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We can start this update with good news – a strong bias crimes bill will finally get a fair shake in the Indiana Senate.  The Senate Public Policy Committee will hear SB12 (by Senators Bohnacek & Alting) next Monday at 8am, just before February 21st deadline for committee action.  Governor Holcomb’s strong stand helped make this possible, and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray deserves kudos for his decision to give the issue a hearing.

Let’s not squander this opportunity.  Please help us keep the momentum going by continuing to spread the word on Indiana Competes, and consider contacting our local members of the Public Policy Committee to express your support – Senators Jim Merrittand Greg Taylorhave supported bias crime protections in the past, and deserve our encouragement now.

If (we) ruled the world…
The Grammys happened on Sunday; one of our favorite nominated hits that didn’t get the golden gramophone was “If I Ruled the World” from Nas and Lauryn Hill back in 1997.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to freestyle our legislative priorities, but if we ruled the world, Indiana would already be off the list of states turning a blind eye to bias crimes.  Fewer Hoosiers would be smoking, thanks to a higher cigarette tax that boosts public health investment and workforce productivity.

We’d also be investing more in our future workforce, with more accessible, affordable pre-K programs for Hoosier kids.  And these kids would be more likely to stick around once they grow up, attracted to dynamic regions with diverse housing and transit options, new developments growing from old industrial sites (thanks to successful brownfield remediation programs) and a booming high-tech economy.

These aren’t just daydreams.  Many of these aspirations are still alive and well as we approach key committee and third reading deadlines; with the continued involvement – and vocal support – of our members, we can make this session a hit. Here are the highlights on these and other issues this week:

  • On Tuesday, the Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee heard SB563, extending incentive programs to cover high-growth, venture-backed firms and creates a new redevelopment tax credit (a sought-after tool for encouraging new investment in brownfield and other distressed properties) – it was held in committee, and we expect amendments to strengthen the redevelopment credit and brownfield emphasis;
  • The House passed HB1141, which helps reduce unpaid traffic fines to affordable levels to allow working Hoosiers to keep driving to and from their jobs – it now commutes over to the Senate;
  • On Monday, the House Education Committee passed HB1628, which expands ‘On My Way Pre-K’ eligibility to counties across the state, for Levels 3 and 4 “Paths to Quality” providers serving four-year-olds, while protecting service levels in existing pilot counties like Marion;
  • SB497 passed committee and second reading, requiring collection of innkeeper’s taxes on short-term rentals (including residential rentals over two weeks), a move that will add nearly $3 million in new revenues in Marion County alone (funds that could be used to address issues like homelessness and panhandling across the city);
  • Also on the topic of hospitality and Marion County, SB7 was heard this week – the bill expands revenue streams for the Capital Improvement Board to make improvements to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse (pending a long-term lease renewal by the Pacers) and paves the way for a Convention Center expansion and hotel projects; the hearing also featured testimony from the Indy Eleven on plans to develop a new, permanent soccer stadium in Indianapolis (which we support);
  • HB1003, establishing school district expenditure targets (encouraging efficiency in pushing dollars to the classroom and teacher salaries, a concept we helped prove through our IPS operational assessment) passed the House on Monday;
  • Encouraging school efficiency should be accompanied by a commitment to fair and accurate funding from the state – SB55 would have created spring and fall ‘count days’ to establish enrollment numbers (key for districts like IPS), but amendments gutted the bill before it passed committee;
  • HB1641 Charter School Matters – deals with various charter school issues, one of which is the sell or lease of vacant school property for $1 and reduces the Charter School’s timeframe to provide notice of interest from 2 years to 90 days, passed through committee.
  • Speaking of funding fairness, HB1427 (Local Government Matters) was amended this week to include an important study this year of local revenue restructuring based on income tax collections, commuting patterns and equitable distribution of resources for infrastructure and other critical services – a concept we’ve been pushing for years now;
  • Local revenues wouldn’t be so constrained if we could make progress on consolidating or abolishing outdated and duplicative units of government; we took one step forward and one step back on this issue this week – HB1177 passed second reading, requiring townships to create a capital improvement plan for unused surpluses or lose their property tax levy…unfortunately, HB1650 (eliminating most township advisory boards) was resoundingly defeated.

HQ2, NYC, LOL
The news that Amazon has nixed the New York portion of their HQ2 project this week couldn’t help but spark some smug local reactions.  A constructive comment came from Drew Klacik of the IU Public Policy Institute, who said “…what we learned by collaborating to compete might be more valuable than winning.” We’re definitely working together towards a more pro-technology business climate at the Statehouse:

  • The House overwhelmingly passed HB1365, lifting the ban on light rail projects in Central Indiana – while rail isn’t part of our current plans, we need options to connect people with jobs and encourage the type of dense development and workforce accessibility that appeals to high-growth companies and high-skill workers;
  • HB1405 also passed committee this week, tweaking economic incentives to encourage the location and expansion of data centers in Indiana.

And for even more up-to-the-minute news on #INLegis, follow the Business Advocacy team on Twitter:

Mark Fisher – @FisherIndy
Tim Brown – @TimJBrownLaw
Taylor Hughes – @STaylorHughes