Legislative Update: Weird, Wild Stuff

Weird, Wild Stuff

Indy Chamber April 7 Legislative Update: The Dogs of Chernobyl Edition 

Those of us old enough to remember a bemused Johnny Carson pronouncing some new piece of information “weird, wild stuff” as host of The Tonight Show are almost certainly old enough to also remember the catastrophic accident at Chernobyl.

As the 40th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear disaster approaches, scientists have been turning this radioactive lemon into some very interesting lemonade by taking a closer look at the animals living inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. What they’ve discovered indicates that decades of radiation exposure may be altering animals’ genomes—and even, possibly, speeding up evolution.

Funnily enough, the approaching end of April has had a similar effect on the evolution bills still before the Indiana General Assembly. Grab a glass of lemonade and read on to see what’s rapidly evolving at the Indiana Statehouse.

 

Adapt or Perish

In 1945, English author HG Wells famously wrote that “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature's inexorable imperative.” Eastern tree frogs living in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have complied by evolving from a mostly green animal to a mostly black one, a beneficial mutation that biologists theorize is due to the power of melanin to help ionize radiation.

The Indiana General Assembly has adapted, in a single session, to the ballooning mental and behavioral health crisis by prioritizing multiple bills to bolster supports for and investments in mental and behavioral health services.

Senator Mike Crider’s SB 1 passed the House Committee on Public Health Tuesday on a vote of 12-0 and has been recommitted to House Ways & Means. Like many others, the Indy Chamber has been supportive of this bill for its promise to reestablish Indiana’s Behavioral Health Commission, create Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs), and strengthen Indiana’s mental health infrastructure. The same day, Representative Greg Steuerwald’s HB 1006, which creates a local mental health referral program for arrestees—important to divert individuals from jails to center where they can access services—passed the Senate Appropriations committee 9-0.

This is an issue on which we believe the voices of Indy Chamber members and others in the community have made a real difference, and we appreciate Sens. Crider and Steuerwald and their colleagues’ support for these measures. Now we look forward to watching these two bills make a rapid evolution of their own—into law.

 

A Dog’s Life 

Last month, researchers released a study conclusively proving that the DNA of feral dogs living in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has mutations not seen in dogs living just 10 miles away. They know Chernobyl dogs are evolving rapidly—but to what end, they can’t say yet. It’s not unlike the significant changes made to HB 1004 and SB 8 this week in a series of amendments that also seemed to evolve very quickly.

On Wednesday, the Senate health committee narrowly adopted a wide-ranging amendment to HB 1004 that eliminated credits for health reimbursement arrangements and physician-owned practices, did away with the idea of a health care costs oversight board, and struck site of service language from the bill. The House Insurance Committee amended SB 8 the same day, voting to delay the bill’s effective date and compelling insurers to use 100% of any rebates to lower plan premiums or return 85% directly to the individual.

 

An Idea Whose Time Has Come 

Nearly 100 years before HG Wells coined his “adapt or perish” phrase French author Victor Hugo penned his own memorable adage, writing “Nothing in the world...is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

That became clear this session when notorious budget hawk and former Senate Appropriations committee chair Senator Luke Kenley testified in favor of SB 4, an Indy Chamber priority bill that significantly strengthens public health infrastructure across the Hoosier State. Naming SB 4 the largest investment in rural Indiana in a generation, Kenley described its passage as critical to the economic and cultural viability of Indiana’s rural communities.

The Indy Chamber team agrees, in the strongest possible terms, and we’re thrilled that a widely respected leader like Kenley—no spendthrift, to say the least—is standing behind the bill. Perhaps the likelihood of a positive budget projection expected on April 19th gave members of the House Committee on Public Health the fiscal breathing room to vote for SB 4, or perhaps it was Kenley’s doing. In any case, the committee passed the measure 11-1, and SB 4 has now been recommitted to the House Ways & Means committee.

Also appearing this week in the “an idea whose time has come” category is HB 1449, Representative Earl Harris’ effort to codify what has long been an Indy Chamber priority: automatic 21st Century Scholarship enrollment for students who meet the criteria. With Indiana employers begging for workers with many different types of education and preparation for work, we think simplifying access for our youth to possibilities for their future—and the region’s—is a very beneficial “mutation” in this program’s DNA.

And to round out a historic week for Indiana post-secondary education policy: Senator Jean Leising’s SB 167 passed on to the Governor’s desk, promising to dramatically increase the number of Hoosier students who complete FAFSA and get a full picture of the financial aid available to them for higher education.

 

Last Week Tonight (Today) 

In last week’s update, the Indy Chamber team expressed support for the passage of HB 1002, which seeks to establish a career scholarship account program for Indiana high school students. We also called for some additional clarity around the use of scholarship funds and the processes by which students connect with employers for career education. Consequently, we were very happy to see HB 1002 evolve this week to answer precisely those questions. An amendment offered by Senator Raatz and adopted by the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development updated the definition of an “intermediary” as a 501(c)3 organization that connects individuals with employers looking to hire and convenes a variety of stakeholder groups to broker partnerships and facilitate programming between area educators, employers, and students. It also added a “Career Awareness” class to students’ course requirements—a straightforward and highly impactful step to assist students in selecting their career pathways.

 

The Evolution of Beauty 

While we tend to think of the process of evolution as adaptations related to function, this isn’t strictly the case. Take, for instance, the club-winged manakin; the males of this bird species are evolving in a way that makes their appearance more attractive to females but makes them less efficient flyers. Biologists call this phenomenon the “evolution of beauty,” which occurs when a species evolves to improve its form while diminishing its function.

Perhaps this phenomenon explains what happened this week with HB 1008. On Wednesday, lawmakers amended the “anti-ESG” bill to insert what some on the Senate Committee on Pensions and Labor called “a simplified structure” that would “reduce the fiscal impact to zero.”

Despite that apparent confidence, however, the committee went on to expand exemptions to the bill for private equity funds and added exemptions for bank holding companies. It also voted to allow the Indiana State Police pension trust to opt out of observing the bill’s provisions. All of this has us wondering whether this week’s amendment improves the bill’s function or merely its form? While we appreciate legislators protecting state police from the bill’s potential downsides, we wonder why they would not extend the same protections to all state employees?

When it comes to evolution in Chernobyl dogs, club-winged manakins, and legislation moving through the Statehouse, mutation can happen in the blink of an eye. Your Business Advocacy team will continue to represent the Indy Region business community’s interest as these bills transform—and we’ll make sure to keep you updated here on the outcome of all this evolution.

 

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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