Digging In

After most of Central Indiana spent the weekend digging out from snow and ice, lawmakers dug into the work of assigning and hearing the hundreds of bills that survived the first half. There’s just over a month to go in this short-but-hectic session.

Dealing with the winter storm brought to mind the old aphorism, “There’s no Republican or Democratic way to plow snow or pick up trash.” So much of serious policymaking isn’t about partisanship or philosophical debates but digging into the details of complex subjects and embracing the hard work of amending, adjusting, and implementing solutions.

For example, we’re beyond excited that work on the Purple Line bus rapid transit route connecting downtown to the 38 Street corridor and Lawrence will start in a few weeks. If you’ve followed our work on transit, you know these plans have been more than a decade in the making—the brief victory lap after a successful referendum in 2016 turned into a multi-year marathon of additional analysis, public engagement, engineering, and construction scheduling. (And still playing defense against attempts to undercut progress, most recently via SB369 attacking the Blue Line.)

The through line for all these years of work is the goal of increasing Indy’s competitiveness by expanding and enhancing its mass transit system—work that has only just begun.

Heavy lifting on hard topics:
Public safety is another issue that defies quick and simple answers. We appreciate the approach taken by SB10 to create a Marion County violent crime reduction pilot that targets resources to high-crime areas in Indianapolis, authorizing grants for law enforcement services and anti-violence programming.

This targeted strategy aims to make an immediate impact while generating data on what works for the future. It won’t get as many headlines as some other anti-crime proposals, but it could make a much bigger difference. The bill was heard and passed committee unanimously on Wednesday.

HB1004 is another example of long-time legislative lifting, taking a hard look at the current record of past reform efforts and making changes as necessary. As we mentioned last week, the bill reassigns Level 6 felony offenders (mostly non-violent drug offenses) to state prisons instead of county jails. This effectively reverses mid-2010s reforms that led to overcrowding in local facilities that often lacked substance abuse treatment programs and other re-entry services.

It was heard in Corrections & Criminal Law on Tuesday and passed with minor amendments.

One more note on legislators willing to dig deep on tough issues like justice reform: Rep. Wendy McNamara and Sen. Michael Crider deserve kudos for their work in this arena. Crider authored SB10 and is the Senate sponsor of McNamara’s HB1359 on juvenile justice reform. The two co-wrote a piece in last week’s IBJ making the case for the legislation—take a moment to check it out, it’s well worth a read. It looks like HB1359 is on the committee schedule for Monday, so we’ll be at the Senate hearing to give some Valentine’s Day love to this important bill.

Wanted: Fewer wedge Issues
We’d be remiss not to mention a different side to the legislative process—the impulse to wage ideological battles or put points on a political scoreboard ahead of the next primary or general election. That brings us to a couple of education bills that advanced to the Senate.

On Wednesday, HB1041 was heard in committee; the bill effectively bans transgender athletes from competing in K-12 school sports. At the highest level, the Indy Chamber opposes any form of discrimination against our fellow Hoosiers on the basis of inherent personal characteristics, including gender identity. HB1041 crosses that line, depriving trans girls of the opportunity to participate in school-sponsored athletic programs alongside their peers.

Passing the bill undercuts Indiana’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive state and makes it harder to attract top talent and high-wage jobs. Of all the worthy issues to which the legislature could devote its attention, we don’t understand the rationale for provoking unnecessary controversy and inevitable lawsuits.

We represent employers and don’t claim to be experts in child development, but we also have the same concerns about HB1041 that we’ve expressed on HB1134 (the anti-DEI measure): Policies that make some students feel marginalized or excluded, whether in the classroom or on the playing field, impact the rest of their educational experience and longer-term opportunities for success as contributors to our economy and workforce competitiveness.

As we’ve said before, schools must be empowered to teach the truth and train critical thinkers, exposed to a wide variety of viewpoints. Tying teachers’ hands does a disservice to students and undercuts Indiana’s economic prospects.

Raising the bar for college & career success:
Nearly 900 bills were filed for this session—a number that makes you wonder about the full-time commitment we demand from our ‘part-time’ legislature. But looking at bandwidth for serious debate and discussion, it seems obvious that time spent on topics like “CRT” (which isn’t actually taught in Indiana classrooms) takes away from issues that do impact the future of our students.

We raise the point because of a report issued this month on the 21st Century Scholars Program, which provides four years of public, in-state tuition for students with financial need. It’s one of our best tools to raise Indiana’s educational attainment by making post-secondary education accessible to lower-income families. Unfortunately, only half of eligible students enroll in the program.

We included review and reform of the 21st Century Scholars program in our legislative agenda under the broader priority “closing educational achievement gaps,” and this report highlights why.

Unfortunately, we don’t anticipate progress on this topic this year, but we’re eager to continue the conversation and push for change through the budget process in 2023.

  • We can take a modest step forward in preparing students for the world of work with HB1094, which creates more opportunities for high school internships, co-ops and experiential learning by addressing employer liability and worker’s compensation issues (the bill was heard and held in committee on Wednesday).
  • And on the topic of college affordability, we’re also calling for a House committee hearing on SB82 requiring graduating high schoolers to complete the FAFSA form for higher education financial aid.

Filling the toolbox:
Inclusion and education are part of economic development, recognizing talent as a top priority. Indiana’s more traditional economic development toolbox also got some attention this week, with Ways & Means hearings on a number of tax incentive and financing programs:

  • SB361 tweaks some of the state’s existing tax credit programs, and adds new incentives for film production projects and financial inducements to lure remote workers to the state.
  • Much of the discussion around the bill centered on the creation of innovation districts under the auspices of the IEDC: Everyone agreed that attracting major high-tech facilities demands new development tools (especially fresh off the news that Intel chose Ohio for its massive new semiconductor manufacturing plant). But the capture of local tax increment to meet commitments negotiated by the state generated some consternation from local officials; we expect a compromise with more state-local collaboration built into the program.
  • SB245, authorizing a statewide sports and convention bid fund, was also heard this week.

Despite the headlines generated by the HB1041 hearing, this week didn’t feature many key committee votes and deferred hearings on other high-profile bills like HB1002 (tax cuts), HB1134 and plans for ending the COVID public health emergency (HB1001 and SB3). We’re looking at a faster pace and plenty to report over the next month—stay tuned.


Join us at our upcoming Pastries and Politics on Mar. 15. Reserve your seat by clicking here!


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