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There’s a phrase you’ve probably noticed time and time again throughout these updates – that a bill was “heard and held” in committee.  Proposals routinely receive an initial committee hearing without a vote, instead being held for further discussion and (perhaps) later action.

Sometimes legislation is complex or significant enough to merit more deliberation and debate.  Or supporters need more time to negotiate and line up votes before seeking committee approval.  In other cases, controversy or a lack of clear consensus puts legislation in limbo…instead of putting members on record for or against an issue, it’s easier to simply not schedule a vote. Or one bill is held as a bargaining chip for action on another.

We’re watching a number of bills that are being held in committee as we approach the homestretch of the session.  In many cases, there’s no cause for alarm – yet – but it means we need to keep pushing (and keep an eye on the figurative clock) as deadlines for committee action loom next week.

Thinking bigger:

SB350 was heard without a vote in Ways & Means this week.  As we’ve described, the bill started as a broader strategy – “investment hubs” – allowing local governments across the state to form Regional Development Authorities (RDAs) with expanded powers to raise and spend revenues on major projects to elevate quality of life and economic competitiveness across these regions.

The bill was then narrowed before passing the Senate to focus on Central Indiana: It joins our Regional Development Authority with an independent Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to create a comprehensive economic development strategy that includes talent and quality of life initiatives, long-term infrastructure and transportation planning and other regional investment priorities (but without taxing powers or other revenue reforms needed to support these strategies).

We continue to endorse SB350 as a modest but necessary step forward for regionalism, creating the structure to strengthen collaboration among local officials, connected with the technical planning capacity of the MPO and empowered to ‘think bigger’ about attracting people, employers and investment.

During the Ways & Means hearing, however, concerns about RDAs trying to “do too much” were raised – to us, the greater concern is a fragmented process where plans around transportation, housing, economic development and neighborhood redevelopment are developed separately and then woven together in a patchwork.  We need a structure for regional cooperation that also breaks down strategic silos – the current version of SB350 at least moves in the right direction, and should move through committee.

(And speaking of long-term economic development, SB264 also deserves action – it positions certified tech parks for success by allowing greater tax increment reinvestment in their efforts to grow high-potential, innovation-driven businesses…including the downtown 16 Tech innovation district that continues to make news as blueprints give way to physical progress.)

And sweating the small stuff:

SB350 started out as a big swing for regionalism, and we expected roadblocks along the way.

SB223, on the other hand, was conceived as a small-scale but commonsensical advance for college access and affordability: Requiring graduating high school students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to better understand the financial resources available to help them pursue higher education.  This reasonable recommendation sparked debate in the Senate and is now held in the House Education Committee, amid concerns about adding new mandates to local districts and exempting certain private schools.

(Don’t) smoke ‘em if you got ‘em?

Even priorities that seem to have broad support can get bottled up in committee – in some cases, to reconcile differences between companion versions from the House and Senate to make conference committees easier.

For example,  SB1 was heard but held this week; the Senate version (now in the House) of ‘T21’ legislation sets state standards (enforcement and penalties) around the federal action raising the legal age to buy tobacco (including vaping) products from 18 to 21. The House companion, HB1006, hasn’t even been scheduled for a hearing yet in the Senate.

Even popular education and workforce proposals weren’t immune from getting stuck in committee detention:

  • HB1002, disconnecting teacher evaluations from student testing performance, was heard but held this week;
  • At the same meeting, HB1153 was also held – it directs the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet to undertake a comprehensive plan to align our primary, secondary, post-secondary and workforce systems with employer needs (a key issue for us);
  • HB1003 got detoured on the way to second reading in a different way – after passing the Education Committee, it was reassigned to Appropriations for another hearing: The bill streamlines teacher training and student graduation requirements (shuffling STEM curricula) through the rule-making and waiver authorities of the State Board of Education.

Jailbreak!

Some bills did bust out of committee this week, escaping to the floor for second and third readings.

  • HB1346 passed out of committee unanimously, in recognition of the chronic county jail overcrowding across much of the state – it assigns a data-driven analysis of the issue to the Criminal Justice Institute in consultation with sheriffs and other local officials to identify solutions;
  • Speaking of, one strategy for breaking the cycle of recidivism that refills our jails with ex-offenders is clarity around expungement of older offenses – SB47, which addresses this issue, is still stuck in committee…
  • HB1112 also made it out of committee, offering more flexibility to count eligible wage increases under the state’s Skill Enhancement Fund to encourage training investments by growing employers;
  • Two measures encouraging minority- and women-owned businesses to become public sector suppliers also made it out of their respective committees: SB383 sets supplier diversity goals for higher education institutions, while HB1081 defines the Governor’s Commission on Supplier Diversity (we’re working on the same issues at the local level with a new Business Ownership Initiative program providing coaching and start-up capital to potential City of Indianapolis contractors);
  • HB1091 – granting in-state tuition rates for higher ed to the dependents of active military personnel – also made it out of committee and reports for duty on the Senate floor; and
  • 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 certain public benefits – it got out of committee Monday and was engrossed on second reading.
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