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We’re now into the phase of the session that ‘flips the script’ on surviving legislation: House bills are in the Senate, Senate bills are in the House, and we’re in for another round of committee hearings, amendments and floor action as Senators and Representatives get to weigh in on each other’s work.  Some bills will be on a fast track to the Governor’s desk, others will get bottled up or voted down, and those that are amended will head to conference committee to hash out the differences.

Even though Republicans command sizable majorities on both sides of the General Assembly, differences in philosophies, personalities and priorities often create far greater divides between the House and Senate than the few dozen yards that physically separate the two GOP-led chambers.

Hitting the policy ‘pause’ button: 
Sometimes a bill’s migration across the Statehouse gives opponents a ‘reset’ to reopen debate, restate their arguments and slow legislative progress.  This seems to be the case withHB1341’s take on the testing and deployment of autonomous (self-driving) cars.  The bill steered itself pretty easily through the House but has hit a roadblock in Senate Transportation, where’s there more sensitivity to auto industry concerns about over-regulation and stifling innovation.  It’s being held in committee for two weeks.

We agree that the General Assembly should tread lightly trying to impose too many rules and exert too much oversight around developments that impact the intersection of three important industries – technology, (automotive) manufacturing, and logistics; we urge a thoughtful approach to anticipating ‘smart infrastructure’ needs and how self-driving cars and trucks will share the roads (and resources) with pedestrians, transit and other transportation.

We want a similar “pause” on HB1278, which adds heavy-handed limits on the Economic Improvement Districts (EIDs) that allow property owners in a defined area to self-impose fees to fund critical investments.  The bill passed the House by a wide margin, but we hope to spur thoughtful debate in the Senate Local Government Committee during its scheduled hearing Wednesday (2/21) about how EIDs are being used by urban, suburban and rural communities alike:

  • Indianapolis is exploring an EID to fund critical downtown improvements beyond the limits of the municipal budget;
  • Plainfield has used an EID to fund transit ‘circulator’ routes crossing the Marion-Hendricks County border to its cluster of distribution logistics employers, to allow Indianapolis residents reliable transportation to fill critical workforce shortages;
  • Whitestown is also considering an EID to address similar workforce mobility needs to support local employer demands.

Speaking of transportation and transit, HB1080 – repealing the ill-conceived ban on Central Indiana light rail projects – the Indy Chamber is pushing for the Senate committee for Transportation and Homeland Security to schedule a hearing on February 27th.

Concurrence or conference
Sometimes a bill’s travels through the second half of the session can be complicated by a relatively simple change – for example, moving the start date for Sunday alcohol sales ‘upon passage’ to take effect March 18th instead of July 15th.  But if the Senate version is amended, a conference committee or concurrence vote by the Senate becomes necessary…and there’s always a risk to reopening debate.  So, pushing for a little “hair of the dog” the day after St. Patrick’s could have bigger implications, though prospects for passage are still good.

Count the days:
In some cases, legislation changes based on new financial realities.  For example, HB1001attempts to address a sudden shortfall in K-12 funding based on unanticipated enrollment gains – simply, too many students for the budget approved last year – by authorizing transfers from the general fund up to $25M this year and $50M in FY2019.  Its Senate counterpart, SB189, caps the annual transfers at $25M.

However, new data shows that the shortfalls will swell to overwhelm the transfers proposed by both bills, complicating the task of amending and reconciling the two proposals into a workable (and sufficient) solution.  HB1001 passed Senate Appropriations with an amendment that only five-year-old pupils should be used in the ‘official’ kindergarten count (we believe this issue needs to be revisited in the broader debate on lower age limits for kindergarten enrollment and expanded pre-K programs).  SB189 was held in Ways & Means.

We’ll further point out that the Indy Chamber supports at least two enrollment ‘count days’ used for state budgeting purposes (today, only one official count is used to calculate the school funding formula, while the other is for informational purposes only).  More accurate, actionable data would help account for shifting enrollment in large urban districts like IPS, and also could have mitigated this broader funding issue.

Check the math:
Lawmakers can also use fiscal impacts to scuttle legislation that’s been passed on the merits from the other chamber.  The Indy Chamber supports SB11, which expands SNAP eligibility for ex-drug offenders as they work to become productive members of the legitimate economy; unfortunately, the bill is being held in the House, out of a very selective predisposition towards dealing with such proposals in a budget year.

House leaders used the same loosely-held philosophy to kill a plan to raise the legal age to buy tobacco (noting the resulting losses in cigarette tax revenue), while conveniently ignoring the similar impact of HB1424 (removing handgun licensing fees), among other bills.

Since their fixation on the budget cycle is subjective, we urge the House to tilt their ledger towards healthier Hoosiers this time, by moving SB11 and also passing SB232, which creates a nutritious food access program to explore and implement solutions to ‘food deserts’ (it’s now on second reading).

Move it or lose it: 
For bills like HB1341 and SB11, getting sidelined in committee leaves little margin for further delay.  Given the short session schedule, it’s crunch time for nearly the entire remaining docket.  A few bills moved this week; more stay in limbo for now:

SB297, creating the Employability Skills Curriculum, passed unanimously to the House on third reading and kept up its momentum by passing out of the House Education Committee on Thursday – we support this pathway from high school to the job market if it includes adequate employer input and aligns with local initiatives already in progress, such our work with EmployIndy on the ‘Job Ready’ skill certificate program.

SB353, setting up a study committee on a regional development tax credit, made it to House Ways & Means and received a first hearing Thursday – where it was amended to also include studies of residential TIF districts.   Many other bills that we’ve followed – occupational licensing for ex-offenders, consolidating high school diplomas and making it easier to license, hire and retain teachers with math, science and technology expertise, to name just a few – have been assigned to committee in their ‘second chamber,’ but still await a hearing.

HB1002, tweaking and analyzing the state’s workforce programs in advance of a major 2019 push, has been assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee but not yet scheduled for a hearing.  The same goes for its Senate counterpart, SB50, now in Ways & Means, which is increasingly likely to emerge as the surviving vehicle bill for workforce this session.

Similarly, we don’t see the need for an SOS on SAAS quite yet, but HB1316, confirming that software-as-a-service revenues are not subject to state sales taxes has been assigned but not yet heard in Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy.  We prefer the  Senate version, SB257, which triggered a lengthy debate on the definition of a technology ‘service’ in Ways & Means this week.

HB1288 (which opens the door to microlending through the state’s Capital Access Program) has been assigned to Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy but won’t be heard until next week (though at least it has a spot on the published schedule).

As mentioned earlier, the next two weeks will be make-or-break for legislation still languishing in committee.

Senate Shakeup: 
With many of our key agenda items originating in the House and now awaiting action in the Senate, it remains to be seen whether the impending retirement of President Pro Tem David Long, announced early this week, will affect the pace of the ‘upper chamber’ amid the prospects of new leadership (and jockeying for leadership among committee chairs?).  We thank Senator Long for his long (no pun intended) and selfless service to Hoosiers and steady hand guiding the Senate, and will keep an eye on how the leadership shakeup-to-be plays out as this session heads towards its springtime sine die.