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We’re going with classic Biggie Smalls during a hectic week: It’s easy to get lost in the list of bills and vote tallies as the session heats up, but it’s worth taking a step back to acknowledge what some of these issues mean to the people and employers who make our city work every day. Without being dramatic, the decisions made by the General Assembly do shape – for better or worse – the struggles of our community:

  • Acting quickly to give employers the confidence to re-open by providing COVID liability protections, as SB1 passed House third reading this week in a necessary step in restart our economy;
  • But making it harder to get to work as these jobs come back, by jeopardizing rapid transit service and more convenient cross-town bus routes (SB141);
  • Increasing the struggles with housing insecurity faced by Indianapolis families by overturning local landlord-renter relations ordinances (SEA148), complicating the challenge of public safety by increasing hardship and the threat of homelessness in some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods;
  • Deepen the struggle faced by our police in building trust in those same neighborhoods, by eliminating civilian oversight (SB394) or taking IMPD away from mayoral control altogether (SB168) – when residents have no voice in law enforcement, they’ll also stay silent when the police seek their help;
  • And adding to the struggles of expectants mothers trying to stay on the job and provide for their families, advancing a weak pregnancy accommodations bill (HB1309) – while at the same time taking a modest step forward on public health by including a 50-cent cigarette tax increase in the House budget.

We support the good and play defense as necessary on issues that aren’t all “traditional” Chamber priorities.  Some have questioned what policies make our agenda. Simply put, we believe a more inclusive economy is a more productive economy, maximizing the hard work and diverse talents of our people.

Our campaign for transit, for example, started more than a decade ago with an observation from FedEx that employees were consistently late for shifts because IndyGo was underfunded and unreliable. Over time, we gained a broader perspective on transportation, housing, anti-discrimination protections, public health and other factors that were redefining our business climate. For our members, these issues influence who they can recruit and hire, the customers they serve, and opportunities for growth closer to home.

It’s not just the “Chamber agenda” – a growing number of businesses, large and small, global and local, are stepping up for a more equitable community and economy. In fact, we joined a ‘who’s who’ of corporate executives in speaking out strongly against anti-Indianapolis policies. Check it out here.

The Blueprint
This chorus of the business community reinforces the fact that – despite all of our challenges – Indianapolis does have a formula for success that continues to make us the economic engine for the state. Just check out this eye-opening piece from Ball State’s Michael Hicks about Indy accounting for all the state’s net job growth since 2000. And the GPS Project from our partners at CICP, confirming Central Indiana as the epicenter of Indiana’s in advanced industry sector.

East-West Bus Beefs
But while we have our advantages, economic development is an everyday struggle, too. There’s fierce competition among cities and regions for major deals, especially the advanced industry investments that create high-wage, high-skill jobs. Just as challenging – or more so – is the work of neighborhood redevelopment, making the case for scarce infrastructure dollars, imploring businesses to put down roots and working to build up a better quality of life for current residents and attract new neighbors.

Fixed-route rapid transit is a catalyst for both: Growing employers look for convenient transit access as they pick places to locate and invest, and the appeal of transit brings transformative potential to surrounding neighborhoods.

That’s why SB141 makes no sense, slamming the door on rapid transit service in Indianapolis by excluding federal grants from the 10% level of non-tax, non-fare funding already required of IndyGo to pursue projects like the Blue and Purple Lines (raising this private fundraising mandate so high as to be unrealistic).

Another devious wrinkle to the anti-transit cause emerged this week. An amendment to SB141 eliminated the funding provisions in favor of a straightforward attack on the east-west Blue Line, banning bus rapid transit in a dedicated lane along Washington Street. The proposal was heard amid a flurry of falsehoods and distortions on Thursday, and held for an important vote next week.

Passing the bill in any form diminishes the potential for more projects like InfoSys and Elanco, both located along the Blue Line. It dashes redevelopment hopes along these routes, and writes off millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements planned in tandem with their construction – miles of new sidewalks, curbs, and repaved roads that won’t otherwise occur. And it means ignoring the emphatic wishes of local voters who endorsed the Marion County transit plan – including the Blue Line – by referendum in 2016.

Dear Mama
From Biggie to Tupac, from getting to work to staying on the job…for all the guys reading this, if you were on a packed Blue Line bus heading from the airport and noticed an expectant mom looking for a seat, you’d offer yours, right? Common decency – but unfortunately, unlikely to be codified in legislation this year.

Earlier this week, HB1309 advanced out of committee 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).

Other bills went further (HB1358, SB246) but the outlook was dismal and during his COVID briefing Wednesday, Governor Holcomb indicated that more substantive legislation was likely stalled. At this writing, opportunities to reshape HB1309 are uncertain.

We’re proud to share this priority with Governor Holcomb. It’s his positions on issues like these and the justified veto of SEA148 (overruling local landlord-renter ordinances like Indianapolis-Marion County) that earned him the support of our Business Advocacy Committee. Speaking of this veto, we were certainly dismayed that the Indiana Senate chose to override the Governor, ignore the original intent of the bill, increase housing insecurity in the midst of a global pandemic and depths of winter, and again disregard the principle of local control. (Enough reasons to urge the House to sustain the Governor’s veto?)

The Buck Stops…Where?
Sticking to local control, let’s revisit SB168, which would take control of IMPD away from the Mayor of Indianapolis, eliminating local accountability by imposing a state-appointed governing board. We believe this bill would actually make Indianapolis less safe, further diminishing trust between law enforcement and the people they serve. IMPD’s homicide clearance rate continues to decline, and we need closer cooperation with the neighborhoods most affected by violence – a process that can’t micromanaged from the Statehouse.

The plan is also based on a flawed premise. The police department of one major city – Kansas City – is under state control, and its rate of gun violence (per capita) was actually greater than Indianapolis in 2020 as crime rose across the nation. To quote one of Missouri’s favorite sons, Harry Truman, “The buck stops here” – with an issue as important as public safety, accountability should rest with local leadership.

As with transit, this bill is a dramatic imposition on local control that may give way to another damaging proposal positioned as a “compromise.”

SB394 makes the new IMPD General Orders Board void, mandating that police department administration be under the authority of the chief of police or town board of metropolitan policy commissioners. The bill would leave IMPD under mayoral control, but would erase the difficult work that was done in the wake of this summer’s protests to reform law enforcement oversight, bringing more citizens to the table with greater transparency. And with transparency comes trust, a necessary first step towards safer streets.

Both SB168 and SB394 will be heard on February 16th, so more to come next week.

But we shouldn’t end the topic of local approaches on public safety without mentioning City-County Council Resolution 76, addressing the issue homeless camps along major thoroughfares in Indianapolis. The proposal balances the need for long-term resources and addressing the root causes of homelessness with the safety and obvious public health implications during COVID. We advocated for the plan, which passed committee this week.

Budget Bonanza
We’ve focused on a number of bills specific to Indianapolis and local issues, but the Statehouse was buzzing with other activity, too. The House version of the budget (HB1001) was introduced on Thursday, and a number of bills we’ve kept an eye on made it out of committee and on to second and third readings at the deadline.

Given all the topics we’ve covered this week, we’ll take a breather until next week to dive into the budget and the bills still alive as third reading deadlines loom the last week of February. So we’ll close with early wishes for a happy Valentine’s Day – we know you make it through these weekly wishes because you love Indy as much as we do, and are just as passionate about the future of our city, our region and the State of Indiana. Thanks for reading.

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