Legislative Update: Kiss Me, I’m … Flying a Kite in a Storm

Kiss Me, I'm ... Flying a Kite in a Storm

Writing in “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in 1738, Benjamin Franklin posited that to live a fulfilled life, one must “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” While the Indy Chamber’s Business Advocacy team always hopes to do the former with these weekly updates, this past week members of the Indiana General Assembly looked to do the latter.

Read on for highlights of IGA action on Indy Chamber legislative priorities for the Indy Region and some perspicacious pearls of prudence, Benny Franklin-style.

An ounce of prevention is worth many, many pounds of cure 

Ok, we’ve taken some liberties with Franklin’s original phrasing, but the sentiment applies. This week, the House Public Health Committee heard SB 4, which includes robust reforms to Indiana’s public health infrastructure based on recommendations from the Governor’s Public Health Commission. Equally robust is the number of IGA members now signed on to SB 4 as authors, coauthors, and sponsors, which at last count stood at 24. There’s a good reason SB 4 is getting so much love from legislators and advocacy groups like the Indy Chamber: it offers an actionable plan for strengthening and investing in the local systems that support Hoosiers’ health.

This plan—and the appropriation needed to make it a reality—is critical to addressing the challenge our state’s ailing health presents to the Indy Region’s quality of life and economic competitiveness. With costs of addressing deferred care burdening Indiana’s employers and workers alike, it’s past time to heed ol’ Ben’s advice and invest that money in prevention instead.

Speaking of prevention, our faithful readers will have taken note of our support for comprehensive approaches to mental health crisis response in HB 1006 and SB 1. HB 1006 is set for a hearing next Tuesday in Senate Corrections and Criminal Law—we look forward to representing the business community in support of this measure.

On both HB 1006 and SB 4, we look forward to celebrating passage before it’s time to lace up our running shoes and warm up for the Indy 500 Mini-Marathon!

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest 

On this point, we suspect Senator Jean Leising concurs with Franklin. Another thought on which they would have agreed? “Energy and persistence conquer all things.”

Leising knows a thing or three about persistence. We’ve watched with gratitude and gratification as her five-year effort to incorporate FAFSA completion into Indiana’s high school requirements passed the House Education Committee for the first time ever this past week. Leising’s bill, SB 167, will help Hoosier students get all the information and resources they need as they consider what pathway to pursue after high school graduation—a critical step to increasing post-secondary pursuit of industry-recognized credentials and two- or four-year degrees. Kudos to her for her dedication to this effort. There are enough things standing in the way of our high school youth and a college education—paperwork need not be one of them.

Also moving into never-before-reached territory this week was HB 1449, Representative Earl Harris’ bill to ensure that all students eligible for Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program are automatically enrolled. HB 1449 passed the Senate Education Committee and moved on to be heard in Appropriations. This change is one for which the Indy Chamber has been advocating for quite some time, and our hats are off to Representative Harris, another member of the “energy and persistence” club, for getting the job done! Automatically enrolling eligible students is critical step in improving access to post-secondary education and upward mobility for low-income students around the state.

Assuming they are signed into law, Leising’s and Harris’ bills offer the possibility of another crucial benefit to Indiana: keeping our students in state. Fully leveraging the supports for our high school students to attend our state’s colleges and universities increases the likelihood that more of them remain in Indiana—which, if you attended the Indiana Chamber’s Chamber Day Dinner this week and listened to Dr. James H. Johnson, Jr.’s excellent presentation, you know is also key to Indiana’s future competitiveness. We may have a slight quibble with Franklin’s saying that “Well done is better than well said” (Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1737), but we know how to say “well done” when it’s due.

“The doors of wisdom are never shut.” (Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1735) 

Franklin may have been right about the doors of wisdom never being shut, but when it comes to K-12 education in Indiana, the number of doors from which to choose is becoming increasingly fraught. The Senate School Funding Subcommittee heard five hours of testimony on the subject yesterday, much of which focused on the proposal to more than double the budget allocation for Indiana’s Choice Scholarship voucher program.

The instrument of that increase is a proposed expansion in eligibility for the voucher program that would put the income ceiling at about $220,000 annually for a family of four (the current limit, according to Indiana Capitol Chronicle’s excellent reporting on the subject, is $154,000). The expanded program would cost Hoosiers an estimated $500 million in fiscal year 2024, and another $600 million in the following fiscal year, in a budget line that currently allocates $240 million annually.

What must be the foremost consideration in any debate over education policy and funding are questions—and answers—about student outcomes. It’s clear that Indiana urgently needs a system of education in which students of color and low-income students are as likely to excel as their counterparts. To that point, we’d like to see similar consideration given to significant increases to the Complexity Formula, which supports school districts facing disproportionate challenges such as serving high limited English proficiency, special education, and free and reduced lunch student populations. No matter where one stands on the issue of “school choice”, we’d like to see these questions play a bigger role in the dialogue.

“Lost Time is never found again” (Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1747) 

This Franklin gem is sage advice for all of us, but we were particularly encouraged to see Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray take it to heart when he sent a controversial bill involving transgender children and the Department of Child Services to the Senate Rules Committee, signaling its likely end for this session.

Credit Bray for making this move, which hopefully helps refocus the IGA on priorities that move the state forward instead of the damaging implications and distractions of this bill and others. Truth be told, IGA caucus leaders have the toughest jobs in the building. They’re often required to balance good policy against good politics while walking a tightrope with an elephant (or a donkey) on their backs. Here’s hoping we see more of this type of strong decision-making as the second half of the session unfolds.


An Opportunity to Act

We invite you to join our efforts. Be sure to tag @IndyChamber@staylorhughes, and @Adam_Burtner on Twitter to show your support for legislation that's beneficial to your business and our state's success. Interested in supporting the #IndyChamberAdvocacy priorities? Click here to access a digital toolkit to help spread the word.

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