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The 2020 session of the Indiana General Assembly kicked off this week, and with an early adjournment planned it didn’t take long for lawmakers to get down to business – hustle is the name of the game to get things done in a short session.

In fact, the Senate was so eager to make good on its commitment to ‘hold harmless’ Indiana school districts from dropping accountability ratings from the new ILEARN test that the Education & Career Development Committee passed SB2 onto the floor on the very first day of session.  The House companion, HB1001, got out of committee on Tuesday.

On the issue of decoupling teacher evaluations from student test scores it was the House that set the pace, moving HB1002 out of committee on Tuesday (as SB59 awaits a hearing).

As other committees got busy working through the hundreds of bills still being sorted and assigned, it’s appropriate that the House took a breather to honor the Hulman family this week – because it’s looking like a race to the sine die finish line.

Bringing home the bacon
Another bill that got quick committee approval was HB1007, which sailed through Ways & Means Tuesday: It spent about $290 million of the larger-than-expected state surplus on capital projects (to save $137 million in longer-term bonding costs by paying upfront) – but which projects?

It was a good day for higher education, as the House bill focused on university building priorities and the Governor’s Office declined to go whole hog on its earlier commitment to include the State Fairgrounds Swine Barn on the list.  The emphasis on capital spending was unsurprising, though Democrats seized the opportunity to make hay over the failure to allocate any of the surplus windfall to teachers.

Just kidding (unless you gonna do it…)
It’s getting (politically) hot in herre on teacher pay, prompting more speculation on further action this session.  Governor Holcomb dropped hints on Monday that he’s rethinking his earlier reluctance to re-opening the 2020-21 budget for teacher pay in the wake of last month’s optimistic revenue forecast, urging reporters to tune in for next week’s State of the State address for more.

Last year’s surprise proposal to advance $150 million in advance teacher pension payments doesn’t exactly count as a “Bruce Willis was a ghost the whole time!” shocker, but it does show Governor Holcomb and his team have a penchant for using the SOTS to make news.  So the debate over educator salaries may get a twist come Tuesday night (January 14th at 7:00PM)

A breath of fresh air:
We may be waiting with baited breath for the State of the State, but we’re already breathing a little easier on the effort to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.  ‘T21’ was accomplished by federal action late last year, but states are left to implement administrative and enforcement rules.
On Wednesday, the House Public Health & Provider Services Committee passed HB1006 to do just that, raising retailer fines to $500-$1000, increasing with multiple offenses (and a 3-year loss of tobacco sales certificate after ‘three strikes’ of selling to minors within three years), restricting tobacco sales around schools and readjusting civil penalties for those who buy cigarettes or e-liquids for minors.

While there will be some debate around the size and scale of these penalties, Wednesday’s hearing showed the broad consensus around the bottom line: Breaking the cycle of teen smoking to support a healthier, more productive workforce of the future.

U.N.I.T.Y
Inspired by the 180-degree momentum change on T21 in just a year, we ask – how can we bridge divides and build coalitions on other issues that affect all Hoosiers?

“Unity” was a theme of Mayor Hogsett’s remarks last week after being sworn in for a second term, four years after ‘One City’ became the de facto motto of his administration after his 2015 victory.  Earlier this week at our Legislative Reception event at Emmis headquarters on Monument Circle, Hogsett (a Democrat) declared ‘Brian Bosma Day’ across Indianapolis, to recognize the historic tenure of the Republican Speaker of the House.

A modest gesture, but a reminder that across party lines and political boundaries, we’re all Hoosiers – “One State,” to broaden the Mayor’s slogan.

As we move forward in the session, we’ll need this spirit to animate discussions around regionalism, especially, to work towards a solution that allows urban, rural and suburban communities to collaborate, rethink our local revenue system as necessary in pursuit of common goals, and make critical investments in infrastructure and quality of life that benefit us all.  From a practical standpoint, we expect Senator Holdman to introduce a bill empowering Regional Development Authorities (along the lines of the ‘investment hub’ concept we’ve described previously) – stay tuned for more details.

First takes on the first week
Other highlights from Week #1:

  • There was committee discussion but no vote (yet) on HB1005, a key part of the GOP healthcare agenda advancing price transparency by requiring “good faith estimates” in advance of (non-emergency) medical treatments, as well as creating a payer claims database to allow pricing research and comparisons to bring more clarity and predictability to healthcare billing.
  • HB1027 (Township Assessors) abolishing Indiana’s remaining township assessors by 2023 passed the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee in an early win for local government reform;
  • SB67 (Township Homeless Assistance) assigning township trustees the task of providing temporary aid to homeless residents and creating a database of local homeless resources, passed committee as well (we aren’t advocates for expanding the duties of townships, but see the need for homeless assistance – and also see this bill as a possible vehicle for addressing panhandling enforcement);
  • SB12, formalizing the policy of granting in-state college tuition for dependents of active duty military, was held for further amendment (likely next week);
  • Also held in committee was SB195, creating a utility career and technical education cluster at the high school level to help address workforce shortages in Indiana’s utilities industry.
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