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Most restaurants had closed their kitchens by the time the General Assembly wrapped early Thursday morning – but with all the beef being served up at the Statehouse, it didn’t seem to matter.  The 2018 short session was just a little too short for several bills, triggering lots of frustrated comments and finger-pointing from lawmakers still trying to drag proposals across the finish line.

Retiring Senate President Pro Tem David Long got a going-away blast from House Republicans – accusing him of mismanaging the schedule over the last two days – and he didn’t hesitate to fire back as post-session press conferences looked more like a scene from 8 Mile (albeit with less rhyming).

The chaos crashed the autonomous vehicle bill (HB1341) among others. Governor Holcomb attempted an executive order to extend the session and salvage the leftover legislation, to no avail.  We’re glad no one suggested changing time zones to give themselves a couple more hours; the Governor may call a special session (likely timed with the scheduled technical correction day on May 15) to clean up the mess.

Pour out a little (Sunday-bought) liquor for the bills we lost:

Amid the jubilation over Sunday sales, we certainly suffered our share of disappointments this year. We’ll consider these temporary setbacks; bills may die but the issues they represent have plenty of life.

In fact, the first couple of bills below could have prevailed this year with an up-or-down vote.  Instead, they got sidetracked and hijacked to spare members from a public roll call on the floor.

Hard on Health

Legislation to raise the age to buy tobacco and the cigarette tax died, as lawmakers missed the big picture – a healthier workforce, higher productivity, lower public and private healthcare costs.   The bill (HB1380) passed the House Public Health Committee before being killed without a floor vote, with the short-sighted justification that fewer smokers mean lost cigarette tax revenues.

These proposals will be back, as we keep pushing the positive impact on business climate and workforce development to build enough support to blow away another procedural smokescreen.

Another health-related bill, SB232, would have addressed ‘food deserts’ by exploring ways to improve access to nutritious food options; it passed the Senate but didn’t get a House committee hearing.

Bias Crimes Buried

Like tobacco reform, bias crimes (SB418) never made it to a vote.  Hoosiers deserve better and want action: Polls show the public in favor of added penalties for hate crimes.  We’ll keep pushing for legislators to stand up against hate, and make Indiana a more open and inclusive environment for diverse talent – or at least have the guts to take a vote and explain it to their constituents.

Heavy-handed on Light Rail

HB1080 lifting the prohibition on Central Indiana light rail projects was killed by a poison bill amendment (as we detailed last week); the language made a brief reappearance in HB1374 but was stripped out at the last minute.   The original bill had strong momentum (passing the House 90-5 and making it through Senate committee), but regional transit options were derailed by a transparent political ploy.

Limiting Localism & Workforce Mobility

We weren’t thrilled that HB1278 passed, pushing stricter requirements for units creating economic improvement districts (EIDs).  These voluntary districts allow local employers to invest in specific priorities, as in Plainfield, where an EID funds transit routes serving the logistics businesses clustered there.

HB1278 sets the public hearing date for an EID for not more than 60 days after a mailed notice, and sets the approval vote at 60%; these limits were more onerous in the original bill, so at least the process moved the legislation in the right direction.

Flexible transit options and the use of EIDs for workforce mobility reflect the need to connect people and jobs; another bill helping people get to work was HB1152, which allowed Hoosiers with past traffic fines to keep their driving privileges to keep their jobs – it passed its first House committee test before dying in Ways & Means.

The bright side: Legislative ‘Wins’

Balancing these unfortunate outcomes, the Indy Chamber did advocate for a significant list of legislative advances – following are bills that passed and have been signed into law or await the Governor’s signature aligned with our ‘Open for Business’ Legislative Agenda.  Let’s start with the issue that will forever define the 2018 session:

Government Modernization

SB1 – SUNDAY CARRYOUT SALES — Enough said.  Drink up.

State and Local Economic Development: Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investments

SB257 – SALES TAX ON SOFTWARE – The Senate version sailed through the House and a unanimous Senate concurrence last week, avoiding this week’s last-day drama; with the stroke of a pen, Governor Holcomb will strengthen our high-tech business climate by exempting digital software sales from taxation.

HB1288 – ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Among a broader set of provisions, we focused on this bill’s changes to the state’s Capital Access Program to support microlending programs (like the Chamber’s) for small and start-up business growth.

Transportation, Infrastructure, and Environment

SB386 – FINANCING OF FLOOD CONTROL IMPROVEMENTS – Authorizing flood control financing districts in Indianapolis to tackle much-needed projects along the White River is a big win for the city; the bill enjoyed broad support as it floated through both houses and was signed by the Governor Tuesday, checking off a key item on the Chamber Legislative Agenda.

