Legislative Update: Leap Day Edition

He never won an Olympic gold medal in the long jump, but U.S. Track and Field star Mike Powell holds other notable claims to fame. In 1991 and ‘92, Powell notched the longest “wind-assisted” and standing long jumps in Sestriere, Italy and Tokyo, Japan respectively. Thirty-three years later, Powell’s record leap of 29 ft., 4 ¼ in. in Tokyo still stands, making it the longest-standing long jump world record since records have been kept.  

Yesterday’s Leap Day had the Indy Chamber team in the mood to celebrate leaps of all kinds, so strap on the nearest bike helmet and maybe some wrist guards! It’s time for the Indy Chamber Legislative Update: Leap Day Edition.  

Great Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! No “code Blue” 

Although he’s not a Powell-level athlete, James Roumeliotis trained like one to prepare for Pogopalooza 2023. That prep helped him earn the title “undisputed king of pogo stick jumping,” from the Guiness Book of World Records when he completed a world record 115,170 consecutive jumps at the September 2023 event.  

Supporters of IndyGo’s Blue Line likely feel that they’ve jumped 115,170 hurdles in the effort to preserve the third leg of IndyGo’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan. Yesterday’s news that IGA leadership had worked out a compromise deal that effectively saves the Blue Line had many in the Indy Region leaping for joy, the Indy Chamber team included.  

Central Indiana media outlets have done a great job covering the debate over SB 52, the bill that at one point seemed likely spell the Blue Line’s doom, including this piece from Mirror Indy and this one from WFYI. We’ll limit our final comments to some much-deserved thanks.  

As they have for years at this point, Indy Chamber members showed up at Tuesday's meeting of the Indiana House Committee on Roads and Transportation to offer robust, well-reasoned support of the Blue Line. Thanks to all of you who continue to make sure the business community has a voice in these policy discussions.  

Thanks also to Indy-area State Representative Blake Johnson, who gave some of the most impassioned, deeply felt remarks that we’ve ever heard at the Indiana Statehouse. This is what public service and leadership looks like.  

Finally, many thanks to House Speaker Todd Huston, IndyGo Interim CEO Jennifer Pyrz, and all the Indianapolis officials involved in hammering out a compromise solution that preserves this critical public infrastructure investment and honors the vote of Marion County residents who overwhelmingly approved BRT as part of the city’s public transit plan. 

Sticky Landing 

If you recognize the name Simone Biles, you probably also recognize the idea of “sticking the landing.” For the gymnast, the “stuck landing” is the most perilous part of a performance, requiring an athlete to drop from a great height, with force, speed, and rotation, to come to a complete and sudden stop on the mat—all without blowing an ACL. The slightest hop this way or that can mean point deductions and controversies that impact the sport for years.  

Many bills go through a similar combination of twists and turns on their way to becoming law. Such has been the case with HB 1199, the bill which sought to repeal the Mile Square Economic Enhancement District (EED), passed by the IGA last year. Similar districts have supported the success of downtown areas in nearly all of Indy’s peer metros, and establishing one for downtown Indianapolis has been a top Indy Chamber priority.  

When the IGA passed enabling legislation in 2023, Indy Chamber and Downtown Indy, Inc. mobilized a months-long process to solicit input from hundreds of downtown property owners on the services a Mile Square EED should provide and the composition and function of the EED’s governing board. HB 1199 threw the results of all that work into doubt. 

However, thanks to staunch support from Indy Chamber members and our partners at Downtown Indy, Inc., HB 1199 no longer includes language that would repeal the Mile Square EED. In the final analysis, the landing of HB 1199 is part stuck and part sticky.  

The best news is that the Mile Square EED itself is “stuck,” so long as the Indianapolis City-County Council is willing to amend its local ordinance to comply with HB 1199 when it becomes law. Assuming that happens, plans for a low-barrier shelter and support services for downtown’s unhoused residents will move ahead, as will extra street cleanings and other beautification efforts that have been so successful in restoring downtown’s vibrancy through a proof-of-concept project administered by Downtown Indy. 

Somewhat stickier are the latest amendments to HB 1199, which cap the fees the EED can collect at $5.5 million, while allowing the area covered by the EED to expand to two square miles and exempting multi-family properties and homesteads from paying the EED fee. Also added was a ten-year limit on the life of the EED and a significant change to a nine-member EED governing board, with six of those appointments made by the state.  

There’s still more work to be done before session ends, but we think this version of HB 1199 is likely to pass. Ultimately, the heart of the capital city will have significant new resources to devote to its safety and vitality, and there’s plenty of good that downtown can accomplish given that a full repeal of the EED was avoided. That’s a hard-fought win, but a win to be sure.

No More Monkeys Jumping On The Bed 

Whatever we jumped on as children — beds, couches, our siblings — our parents seemed ready with forecasts of dire health outcomes. Back then, it seemed our folks were just out to ruin our good time. As adults, we understand their real concern: medical bills.  

The rising cost of healthcare is an ongoing concern for Indiana lawmakers and is purportedly at the heart of SB 9, which the House passed this week.  

SB 9 requires healthcare entities to give the Indiana Attorney General office 90-day advance notice of any mergers and acquisitions valued above $10 million to allow time for state regulators to review the deal and its impact on the community. For comparison, the federal government has the authority to block mergers valued at more than $101 million.  

Like others who testified against SB 9, we’re skeptical that adding layers of state oversight will result in improved health outcomes or lower healthcare costs for Hoosiers. Of concern is the impact SB 9 may have on mergers of ambulance services and small hospital facilities outside the Indy Region’s urban core. Mergers with the state’s larger hospital systems are often the difference between those facilities and services remaining available to residents versus being forced to close.  

Everything we know about these kinds of transactions says SB 9 is likely to discourage future mergers—only time will tell what the impact of that will be for Hoosier families. We joined the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Hospital Association, among others, in opposition to SB 9, but it seems likely to become law. 

Paging Scott Bakula 

In the early 90’s television show “Quantum Leap,” former scientist Sam Beckett finds himself trapped in a time-travel experiment gone awry. Niels Bohr originated the idea of a quantum leap as a sudden move made by atoms, which (using science we don’t understand) led to the notion that there are multiple versions of each of us currently in existence and that we can “leap” between different versions but can never be two versions at the same time. 

The same laws of physics apply to Hoosier children, who cannot instantly leap from a version of themselves that struggles to read to one that reads proficiently. There is no shortcut to literacy. 

Indiana lawmakers’ solution to the state’s alarmingly low child literacy rates is SB 1currently on its way to Governor Holcomb’s desk. The most well-known of SB 1’s provisions is the retention policy for third graders who can’t pass the state’s IREAD test. Experts anticipate SB 1 to result in thousands of third graders being retained; the long-term impact of that retention on children was passionately debated in both the House and Senate.  

Somewhat lost in the debate over retention is the state’s requirement that schools begin administering IREAD to second-graders and target students who struggle to pass with extra literacy support well before any decision is made about a student repeating third grade. If lawmakers take care to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide that extra early support to students, there may be reason to hope SB 1 will have a more positive impact than critics have warned. Certainly, this is a subject on which the Indy Chamber will remain vigilant. For the moment, we’re avoiding leaping to conclusions. 

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