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There’s a lot to report since our election wrap-up last month – things are getting hectic as we head into the waning weeks of 2020. On November 16th, lawmakers gathered for an Organization Day that was eerily different from 2019, when thousands of teachers rallied to demand higher pay.  The socially-distanced swearing-in was one more reminder that COVID will make this session a very different (and uniquely challenging) experience.

But does the extra space just mean more room for drama?

In this corner…

Turkey Day was just last week, but there’s already plenty of beef simmering at the Statehouse. We expect an early showdown over the limits of Governor Holcomb’s authority to issue precautionary restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID, even as cases have surged across the state. Two House Republicans already introduced a resolution arbitrarily ending the public health emergency.

Like Mike Tyson versus Roy Jones, there’s nothing new about the age-old fight between executive and legislative authority. But as the pandemic threatens Hoosier lives and livelihoods, and uncertainty takes a toll on our economy, we have to stay focused on the common foe – the virus itself.

A battle is also brewing over redistricting standards: Democrats decry perceived gerrymandering among legislative districts, while Republicans think today’s maps put the “super” in supermajority. Either way, it’s hard to dispute that the redistricting process isn’t inherently political.

The Chamber has advocated for non-partisan redistricting standards that are based on community interest, equitable representation and reasonable geographic compactness. Just as in business, competition makes us better – in this case, winning over constituents instead of customers in the competition of ideas.

Over time, we believe that hard-fought legislative elections lead to bipartisan cooperation, with lawmakers working to appeal to voters beyond the primary-voting party faithful. We’ll be closely watching the debate over redistricting.

And that’s not all we’ll be keeping an eye on, or pushing for, in 2021…

Crafting Indy’s Comeback:

We’ve also been busy putting together your Indy Chamber’s Legislative Agenda for the upcoming session, for final approval by our Board of Directors on December 14th. As you can imagine, it covers a lot of ground – addressing the more immediate challenges that have multiplied through the COVID crisis, while keeping our eye on the long-term priorities for economic competitiveness.

Back to Work: It starts with proposals for helping employers reopen safely and with confidence (including common-sense liability protections) with the resilience to rebound and grow in the post-COVID recovery.

The businesses that do survive and succeed will be those that prioritize talent. It’s time to create an Indiana Work Share program to help retain jobs and skills through the crisis and continue investing in transit connecting people and employment. (And accessible, affordable housing incentives.)

Getting back to work also means continuing to focus on worker health and safety beyond the pandemic, which leads to…

Hoosier Health: The COVID pandemic has elevated health as a policy priority, but we’ve been pushing the connection between a healthier workforce and a more productive economy since corona was something you enjoyed with a lime. For example, we’ll continue to push for common-sense workplace accommodations for expectant mothers on the job.

Protecting pregnant workers from undue strain also helps reduce Indiana’s poor – but improving – rate of infant mortality, one of a number of urgent public health issues facing Indiana that have only been amplified by COVID.

The virus exploits many of the same chronic ailments and health conditions that have undermined Indiana’s workforce participation and productivity for decades. Increasing the state cigarette tax to invest in the health of Hoosiers is an overdue response to raise revenue and reduce smoking rates and related levels of respiratory and heart disease.

Public health outcomes also reflect racial disparities, as systemic bias shortens lifespans as it limits economic mobility. This Legislative Agenda continues our emphasis on economic inclusion, with a more deliberate focus on racial equity.

Smart Justice Reforms: Inclusion and racial equity must also be part of any blueprint for reducing crime; rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the neighborhoods it serves is crucial to our shared goal of a safer city.

Smart justice reform focuses on the root causes of crime (issues like mental health) as well as civilian oversight and hiring practices aimed at increasing community support for police, recognizing the challenges that law enforcement faces every day. Anti-bias and cultural competency training will also help police navigate these issues, while investments in body cameras will pay off in transparency and public confidence.

Common-sense changes to bail, multiple felony sentencing and other administrative policies also serve our ultimate goal – enhancing public safety, not increasing number of Hoosiers in the system.

Economic Growth & Resilience: Public safety is a particular concern in Indiana’s largest business district – downtown Indianapolis – so we continue to focus on compassionate, effective and enforceable policies to address issues like panhandling.

Downtown is an anchor of regional and statewide growth; our agenda also offers a broader blueprint for a more resilient economy. As mentioned earlier, practical public transportation options are a shared priority among Indiana’s urban communities, along with brownfield redevelopment incentives to bring new life to former industrial properties.

A more competitive business climate demands economic developmentprograms supporting high-wage, advanced industry job growth; it also recognizes that since business investment increasingly follows skilled workers, quality of life and community development initiatives are also economic catalysts. (And also acknowledges that “community” isn’t defined by political borders – we continue to support regional planning and economic development policies, and ways to reduce fiscal disparities for stronger regions.)

Workforce/Education: Among all the prescriptions for getting Indy and Indiana ready for the post-COVID recovery, investments in workforce development and education continue to be some of the most critical to economic growth and upward mobility. We need to double-down on workforce programs like Next Level Jobs to help workers displaced by the pandemic re-enter the job market (and speaking of re-entry, continue to break down barriers for veterans, those formerly involved in the justice system and others who face unique hurdles to productive employment).

Of course, our homegrown talent pipeline starts with affordable, accessible preschool and a K-12 system with the resources to help students get back on track after this year of disrupted learning.

Whew…that’s a lot, and it doesn’t even cover most of the policies we’ll be promoting on behalf of our thousands of members across the Indianapolis metro. We’ll update you when the Legislative Agenda gets the final thumbs-up from our board, and encourage you to take a look.

Your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear (?)

One more milestone before the legislative session gets underway on January 4th: Around the same time the Chamber board meets, the State Budget Committee will also convene to get the initial revenue forecast for 2022 and 2023 – the starting point for budget negotiations, by providing some idea of tax collections to support spending over the two-year budget cycle.

Suffice it to say, the task of putting together the forecast is a little more difficult in the middle of a global pandemic that’s pummeled state and local budgets across the nation. So stay tuned for more on how these projections impact our priorities next year.

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