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As promised, we’re delivering our 2021 legislative “wrap-up” – ironic quotation marks because the General Assembly never actually adjourned, and headed back to the Statehouse on Monday for the usual technical corrections and to override Governor Holcomb’s veto of SB5, complicating local efforts to act during a public health crisis.

Specifically, SB5 puts the county legislative body (county commissioners or the City-County Council in Indianapolis) in the middle of specific enforcement decisions by voting on any health orders stricter than statewide standards. We’ve supported data-driven responses to the pandemic that follow expert guidance and adjust to local and regional conditions, and see no need to politicize a process that’s generally worked.

If you’ve been reading these weekly updates, you’ve picked up on the recurring theme this session: State legislators trying to pressure local governments to change policies they don’t like. After the veto reversal, the City-County Council met and affirmed Marion County’s current orders, but on other issues the fix wouldn’t have been so easy.

The threat was most obvious on public transportation, as we successfully played defense on efforts to sabotage rapid transit in Marion County (via SB141 and a last-ditch amendment to HB1191).

Earlier in the session, heavy-handed attempts to take over the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department with a state-run oversight board (SB168) or intervene in local law enforcement orders and oversight (SB394 and SB311) were sidelined.

2021 wasn’t all about bottling up bad bills, though, and police reform is a good example: HB1006 was one of the bipartisan success stories of this year, making important strides forward in accountability, training, and building confidence between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Dive into the full wrap-up report and you’ll find plenty of trade-offs and areas where we’ve got to keep grinding:

  • Spanning two priorities – public safety and downtown recovery – we were pleased to get language in SB218 penalizing aggressive harassment as we welcome back more workers, visitors and continue a residential boom in the Mile Square;
  • We didn’t get our top priority for Healthier Hoosiers, a $2-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax, but we did get a new tax on vaping products that could impact youth tobacco use – and a clean slate for another push;
  • We’ll also continue to advocate for meaningful pregnant worker accommodations (no, HB1309 isn’t meaningful, or even progress);
  • And even though you can’t put a price on health, public investments are needed – and the final budget includes $150 million in health challenge and mental health improvement grants.

Speaking of the budget 

Mo Money? No Problem!

The passage of the American Rescue Plan and an unexpected $2 billion addition to the state revenue forecast definitely boosted a number of items on our list:

  • Full funding of existing workforce and economic development programs to pre-COVID levels (or beyond);
  • $60 million for small business recovery grants;
  • $1.1 billion in new or expanded infrastructure investments (of course, now it’s about keeping an eye on how those dollars get divided);
  • On top of other economic development spending, $500 million for the new Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) that launched just last week.

Of course, we couldn’t talk about the budget without mentioning the $18.7 billion to K-12 – including a modest hike in aid to students in poverty (the complexity index) and larger increases for special education and English Language Learner grants (roughly $210 million more than the original budget blueprint)…in all, a better outcome than expected for districts like IPS.

But we’ll stop rehashing the whole session – that’s what the wrap-up is for: Take a few more minutes to relive the rest of the ups-and-downs with us.

And then stick with us on a more semi-regular basis for updates on the not-quite-finished business of the General Assembly and other developments on state and local policy. Even though this historic session is (almost) history, there will still be progress on Indy Chamber priorities: For example, shout-out to the Cook Group for taking action on food deserts by supporting a new, locally-owned grocery store on the northeast side of Indianapolis, leveraging state funding in a great example of public-private-philanthropic collaboration on a tough issue.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to share many more stories like this to brighten up your summer.

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