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So…not much to report this week from the Statehouse.  See you next Friday.

Sometimes humor can take some of the sting out of a bitter disappointment, but there’s only one way to fix the bias crimes debacle on the Senate floor:  Hope rests with the House, where Speaker Bosma (R-Indianapolis) can restore SB12 to a bill that protects Hoosiers from hate and our economy from the consequences of inaction.

By now, you know that SB12 was gutted before being passed by the full Senate on Thursday, removing specific references to race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity – showing bias against the English language itself, it removed the definition of ‘bias’ from the bill.  Inexplicably, it even removed training for law enforcement professionals – all the substance that makes an effective law and a signal that Indiana welcomes a diverse workforce.

After the amendment, we issued a statement from Michael Huber that bears excerpting here:

“For far too long, Indiana has been one of a few states still turning a blind eye to the issue of bias crimes.  As amended, SB12 does nothing to help us escape that list, or provide clarity on this issue…(i)t would do little to protect our fellow citizens in any effective way from violence and vandalism motivated by hate. 

“And instead of signaling that Indiana is open for business, it shuts out opportunity…It would put us on the defensive and playing catch-up – again.”

Supporters of the amendment have tried to deny what it really is – a poison pill – under the guise of ‘broadening’ the bill.  But vague legislation is meaningless, providing little direction to the courts or confidence to the people and employers that Indiana is an inclusive place to live and do business.

We urge Speaker Bosma to affirm his longstanding commitment to public safety and a prosperous economy.  We ask the Speaker to act with common sense and compassion, to stand with Governor Holcomb and the victims of bias crimes who want justice, and to protect his own legacy of making Indiana one of the most business-friendly states in the nation over the last three decades. You can make your voice heard by contacting your legislators here.

(By the way, the title this week is a rousing track from Miami rapper Trick Daddy.  We hope the House won’t be tricked into supporting a bill that does more harm than good.)

Oh yeah – the budget!

Almost lost in the shuffle this week, the House GOP released its budget plan.  The revised HB1001 hews pretty closely to Governor Holcomb’s original, spending a little more on K-12 and doubling Next Level Jobs and Employer Training grants (aligning with HB1002 on workforce and technical education).

The House budget also appropriated $25 million tied to the Water Assistance Fund & Program outlined in HB1406; along with the local flood control financing options passed last year, Indiana is making promising investments towards a safer, more sustainable water supply and cleaner waterways that support recreation and redevelopment.  The budget also continued the current annual appropriation of $22 million for pre-K.

Unfortunately, the budget doesn’t include new revenue from a higher cigarette tax, despite amendments offered in Ways & Means and on the House floor.  Raise It for Health advocates raised the roof – uh, the rotunda? – with a Statehouse rally earlier this week, and we haven’t given up on a $2-per-pack increase as a means to discourage smoking, invest in public health and encourage a healthier workforce and more productive economy.

The statehouse and the state’s housing

We’ve heard from local officials and economic developers across the region and the state that housing supply-and-demand is emerging as an important issue in many communities – namely, the need for workforce housing options that bring people closer to available jobs within a reasonable budget.

SB566 allows for more flexible residential tax increment financing; not tied to blight or redevelopment, like the existing Housing TIF (HOTIF), but rather to address demand issues aligned with employment centers by incentivizing new construction for homes in small and mid-sized communities (100,000 or fewer residents).  We’d like to see the legislation expanded to include all places where the market lags behind the need for housing and workforce accessibility.

Tight-fisted townships, high-tech tax breaks, and the rest of the week:

  • While taking a pass on most government reform, the House did take aim at township surpluses: HB1177 requires townships with fund surpluses totaling 150% of their annual budgets to develop a capital improvement plan (or risk forfeiting their tax levy) – it passed third reading;
  • From a 19th-century form of government to the 21st century economy: HB1405 also passed third reading, incentivizing the location and expansion of data centers in Indiana;
  • SB563 also works to align incentives with high-tech aspirations, extending tax breaks to venture-backed firms and creating a small business innovation voucher program;
  • Notably, SB563 also creates a new redevelopment tax credit to clear the way for new investment in brownfield and other distressed properties – a top priority for the Chamber and an important tool for attracting new business to our urban core and repopulating its tax base;
  • The Senate passed two measures dealing with sales tax collection and administration: SB322 provides that a marketplace facilitator is required to collect and remit state sales tax as a retail merchant, while SB497 focuses on short-term rentals, putting the property owner of a short-term (less than 30-day) rental property on the spot as the retail merchant responsible for collecting and remitting sales tax;
  • The House 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;
  • Sticking with education, HB1641 passed third reading; it addresses several issues relating to charter school including; charter school board appointees, selling/buying/leasing charter schools, payments, etc.
  • HB1629 (Various Education Matters) graduated from committee this week, dealing with fees schools can charge for information requests, legal proceedings, and by the way, provides that each school corporation may encourage the development of a community service ethic among high school students;
  • SB93 (Let Indiana Work for You Program) passed third reading, providing that DWD and IEDC create an informational program geared towards college graduation retention, encouraging students to stay and start their careers here (joining the 21st century on bias crimes might help with this one?);
  • SB607 passed second reading, creating an outcome-based, adult high school diploma program with grant funds to pay providers that help adults graduate (Workforce Diploma Reimbursement Program);
  • SB285 (Public Transit Funding) allows counties to impose an additional local income tax rate to fund the operations of a public transportation corporation or rural transportation assistance program – it accelerated out of committee this week;
  • SB476 dealt with multiple homelessness issues, but was amended to consider these in a summer study committee before passing out of committee;
  • SB436 (Nurse Licensure Compact) passed its second-reading check-up, putting Indiana closer to participating in multi-state nurse licensing reciprocity; and finally:
  • Goooooooooaaaaaaaaal…? SB7 passed the Appropriations Committee this week, expanding and extending tax increment revenues for the Capital Improvement Board to make improvements to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse with a long-term commitment from the Pacers and support a Convention Center expansion and hotel projects; in a surprise move, the bill was amended to include a funding framework for a new soccer stadium, as advanced by the Indy Eleven – but only if the team joins Major League Soccer (or another MLS franchise locates here).

Always end on a down note

It just seems appropriate to bookend this week’s update with a final negative note from the Indiana Senate, which rejected an effort to create an independent redistricting committee early in the week.  (The Senate did pass SB105, creating more impartial redistricting standards as a step in the right direction.)

We believe that more competitive general elections – getting away from gerrymandered seats where primaries are the most important electoral test – lead to more pragmatic, productive policymaking.  With most Hoosiers supporting bias crimes legislation in recent polls, we can’t help but think independently drawn districts would have produced a different political calculus and a potentially different outcome.