Against the backdrop of a global pandemic and its economic fallout, and a period of racial reckoning, the 2021 session of the Indiana General Assembly was unlike any on record. Yet, despite a challenging climate of physical distancing and partisan divides, the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Team was pleased to log several significant victories for its legislative priorities—thanks to the strong support from members – as the legislature found common ground on some key issues and benefitted from some unexpected fiscal gains.
This Wrap-Up will report the wins, losses, and a few “ties” where we believe more could be done—all while delivering insight into the discussions and debates along the way.
Economic Resilience & COVID-19 Response:
Transit: Ensure workforce access to reliable public transit by holding harmless from funding cuts transit providers with low ridership due to COVID-19.
Panhandling: Success on this issue starts with new terminology – focusing on aggressive harassment as a public safety concern and setting up a framework for proper enforcement in compliance with federal requirements:
Service Enhancement: Support increased levels of service to homeless populations including a comprehensive approach to establish low-barrier shelters and wraparound service treatment models.
Community Redevelopment & Investment
Housing: Despite controversy over state preemption of local control on housing policy, session did produce positive results for encouraging attainable workforce housing development. While proposals on state-level analogues for federal LIHTC credits did not advance, SB214 did reinstate property tax credits for acquisition, rehabilitation, or construction of low-income housing units.
Regional Cities Initiative: Promote regional cooperation and strategic quality of life investments through the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s (IEDC) Regional Cities Initiative (RCI), increasing funding for technical assistance and planning grants for regional development authorities:
Food Access & Insecurity: The Cook Group was successful in its advocacy for $600,000 to support a Food Empowerment Pilot Project that is set to address a known food desert on the northeast side – an area already seeing positive momentum in housing redevelopment and multi-modal transportation connectivity.
By providing the means to acquire local equipment for training connected to the operation of a retail grocery store in low-income areas, this project is seen as a potential model for redeveloping grocery stores as entrepreneurship engines in communities throughout Indiana.
Smart Justice Reforms
Relevant law enforcement budget appropriations include:
State Administrative Takeover/Civilian Oversight & General Orders Board:
After national and local protests for racial justice demanding police reform, the Indianapolis City-County Council made a commitment to citizen-led general orders board to create local law enforcement police (first of its kind). The local response caused legislators to draft several bills undermining local control by the Indianapolis Mayor and City-County Council. Thankfully the Chamber and coalition of advocates successfully defeated multiple bills aimed at reversing local oversight of law enforcement:
Defense against Charitable Bail: HB1376 The Chamber and advocates successfully blocked a Charitable bail bill geared at blocking a nonprofit organization from paying bail for a defendant. This bill didn’t receive a hearing. It is important to the business community that Hoosiers are not denied bail for their inability to pay and subsequently lose their job. Our advocacy is based on the disruption to our workforce by potentially removing an employee who hasn’t been proven guilty. (the Chamber opposed this piece of legislation as drafted, as it made it more difficult for organizations to post bail for multiple individuals)
Hoosier Health: Medicaid is fully funded in the next budget, though lawmakers did not take steps to control the growth of Medicaid by reducing smoking rates (more on this follows); the final budget plan also restores full mental health funding and adds another $100 million for mental health initiatives, significant progress in tandem with other modest gains:
Farms to the City: Crossing public health with economic development, HB1283 passed to allow the creation “urban agriculture zones” exempt from property tax to incentivize farming in urbanized areas.
Pre-K: While ‘On My Way’ Pre-K funding was restored to pre-COVID levels in the budget, early learning did not share in the significant increase to K-12 education that could have expanded program enrollment.
Work Share: Establish an Indiana Work Share program to save jobs, retain workforce skills, and maintain benefit coverage.
Pregnancy Accommodations: HB1309 was signed into law under the guise of “pregnancy workplace accommodations” – actually, the bill provides employers no specifics or clarity, and offers expectant moms no substantive protections (modest provisions for flexible scheduling, regular breaks and the ability to sit if duties don’t require being on your feet). The bill only affirms pregnant women can request such accommodations (which they can already). Missed opportunity. The Chamber will continue to push for more substantive protections for expectant mothers on the job, to improve maternal and prenatal health and provide clarity for employers
Public School Buildings “Dollar law” Update: SB358 narrowly passed, changing the so-called “dollar law” (governing the transfer of unused public school buildings to charter schools) to share the revenues from the sale of a school building with charters within that district, allow post-secondary institutions to claim unused properties along with charters, and adding new compliance – we support a balanced approach that encourages educational opportunities and options, while allowing districts like IPS to redevelop ‘right-sized’ properties to help fund classroom programs (as long as revenues are shared equitably with innovation network school partners, as applicable).
Tobacco Tax: In a massive, missed opportunity, despite another year of unified support from the business and health provider community, the 2021 budget did not include a two dollar per pack on cigarettes. As a silver lining, the budget does include an e-cigarette tax in parity with current tobacco taxes—levying a 15% retail tax on e-liquids and 25% retail tax on cartridges—an important step for discouraging youth tobacco use.
Thanks to our 2021 Legislative Agenda Sponsor: Intelligent Fiber Network