deliver relief for existing personal property).

This sharpens the potential showdown on tax policy with the Senate clearly wanting to hold off until the budget-writing session to consider more ambitious plans.

The Senate did give the go-ahead to SB361 in committee Thursday, making tweaks to existing tax incentives and authorizing (without appropriating to) future tax programs. The bill allows the IEDC to capture tax increment financing for innovation districts, authorizes a remote worker incentive program to be created by the Destination Development Corporation, and adjusts other incentives (e.g. easing tax filing requirements for the EDGE credit).

Another new incentive passed third reading on Thursday with SB262. As we reported last week, the bill creates a state tax credit promoting affordable and workforce housing development—we support new tools to help construction catch up with demand and build more accessible housing markets closer to employment centers.

Homestretch to Halftime:

Other highlights of this busy week:

  • We’ll start with good news on pro-business public health policy: SB3 passed third reading to provide a viable alternative to HB1001. The Senate plan eases Indiana out of the COVID public health emergency, allows the state to continue accepting enhanced federal Medicaid and SNAP funds, and doesn’t restrict employers from making tough decisions to protect workplace health and safety, such as enacting vaccine requirements.
  • SB245 passed third reading and heads to the House; it sets up a state-supported fund to assist communities pursuing future sports and convention event bids (administered by the Indiana Sports Corporation with statewide scope).
  • SB4 also passed third reading allowing local workforce recruitment and retention programs.
  • We mentioned last week the need for research and resources supporting best practices in juvenile justice to help young Hoosiers make successful transitions from the correctional system. HB1359 passed third reading as a bipartisan step forward on this important issue.

Before signing off, we want to recommend this piece from the Indy Star recounting the tragic death of a seven-year-old girl crossing Washington Street after school. This event galvanized the Irvington area in support of traffic safety improvements made possible by IndyGo’s Blue Line.

We focus a lot on workforce connectivity and economic development arguments for mass transit, but it’s worth recalling how transit creates safer neighborhoods, too. The Blue Line isn’t just about livelihoods, it’s about lives.

SB369, the bill attacking the Blue Line in the name of more traffic at higher speeds, appears to be stymied at this point in the session. But we’re on guard against anti-transit language popping up in other legislation—such as an anti-Marion County amendment added to SB13 this week. We urge you to stay engaged in the community conversation around the need for convenient, practical transportation options.

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