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We start this update with bad news from the Indiana Senate – a last-minute beef against better transit.

Late Thursday afternoon, HB1279 was amended to reverse the will of Marion County voters and obstruct progress on mass transit by redirecting local tax revenues from their rightful purpose.  The original bill allows the Northwest Indiana RDA to expand its reach in creating transit development areas, supporting the South Shore rail line ‘double tracking’ project; good policy now weighed down with a toxic anti-transit, anti-Indianapolis addition.

An amendment offered by local senators (contradicting their constituents’ support for transit improvements in the 2016 referendum) would slash support for planned rapid transit routes in Indianapolis unless IndyGo is able to raise philanthropic funds or generate unrealistic farebox collections to make up the difference.

Senators approved the amendment, ignoring the 2016 referendum, putting the future of the Purple and Blue Lines in doubt and casually burdening IndyGo riders with longer, more challenging trips to work, school, the doctor and other daily necessities.

We have one more chance to spit out this poison pill: Taking our case back to the House, rallying to restore the original version of the bill in conference committee.  So hit ‘em up – contact your legislator today.

Procedural Pit Stop:
Second reading amendments (amendments offered on the floor before the final vote on a measure) are often employed to rush last-minute, potentially-controversial provisions into a bill outside the committee process.  This bypasses the opportunity for public comment, expert testimony and thoughtful discussion:  Recall that SB342 (pregnant worker accommodations) was stripped by second reading amendment earlier this session, and the same lawmaker who authored today’s drama – Senator Aaron Freeman – also weakened bias crimes legislation last year with the same tactic.

In contrast, new panhandling restrictions were amended into SB335 in committee before being voted onto the floor for further consideration.  The bill (also dealing with ex-offender employment via the expungement of older offenses) now also creates a 50-foot zone around the entrances to banks, restaurants and retail businesses where aggressive panhandling could be charged as a Class C misdemeanor.  It’s a reasonable reaction to downtown public safety concerns without criminalizing homelessness, where we need more comprehensive, compassionate solutions; we support the city’s efforts to address these broader issues.

Killing Me Softly…
The Senate stabbed Marion County voters in the back with a second reading floor amendment on HB1279.  But there are less visible ways to murder momentum on legislation – call it “death by delay.”

Last week we talked about bills getting put on hold as the second chamber clock ticked towards deadlines for committee action.  This week we learned the fate of several proposals caught in this legislative limbo: Some kept moving, others stalled out – in many cases, dying without a decisive vote.

Some motives are worthy of a daytime drama.  SB223 required graduating high school students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form before graduation, adding a little more clarity for those uncertain about their options and ability to afford higher education.  It became an unfortunate victim of another conflict among lawmakers (payback for adding cursive writing curricular mandates to an unrelated House bill).

Sometimes good ideas are snuffed out by scheduling without clear reason.  We support  SB264 to allow additional tax increment growth capture to support certified technology parks (including the 16 Tech innovation district, which has transformative potential to anchor Indy’s advanced industry sector).  We’ve also kept an eye on SB262, which creates a new film and media tax incentive.  Neither received a committee vote in the House; despite reluctance to make tax policy in a short session, both deserve action and should return next year.

On the other hand, we’re pleased that time ran out on SB320, which forced employers to remit their own tax withholding instead of outsourcing the task along with other HR and back-office functions.

Life After Death:
From Tupac in our title to a classic Biggie album that makes a relevant point about the future of legislation that died at the deadline: All the bills mentioned above passed one house, so could pop up again via floor amendment or in conference committee

For example, SB195 (creating a utility career cluster) and SB295 (the career explorer program) died but were resurrected into HB1153; it primarily directs the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet to undertake a comprehensive plan to align primary, secondary, post-secondary and workforce systems with employer needs.

Another example from the public health arena – after dying in a standalone bill, syringe programs are ‘sticking’ around until 2022 in an amended SB4 (dealing with other health program matters).

Kick in the Door:
Another song from ‘Life After Death’ is a worthy reminder of the challenge of promoting regionalism at the Statehouse – it usually takes a session or two of knocking on the door before the time’s right to finally kick it open.  (And in the case of mass transit, sometimes you have to keep pushing just to keep it ajar.)

It’s certainly been that way with the broad concept of regional collaboration and investment.  SB350 was passed out of Ways & Means at the deadline, but not without significant amendment.

To recap again, the original bill created regional “investment hubs” with expanded the power to raise and spend revenues on major projects to elevate quality of life and economic competitiveness across county and city lines.  It was limited before passing the Senate to focus on Central Indiana and connects our Regional Development Authority with our Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), given expanded jurisdiction to focus on housing, land use, quality of life and other infrastructure planning along with its current transportation duties.

The version that escaped Ways & Means keeps the MPO focused on transportation, but does empower our RDA to create a comprehensive economic development strategy (and since the RDA and MPO will share staff and other resources, we believe jurisdictional issues can be managed), though without taxing options or other revenue reforms needed to support a longer-term regional vision.

But like a scrappy nine-seed during March Madness, advocating for regional governance is a “survive and advance” proposition – so we’re pleased SB350 keeps moving, and are prepared to address fiscal capacity and other challenges next year.

Survival of the Fittest:
Plenty of legislation did survive the Darwinian committee deadlines:

  • HB1002 – disconnecting student testing from teacher evaluations – got held up a little longer than expected, but passed committee on Wednesday;
  • SB455 modernizes Indiana’s school accreditation system; an attempt to include FAFSA language (SB223) didn’t make the grade before the bill passed committee;
  • SB409 got a unanimous committee nod for easing limits on the employment of minors, including removal of the work permit requirement for minors from border states;
  • SB427 allows active military spouses easier transition into employment in Indiana with provisional occupational licensing (and also earned a unanimous transition to the House floor);
  • HB1419 expands the membership of the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet (also addressed in HB1153) and worked its way out of committee;
  • SB1 (the Senate ‘T21’ bill) sets state standards (enforcement and penalties) around federal action raising the legal age to buy tobacco (including vaping) products from 18 to 21 – it was amended to lower fines on retailers and passed committee on Thursday (changes brought the bill closer to its House companion, HB1006, which also moved this week);
  • HB1091 – granting in-state tuition rates for higher ed to the dependents of active military personnel – kept cruising along, passing third reading; as did…
  • HB1009, encourages young Hoosiers from lower-income families to pursue experiential learning opportunities by excluding their internship or co-op earnings from household income limits for public benefits – it passed without amendment, heading to the Governor and avoiding conference committee.
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