Community Redevelopment and Investment

SB353 – STUDY OF REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT TAX CREDIT – Studies of a regional development tax credits, the inclusion of residential parcels in a property tax allocation area, and certified technology parks passed through the full Senate and House with unanimous support and is ready for Holcomb’s Hancock.

Workforce and Education

HB1001 – SCHOOL FUNDING – The conference committee report passed unanimously through both houses, authorizing transfers to fill school funding shortfalls in 2017 and 2018 of $25M and $75M respectively.

The ADM (enrollment) count for this funding is limited to five-year-old students (by August 1 of a school year).  This highlights the need for multiple enrollment counts for more accurate budgeting, along with expanded pre-K and a five-year-old enrollment requirement to ensure every child has early learning opportunities – HB1001 addresses the most severe fiscal symptom of a much broader set of issues.

HB1426 – EDUCATION MATTERS – The bill creates one Indiana Diploma with four designations (General, Core 40, Core 40 with academic honors, Core 40 with technical honors) and makes multiple changes to student assessment.

HB1420 — VARIOUS EDUCATION MATTERS — Most notably, allows alternative coursework to supplement or replace some existing requirements of a Core 40 diploma with academic honors.

HB1074 — VARIOUS HIGHER EDUCATION MATTERS — This bill allows for flexibility in the awarding of 21st Century Scholars program scholarships and expands eligibility requirements for workforce ready credit-bearing grants.  A single nay vote in the Senate kept the committee reports from unanimity.

SB387 — TEACHER PERMITS & SALARIES — Allows differentiated pay for special education teachers, those with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics expertise, and elementary school teachers with a master’s degree in math, reading, or literacy.

The next few bills are the core of the Chamber’s agenda to help ex-offenders rejoin the workforce, become productive taxpayers and contribute to economic growth instead of recidivism rates – a key issue within workforce development and inclusion:

HB1317 – HEALTH MATTERS – This bill was amended to revive language from SB11, allowing certain drug ex-offenders to receive federal SNAP benefits.

SB419 —PROFESSIONAL & OCCUPATIONAL LICENSES – This bill still preempts local licensure decisions in favor of State regulation – but a loss for home rule is a win for diverse talent, as it also allows Dreamers under the federal DACA program to pursue and be eligible to receive a professional or occupational license under state law.

HB1245 – OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING – Similar to SB419, HB1245 pre-empts local licensing authority; however, it does provide a great benefit for workforce reentry in its loosening of licensing restrictions for ex-offenders by mandating that governments must explicitly list the crimes that will disqualify an individual from receiving an occupational license, limits disqualification duration and sets up a petition process to requalify.

HB1007 — MENTAL HEALTH ACCESS —Includes language moved from SB224 that provides employer immunity from negligent hiring in situations where a prospective employee has a positive drug test but voluntarily enters treatment.

HB1047 — EDUCATION BENEFITS FOR VETERANS — This bill makes it easier for veterans to receive more robust financial aid for higher education by excluding certain veterans benefits from the determination of financial eligibility for need-based financial aid.

SB297 – EMPLOYABILITY SKILLS CURRICULUM – The bill charges the Department of Workforce Development with establishing interdisciplinary employability skills standards.  The final bill also brought back a new Work Ethic Certificate Program, which we’ll watch closely to promote consistency with our local Project Indy efforts.

SB172 – COMPUTER SCIENCE – Requires schools to offer computer science classes and creates the Next Level Computer Science Grant Program and Fund which funds teacher development programs in computer science.

HB1002 – WORKFORCE FUNDING AND PROGRAMS – Surprisingly kept separate from SB50 (the Senate workforce omnibus) the House bill requires an annual workforce review and report with the state budget, expands the eligibility criteria for workforce-ready credit bearing grants as well as establishes the “work Indiana program” (adult education grants) and a Next Level Jobs Employer Training Grant Program.  Its conference committee report stripped out creation of a Secretary of Workforce Training and workforce cabinet (included in SB50).

SB50 – WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT; CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION – The Senate’s workforce bill creates the Governor’s workforce cabinet, repealing and replacing the workforce innovation council.

Spring Training

The whittling down of these workforce bills as legislators defer major action until 2019 is typical of a short session.  Fiscal impact was a convenient excuse for scuttling some bills, but it’s true that most significant legislation is crafted in tandem with the biennial budget.

So even as the NCAA tournament gets underway, it’s baseball that provides the best metaphor – and epitaph – for this session: We took a few big swings and suffered a few strikeouts…but we also got our share of singles and doubles, bringing in some runs for our region.

But really, this legislature was like spring training, with next year’s budget-writing session looming as the big leagues. (Maybe that makes this year’s elections the draft?  And the work of our policy councils scouting reports?  Sports analogies aside, you’ll be hearing from your Business Advocacy team regularly in the meantime.)