The past week at the state house definitely had some “Everything Everywhere All at Once” vibes. With the Academy Awards less than a month away, read on to see which bills we hope take home some hardware this session and which ones we prefer end up on the cutting room floor.
Mr. Holland’s—er, Harris’—Opus
We could have sworn we heard the swells of a Hollywood orchestra rising as HB 1449 passed its third reading in the House 92-0 yesterday. The vote marked a huge win for Representative Earl Harris and the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, as well as Indiana families and employers.
HB 1449 streamlines enrollment for the 21st Century Scholars program and directs the Commission for Higher Education to notify students and parents of eligibility. The provision has no impact on the state’s budget but has already had an enormous positive impact on Indiana’s economy.
21st Century Scholars are more likely than any other group to attend college (88% enroll, as compared to a 64% average for high-income students and a statewide average of 59%). Their college completion rates are on par with the statewide average and nearly double the average for low-income peers—and completion rates improved 15% for the most recent cohort.
Since wages for workers without a college degree are higher in places that also have a larger share of college grads, a move like this one can ultimately benefit all workers (check out this piece from Michael Hicks in Greenfield’s Daily Reporter for an excellent cost-benefit analysis of the educational attainment of Indiana’s workforce). Happily, HB 1449’s companion bill, SB 435, passed out of the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development by a vote of 12-0.
The same committee moved to help Indiana’s high school seniors and their families clear one more hurdle on the road to college when it passed SB 167 on Wednesday, also on a vote of 12-0. SB 167 requires virtually every high school senior in the state to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (better known as FAFSA) unless their parent signs a waiver. Missing the FAFSA deadline generally means students won’t receive federal student aid funds for which they may have been eligible, and since we all know how great 18-year-olds are with deadlines, SB 167 strikes us as a very smart move. All in all, the Indy Chamber team will be cheering for these three bills until long after our popcorn is gone.
Stand and Deliver
Speaking of applause, we’re also applauding the decision to pull SB 386 from the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development’s agenda for this session. We watched with concern as this bill moved toward limiting teachers’ abilities to engage with challenging truths, historical and contemporary. With all the opportunities to move Indiana forward (see above), we think the decision to leave SB 386 on the cutting room floor is the right one.
Seeing a gem in SB 402, the committee this week advanced a piece of legislation aimed at improving Indiana’s literacy rates through the “science of reading.” The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Team testified in support of this bill and with this particular plotline, we’re all hoping for a happy ending when it comes to our state’s student literacy outcomes.
Weed the People
House Courts and Criminal Code made IGA history this week with the first-ever hearing of a bill decriminalizing simple marijuana possession—HB 1297. Representative Heath VanNatter’s decriminalization proposal is unlikely to make it all the way through this session, but productive conversation on the issue seems like a positive development.
Indiana is a Midwestern island with regard to marijuana legalization and decriminalization (yes, they’re different), and the business case for relaxing the state’s stance is gaining momentum. Between concerns about inequitable arrests and prosecutions for simple marijuana possession, the effective allocation of precious public safety resources, or the appearance of being out of step with 80% of American states, it’s high time Indiana leaders engage this discussion.
Ask not for whom the Taxman Cometh
Transparency is a top priority for any fiscal instrument, so we appreciate the conversation around HB 1085, which proposes some changes in the makeup and appointment process of members of municipal redevelopment commissions who approve local TIFs.
That being said, development deals move at the speed of business; anything that could encumber TIF approval to the point that the ability of Hoosier communities to compete for job-creating investments is impeded gets two thumbs down from us. We urge the IGA to consider whether HB 1085 strikes the appropriate balance between transparency, oversight, and competitiveness.
HB 1499, on the other hand, appears to unencumber Hoosiers facing rapidly rising property taxes. The bill moves up the circuit breaker threshold, increases the supplemental homestead deduction, and limits the amount of increase a school district can seek for an operating referendum to 3% over the previous year. It also increases the renter's deduction and sets up some expanded local property tax relief options.
We’re mindful of the impacts changes to property tax have on local government revenues and their ability to serve constituents. An excellent companion to property tax relief would be HB1409 which potentially returns millions of annual local income taxes to communities around the state to relieve their tight budgets.
Of course, homeowners aren’t the only ones who fear their tax bills like a gangster fearing Sean Connery in The Untouchables. Many small Hoosier businesses have been starring in their own personal horror movies since the start of the COVID pandemic, and SB 2 looks to provide some relief for entrepreneurs’ jangled nerves. The bill would allow small Hoosier businesses a refundable tax credit on their federal taxes equal to taxes paid at the state level. This could help up to half a million business entities in Indiana save as much as $112M. We believe small business creation and growth is one of the core elements of a successful, inclusive regional economy. This bill gets four stars for its potential to give small business owners a big break.
Join the Vision (Zero) Quest
Freshman Senator Andrea Hunley scored a big win this week when the Senate Homeland Security & Transportation Committee passed SB 233, Hunley’s proposal for a “Vision Zero Task Force.” Vision Zero is a data-driven strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, and equitable mobility for all.
Nationwide, more than 45 communities have committed to “Vision Zero”, and SB 233 would establish a task force to implement it in Indiana. This effort hits very close to home for our Indianapolis and Irvington communities as fatalities have risen significantly in the years following the pandemic. We look forward to working with colleagues in the House to make sure Vision Zero is taken up in that chamber. We’re in favor of working together to see that every Hoosier can safely ride—or walk, bike, or drive—off into the sunset.
Along the same lines as SB386, it’s likely that HB1608 and SB480 will receive a hearing next week. In our view, these bills strike a divisive note and do not help move our state forward.
We’d hope to see legislative attention in the final week before half-time concentrated on strong proposals to accelerate Indiana’s growth. Senator Kyle Walker’s SB186 creates a tax credit to expand access to childcare, Senator Blake Doriot’s SB 135 makes undocumented Hoosier students eligible for in-state tuition, and partner language to Representative Steuerwald’s HB1006 would allow for dedicated, sustainable funding for safety, cleanliness, and beautification in downtown Indianapolis.
The vast majority of Hoosiers can get behind these collaborative efforts to enhance our quality of life and competitiveness for current Hoosiers and future residents. Let’s work together to move proposals like these forward for the common good, rather than targeting vulnerable groups and spotlighting controversial social issues.
Join Us at the Next Pastries & Politics
Join the Indy Chamber Advocacy team on as we discuss the state of play just after the halftime of the General Assembly’s 2023 budget session at our next Pastries & Politics event, presented by First Financial Bank.
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