As Indy starts our run as the capitol of college hoops over the next few weeks, action at the actual state capital has been a little more muted: As the list of surviving bills is slimmed down and the budget debate shifts from big picture priorities to line-by-line haggling, it can feel deceptively quiet in the hallways.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not making moves and grinding out modest wins on parts of our agenda. A few key bills have earned bipartisan consensus and have had a relatively smooth road through the process…but we should still recognize their impact as they get closer to joining the Indiana Code:
- HB1006, the bipartisan police reform bill with important provisions on chokeholds and body cameras, enhanced law enforcement training and procedures to decertify officers guilty of misconduct, heads to the Governor’s desk after passing the Senate this week;
- As we welcome March Madness, let’s say HB1006 pulled the legislative equivalent of a 1976 Indiana Hoosiers undefeated season – not a single vote against it in either chamber as we see the value of thoughtful, inclusive policymaking around significant issues.
- HB1004, creating small business recovery grants ($30 million total), is out of committee and adding co-sponsors on the floor – it passed second reading and we expect a positive Senate vote;
- We’re also seeing a little progress on housing, as SB214 passed Ways & Means – restoring property tax incentives for the development of low-income housing;
- Also getting a positive committee nod this week was HB1007, which creates a $50 million state health improvement grant program to invest in critical public health priorities;
- St. Patrick’s Day was lucky for other healthcare matters – along with HB1007, SB3 passed committee on Wednesday – the bill clarifies Medicaid rules and other parts of state law to support access to telehealth services;
- As basketball fans stream into town and temperatures rise along with downtown activity, we’re also mindful of public safety concerns: Penalties for aggressive harassment were amended into SB218, which passed committee on Wednesday, too (the bill otherwise creates countywide coordination for township poor relief resources for homeless Hoosiers).
Sometimes work even continues on priorities where we’ve already declared victory: SB1 (providing employers with civil immunity from COVID-related liabilities as they re-open their businesses) has already been signed by the Governor, but HB1002 – the companion measure from the House – remains on the Senate agenda to clarify remaining issues and strengthen protections for healthcare and higher education institutions.
HB1001: The Senate Remix
The next phase of the state budget process officially kicked off this week, as the Senate Appropriations Committee held its first round of hearings on HB1001. We’ve already covered the basics of the two-year, $36.4 billion House plan; a few interesting observations from Thursday’s session:
- In presenting the budget, Ways & Means Chairman Brown said, “We don’t need the money – this is about health,” when questioned about the proposed 50-cent per pack increase to the state cigarette tax; though Brown expressed concern about the rates of neighboring states, we were heartened by the physician–fiscal leader’s comments and continue to seek a larger increase to further reduce smoking rates and build a more productive economy powered by healthier Hoosiers.
- Chairman Brown led his presentation with increased K-12 funding, focusing on the $15.4 billion in state tuition support that follows students to local schools; there was some committee discussion about the expansion of charter grants and choice scholarships, as well as complexity and English Language Learner funding, but any real changes to the school funding formula will be hammered out behind the scenes.
- Teacher pay has continued to be a dominant issue this session, but another compensation issue was raised by several Senators on Thursday – raises for Department of Child Services care providers; will the Senate boost the DCS budget for this purpose, and where would this money come from?
- We’ll learn more about the Senate’s spending plans over the next couple of weeks (including the fate of higher education funding – Thursday also featured presentations from post-secondary institutions, which took a slight hit in the House from the Governor’s recommendation) – so stay tuned.
It may be relatively quiet this week, but don’t expect the calm to last. A week after the Ides of March, expect a thunderous committee hearing over an attempted coup against local voters and taxpayers.
On Wednesday the 24th at 11:30AM, the House Roads & Transportation Committee will hear SB141. As you all know by now, this is the bill that strips funding from IndyGo for bus rapid transit routes by ignoring home rule and rewriting state law to force unreasonable levels of private fundraising for public transportation. It effectively kills the Blue and Purple Lines, disrupting plans for more convenient cross-town routes and service improvements.
This scheme to revoke the 2016 referendum makes it harder for people across the city to get to work, takes away free rides for veterans to access medical care, and impedes efforts by IPS to manage transportation costs by partnering with IndyGo.
Sticking with education, it’s tough for us to understand how any lawmaker who supports school choice could endorse a plan that makes it tougher for families with working parents who can’t drive their kids to school from taking advantage of transit to exercise their options. For example, students attending charter schools like Purdue Polytechnic (which has located both of its Indianapolis schools along rapid transit – the Red and planned Blue Lines).
We could go on and on – it’s hard to resist ranting about a bill that’s so blatantly anti-taxpayer, anti-worker, anti-business and anti-Indianapolis. But to make one more point…
Undoing these projects also eliminates $40 million in planned road and sidewalk improvements along Washington Street (part of more than $200 million in infrastructure investment on all three BRT lines). It cancels nearly 13 miles of new or repaved sidewalks and multi-use pathways, 18 miles of repaved streets, and 65 new traffic signals, sending millions of dollars in federal grants back to DC. (So maybe SB141 is pro-taxpayer, if you count taxpayers from other cities and states who will get the money instead?)
Transit creates a more competitive business climate by connecting people and employers, and rapid transit service like the Blue Line along Washington Street has transformative potential for neighborhood redevelopment and revitalization. As the Chamber launches an ambitious new talent attraction and retention initiative, Life In Indy, convenient transit service is increasingly crucial to our quality of life appeal.
So we’ll be working overtime next week, and encourage you to contact members of the Roads & Transportation Committee to make your voice heard on behalf of local transit options.
Speaking of overtime – actually, just the opposite…President Pro Tempore Bray said this week that the General Assembly is working to wrap up early, with the Senate advancing committee deadlines with the intent of adjourning by April 21st (instead of the 29th). We’ve mentioned before the push to avoid conference committees on bills like HB1006, and this move seems to imply that budget negotiations will be more conciliatory than contentious.
It also means a narrow window for further action on bills, good and bad – making the case to focus on issues that matter, and run out the clock on out-of-bounds efforts to defund local transit agencies.