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This penultimate week of the 2020 session was also sad week for hip-hop fans, as the legendary Public Enemy parted ways with founding member Flavor Flav over political differences (specifically, participation in a pre-Super Tuesday Bernie Sanders rally).

It’s a reminder that politics is personal, and can affect our lives in unexpected ways.  For example, a local state Senator playing politics with public transportation threatens real-life, day-to-day consequences for thousands upon thousands of IndyGo riders who will find it harder to get to work, school and the doctor if his poison pill amendment becomes law.

Last week, we detailed the last-minute amendment to HB1279 on the floor of the Senate, bypassing the chance for public input, testimony, or even a response from IndyGo, aimed at reversing the will of Marion County voters who supported local funding for transit improvements in a 2016 referendum.  (Indeed, there’s a solid legal argument that the amendment conflicts with state law – impairing a revenue stream already committed to debt repayment, in this case transit-related infrastructure improvements now at risk.)

Since we reported this move to divert local revenues away from local transportation priorities (including the Blue and Purple Line rapid transit projects), the amended bill passed third reading in the Senate.

So transit advocates have mobilized to fight this abuse of procedural power the only way we can – stripping out the anti-transit, anti-Indianapolis language during negotiations to reconcile competing versions of the bill, which originally focused on allowing the Northwest Indiana RDA to expand its reach in creating transit development areas, supporting the South Shore rail line ‘double tracking’ project.

At this writing, we’re still in the fight with a puncher’s chance: The House passed a ‘dissent’ motion on HB1279, setting up a conference committee and a final chance to take out this dire threat to transit progress.

UPDATE: Keep bringing the noise for transit
The conference committee for HB1279 will be scheduled next week – which we take as a positive sign that the calls and messages from local transit advocates are working: A quick compromise after third reading would otherwise assure the rest of the bill speedy passage.  So keep contacting your legislators, and particularly the conferees (see ‘Bill Actions’).

911 is (no) joke!
Sticking with the Public Enemy theme, Indiana’s public health challenges are no laughing matter  – we rank among the worst states in preventable hospitalizations, rates of infant mortality and chronic disease and other public health categories.  Beyond the obvious human consequences, the economic toll – higher insurance premiums, growing Medicaid budgets and billions in lost workforce productivity – is staggering.

Preventative measures can help bring down more expensive emergency and acute care costs, and that’s the aim of several bills we’ve championed this session:

  • Both ‘T21’ bills passed third reading this week: SB1  and HB1006 set state standards (enforcement and penalties) around federal action raising the legal age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21, addressing the reality that 90% of the Hoosier smokers started as teenagers; and
  • SB4, amended to extend authorization for syringe exchange programs along with other health program matters, also passed third reading and heads to conference committee – no one rejoices over the need for such programs, but they are proven to help avoid more dire and costly outbreaks of preventable disease.

On the other hand, SB342 (pregnant worker accommodations) didn’t make it out of committee this week.  The original bill would have made a long-term positive impact on maternal health and infant mortality by offering common-sense guidelines for employers to support pregnant workers; it was stripped of substance by second reading amendment earlier this session, and now appears dead.

We aren’t giving up on this important issue, however: In Congress, H.R. 2694 is in many ways a federal version of  SB342, offering clear-cut workplace rules that could offer clarity to businesses across Indiana and the nation.

We’ll continue to support legislative action to protect expectant mothers on the job and clear up confusion (and curb legal liability) for Hoosier companies trying to do the right thing. But this issue could follow a path similar to T21 – federal action, implemented and enforced by the states, putting us on an even playing field with the 27 others that have already enacted similar laws.

Other healthcare proposals moved this week:

  • SB5 and HB1004, both aimed at pricing issues (cost transparency and surprise billing), head to conference committee (after a proposal to compel hospitals to charge less for services performed at off-site clinics was cut from HB1004);
  • SB246 requires a school corporation (or charter, etc.) to have a partnership with a community mental health center or mental health professionals on contract or staff to provide student services in order to qualify for certain state funding – it’s going to conference as well (scheduled after adjournment Thursday).

While we support steps like these to bring down healthcare costs for individuals and employers, but believe “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” in public policy, too – action on smoking, prenatal health, and access to school-based mental health services will also help curb runaway medical expenses for the long haul.

Conference Season:
As conference tournaments gear up across the country in the annual prelude to March Madness, we have our own version of conference play at the Statehouse.  A host of proposals passed third reading this week – some got fast-tracked to the Governor’s desk, but others are getting worked out in conference committee:

  • HB1002 – disconnecting student testing from teacher evaluations – was among the bills that avoided further debate; the House concurred with Senate changes after it passed third reading, so it heads to the Governor;
  • HB1003, another education bill dealing with teacher training and the rule-making authority of the State Board of Education, didn’t get to graduate from the General Assembly quite yet – a House dissent set up a conference committee (scheduled for late Thursday afternoon);
  • HB1153 directs the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet to undertake a comprehensive plan to align primary, secondary, post-secondary and workforce systems with employer needs, and was amended to include other career-focused programs – it will get reworked in conference committee;
  • SB335 (expungement for older criminal offenses) passed third reading, but  without the new panhandling restricting we mentioned last week – however, the panhandling provisions will be shifted to a House bill and look likely to pass in some form;
  • At this writing we were still awaiting word on a concurrence or dissent on SB408 from the Senate: The bill deals with school finance and a host of state and local tax issues – notably, it eliminates a ‘reset’ provision for tax increment capture for certified technology parks, which we hope can be tweaked in conference committee to reflect greater reinvestment potential (closer to SB264).
Remixed Regionalism
SB350 also passed third reading and went to conference committee, which met yesterday.The original “investment hubs” bill ultimately focused on Central Indiana, giving our Regional Development Authority with our Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) the ability to work together to create a comprehensive economic development strategy for the region.  In doing so, it creates a promising new structure for organizing local government on a regional basis to focus on both basic services (the MPO is tasked with infrastructure asset inventory and planning) and longer-term priorities spanning county and city lines.

We’ll have work to do in next year’s budget session: We’d like to see the MPO’s authorities beyond transportation clarified, though the RDA and MPO will share resources and work collaboratively on plans around housing, land use, quality of life and other infrastructure investment along with technical transportation planning to enhance regional economic competitiveness.

More importantly, we have to address the need for regional fiscal capacity to pursue our longer-term vision, through new local taxing options and rethinking the distribution of local revenues to support economic growth.  But this session’s work on SB350 is a significant step forward and a win for our agenda.

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