Temperatures are just above freezing as we write this, but it feels like springtime at the statehouse: We’ve got plenty of good news to report as we enter the last few days of this short session. First and foremost, a concurrence of common sense on COVID policy, as the House accepted the Senate’s amendments to HB1001.
As we reported last week, the bill was amended to reinsert the public health and federal benefit provisions requested by Governor Holcomb to end the COVID emergency. It aligned workplace vaccine policies with existing occupational health and safety rules allowing employees to seek limited exemptions (with documentation). It also boosts vaccine authority for sports, music, and entertainment venues to avoid contractual conflicts with athletes and entertainers.
The Senate crafted a plan with more reasonable accommodations on vaccine requirements and minimal damage to Indiana’s pro-business bona fides. After it passed third reading Tuesday, we were prepared for a showdown with the House—instead, tomorrow’s deadline for renewal of the public health emergency helped push the compromise through the House and on to Governor Holcomb.
The Governor also delivered a hopeful message on state revenues Thursday, calling for lowering the income tax rate from 3.23% to 2.9% over seven years (versus a reduction to 3% in four years in the original HB1002 that was later streamlined in the Senate).
Proceed with caution:
Holcomb generally takes a deliberate approach to major issues, and tax relief is no exception: He only backed off his previous reluctance to push cuts this session after months of actual revenue data backed up December’s optimistic budget projections.
The Senate has also taken a “wait-and-see” stance on permanent tax cuts ahead of the next budget. Thankfully, caution also won out on HB1134: Senators thought twice before moving forward with an ill-considered bill that would have chilled classroom discussions of race and diversity. It was delayed and eventually skipped by the author, killing it for the session.
Protecting inclusive learning environments for all students, and flexibility for local schools implementing DEI programs, has been a focus of ours this year, and we’re increasingly optimistic about the outcome.
Unfortunately, the push to pass HB1041 through third reading steamrolled any consideration of consequences for trans girls seeking to participate in school sports. The direct harm to innocent kids is obvious, but there’s also broader damage to Indiana’s reputation as a hospitable host and welcoming place for diverse talent, along with the cost to taxpayers defending bad ideas in court.
Now the buck stops with Governor Holcomb for safeguarding equal opportunity for young people and the best economic interests of all Hoosiers by vetoing HB1041.
Stay in your lane:
We repeatedly made the point this year that “small government” lawmakers should avoid injecting themselves into workplace relationships and restricting employer authority to require COVID vaccinations. The argument seems to have made a difference.
But HB1041 is another example of the General Assembly reaching beyond the usual state policy arena and further into our classrooms, businesses, associations, and communities. In this case, lawmakers chose to casually overrule the IHSAA—the body tasked with regulating high school sports—and its existing policies on trans athletes.
We couldn’t talk about legislative interloping without mentioning IndyGo. But we can get back to the good news side of the ledger here, with a growing sense that most lawmakers are weary of revisiting the details of local transit projects session after session.
Last week, an anti-bus rapid transit amendment to SB290, an unrelated education bill, was tabled in the Ways & Means Committee. This week, a floor amendment to HB1251 would have imposed onerous rules on IndyGo’s hiring and retention of drivers or risk endangering its partnership with IPS to provide transportation services to its high schools.
There wasn’t much suspense as the amendment was defeated by a voice vote—hopefully the sound of slowing momentum behind efforts to undercut improved transit across Indianapolis.
Beating the clock:
As debate heated up and legislators recessed to caucus on controversial matters, the clock kept ticking towards third reading deadlines on Monday and Tuesday for the House and Senate, respectively. Beyond the top billing given to HB1001 there’s much more to recap:
After third readings, legislation faces three scenarios. In some cases, no amendments were made in the second chamber and the bill heads directly to the Governor’s desk to be signed or vetoed within seven days.
The original house can also concur in amendments made on the other side of the rotunda and pass the bill along to the Governor with a majority vote. HB1001 was unusual in the scope of changes; often a concurrence happens when changes are minor or non-controversial.
The first chamber can also file a dissent from the amended bill, essentially disagreeing with the revised proposal and setting up a conference committee to negotiate a compromise (as with SB361). The conference report then must pass both houses again before reaching the Governor.
We’ll know the answers by next week as the General Assembly wraps up ahead of its March 14 adjournment deadline, along with the outcomes of more conference committees. We look forward to sharing the latest with you and putting the work of the full session in perspective for you thereafter.