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It’s March 1st, and for Hoosier hoops fans that means we’re within shouting distance of the NCAA tournament…and it provides a useful metaphor for our strategy at the Statehouse (no, not ‘March Madness’ – yet). The coaches’ mantra for tournament play is “survive and advance” – get the win, even if it’s an ugly one, and move on to the next round.  Style points don’t count if the scoreboard sends you home.

This week marked third reading deadlines in the House and Senate, and “halftime” for the legislative session; to survive, bills had to pass out of their first chamber.  So next week also marks a new ballgame, as Senators get a crack at House bills and vice-versa – legislation can change dramatically in the next two months.

That means even though we’re disappointed in the “vague shell” that remains of SB12, the bias crimes bill that was stripped of specifics last week, the House still has the chance to do the right thing in protecting Hoosiers and promoting Indiana as a welcoming place to live and work. Speaker Bosma has been lukewarm to the idea of restoring enumerated characteristics to the bill, but he’s been willing to lead on high-profile economic issues in the past – and the business case for an effective bias crimes law is overwhelming.

On the Senate side, the budget (HB1001) could shift significantly, leaving an outside chance for a reboot on raising the cigarette tax to discourage smoking, encourage workforce productivity and invest in public health.

In the tournament, disciplined teams can shut out the sounds of the crowd.  But unlike basketball, democracy isn’t a spectator sport.  We can make a difference by putting a full-court press on lawmakers to heed the clear desire from employers and the public-at-large to act on bias crimes and ‘raise it for health.’

Retooling the Toolkit
Because human capital is our most critical economic asset, setbacks on bias crimes and cigarette taxes are as bad for our business climate as they are for the health and safety of Hoosiers.  But moving into more ‘traditional’ tools for economic development, the Senate did pass a package of mostly positive updates and additions to the programs available to attract new business and encourage (re)development.

Among these changes, SB563 establishes small business innovation vouchers to increase access to R&D resources and technical assistance programs offered by state universities or other research institutions.  It also updates qualified investments (under the Hoosier Business Investment tax credit) to include digital manufacturing equipment, and also extends the credit to apply against state retail and sales taxes.

The bill also expands the headquarters relocation tax credit so high-potential, venture-backed firms qualify.

But most importantly to the Chamber, it creates a new redevelopment tax credit, to encourage new investment in underutilized properties.  The program was made stronger with late amendments (i.e. moving the loan threshold for the credit higher, to $10 million), but we would like to see brownfields automatically qualify for the credit (to accelerate development of these challenged sites, often in areas in dire need of a broader tax base), and easing the uncertainty that comes with the five-year sunset provision for the credit.

As it stands, the redevelopment credit is applied on a sliding scale based on the age of prior development on the site and whether the site is part of a regional redevelopment plan.  We value alignment among state, regional and local redevelopment strategies, but are concerned about disadvantaging sites in communities around the state that haven’t formed a Regional Development Authority to create such plans.

Survivor Series
(Shout-out to the Chamber’s resident wrestling fan, @joepellman.) Here’s a rundown of the series of bills that squeaked past third reading deadlines Monday and Tuesday (keep in mind most notable House bills passed third reading last week, while the Senate was working through a backlog before its Tuesday deadline):

  • HB1001 (State Budget) – the House checked its one constitutional box on Monday, passing the budget bill (we outlined the key differences from the Governor’s first draft last week) into the eager hands of Senate appropriators on a party-line vote;
  • HB1596 makes it more difficult for redevelopment commissions to spend tax increment revenues outside the allocation district – another limit on local investment options when more flexibility is needed;
  • SB420 (Workforce Development) creates non-profit Industry Credentialing Organizations to pursue financial and programmatic support to create credit, certificate and technical education opportunities for students;
  • Sticking with workforce demand issues, SB436 heads to the House, bringing Indiana closer to licensing reciprocity as part of a multi-state Nurse Licensure Compact;
  • SB440, expanding TANF eligibility, passed unanimously, as did SB491, Funding for Veterans Programs;
  • SB607 moved to the House, creating an outcome-based, adult high school diploma program with grant funds to pay providers that help adults graduate (Workforce Diploma Reimbursement Program);
  • SB7 also passed third reading, expanding revenues  for the Capital Improvement Board to make improvements to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse and support a Convention Center expansion and hotel projects; funding a new soccer stadium stayed in the bill with a minor tweak, giving the Indy Eleven an extra year (from two to three) to solicit membership as an expansion franchise in Major League Soccer;
  • SB285 (Public Transit Funding) allows counties to impose an additional local income tax rate to fund public transportation programs – it caught the last third-reading bus out of the station;
  • SB64 allows libraries to conduct criminal background checks (watch those late fines), while SB76 makes dealing in Schedule I or II narcotics a non-suspendible felony;
  • To reduce the need for SB76, SB111 defines the Substance Abuse Prevention Grant Program;
  • SB210 (Driver’s License Suspension, Restriction and Reinstatement) passed 39-10, helping working Hoosiers stay on the road to employment with a traffic fine amnesty and car insurance affordability program for lower-income drivers whose cars keep them connected to the workforce;
  • SB476 studies homelessness issues as an interim topic, and passed unanimously;
  • SB547 studies how to improve certain STEM and entrepreneurship curricula in K-12, becoming part of lawmaker’s homework this summer;
  • SB552 passed 38-11, to allows relocation of Gary casinos, clearing the way for one to land in Terre Haute (with a competitive bid and site selection process in limbo as it heads to the House) and approves sports betting statewide;
  • SB566 passed third reading, as described last week, the bill creates more flexible residential tax increment financing for workforce housing demand, not tied to blight or redevelopment;
  • SB567 tightens rules around Virtual Education (virtual charter schools);
  • SB623 (Property Tax Matters) takes on the issue of so-called “dark box” retail property tax appeals that could decimate assessed values for chain retail stores – another threat to cash-strapped local governments – it passed 42-7.

See you at the Crossroads
(To quote Bone Thugs n’ Harmony, the rapid-fire rappers from Cleveland – where they have bias crimes protections and a legal age of 21 to buy tobacco products, btw.)

We’ve said before that bias crimes and cigarette taxes are “crossroads” issues – existing at the intersection of doing good (protecting Hoosiers from hate and promoting public health) and doing well (creating a better climate for business by welcoming talent, boosting productivity and reducing healthcare costs).  Here at the Crossroads of America, with majorities of Hoosiers in support of both issues, we can’t afford to sit still and wait to get run over by the forces of progress.

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