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This past weekend, West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle (“Walk in my shoes,” “Dedication”) was slain in Los Angeles as he prepared for a meeting with LAPD officials the next day exploring ways to ease gang violence in LA.  A promising talent, seeking reconciliation, snuffed out by senseless violence…a somber story to match a somber topic – bias crimes – that saw action this week at the Statehouse.

On Tuesday, Senator Greg Taylor – a longtime champion of bias crimes legislation – emotionally urged his fellow lawmakers to ‘walk in [his] shoes’ and attempt to understand the perspective of groups routinely targeted for violence and other crimes inspired by hate.  Other supporters joined the case for empathy and inclusion for the most vulnerable Hoosiers.   

At the end of the debate, however, SB198 passed its concurrence vote and was sent to and signed by the Governor, a big step forward on bias crimes that still leaves us short of the finish line.

Indiana’s new law will allow judges to increase criminal penalties for bias motivation towards “real or perceived characteristics…” and refers to other parts of the Indiana Code to address race, creed, disability, national origin, religion and sexual orientation.   It omits sex, gender, ancestry and age as specific classifications.

However, it represents substantial progress from the stripped-down SB12 that was referred to the House.  It will protect more Hoosiers from hate and positions Indiana as a more welcoming state to live, work and do business.  But even though Indiana joins 45 other states with a bias crime law on the books, our work isn’t finished.

To quote from the statement issued by Michael Huber on behalf of Indiana Competes: “Indiana may move off ‘the list,’ but bias crimes won’t move off the Indy Chamber’s legislative agenda.  We’ll keep pushing to strengthen the law so no Hoosiers are left behind or denied justice.”

We owe Senators Bohacek and Alting, and other supporters of the committee-approved version of SB12, thanks for their commitment to a comprehensive solution on bias crimes, and look forward to continuing their efforts.

Revisions for Regionalism

We don’t need to look any further than SB198 to see how bills can be transformed from their original intent with a single amendment.  This played out in a more constructive way (and as part of the normal committee process) on Wednesday, when language creating regional ‘investment hubs’ was added to SB565 (otherwise dealing with administrative matters at the Department of Revenue).

The need to strengthen local finances and allow cooperative investments in regional priorities is a key legislative issue, but one without much movement to date.  The investment hub concept allows cities, towns and counties to voluntarily form a ‘new style’ of Regional Development Authority; participating jurisdictions would levy a new local option income or food and beverage tax, keeping half the resulting revenue for local needs and adding half to a regional fund administered by the RDA.

The prospects for actually passing this concept this session are uncertain, but getting the idea out of committee helps advance the discussion on the fiscal challenges facing local government and the need for regional cooperation and action on issues like infrastructure and quality of life.    

Pre-K: ‘On Its Way’ (to second reading)

On Wednesday, HB1628 passed the Education & Career Development Committee 8-1, expanding the ‘On My Way Pre-K’ program statewide (while protecting service levels in pilot counties like Marion) with amendments dealing with household eligibility and pursuing federal capacity-building grants – while state funding levels ultimately need to rise to meet demand for high-quality, affordable preschool for Hoosier children, the policy framework for a successful program is taking shape.

Tourism, Technology & Taxation

HB1115, creating an IEDC-style, quasi-governmental agency for tourism development, passed the Senate and (with no amendments to the House version) headed straight to the Governor for his signature.

Anticipating all the new visitors from this effort – and always eyeing the state’s bottom line – the legislature also moved closer to enacting new rules to capture maximum tax revenue from online hotel bookings, short-term rentals (AirBNBs) and other internet retail transactions.

SB322 would require third-party hotel booking sites (like Expedia) to collect taxes based on retail (not wholesale) room prices, and also puts short-term rental platforms on the hook for hotel taxes.  The bill also puts the onus on market facilitators like Amazon to collect Indiana sales taxes.  These high-tech tweaks could add up to a nine-figure annual windfall for state coffers; it passed Ways & Means easily.

Workforce, the legislative workload and more:

As we’ve noted before, major bills are often held in committee until third reading deadlines loom, to allow more time for fine-tuning (and deal-making).  Next week will see a rush of committee action on key issues like economic development (including the redevelopment tax credit), and the Capital Improvement Board.

Until then, some updates on other bills we’ve been tracking:

  • HB1177 (Township Government) requires townships to adopt a capital improvement plan for persistent surpluses and addresses fund transfers for smaller townships – it passed committee this week;
  • HB1010, expanding income tax exemptions for military retirement and survivor’s benefits, passed Senate Appropriations as well;
  • SB607 (Workforce Diploma Reimbursement Program) encourages partnerships helping adults earn their high school diplomas – it also graduated through third reading;  
  • HB1141 (Traffic Amnesty) reduces reinstatement fees for suspended driving privileges; this workforce mobility measure cruised through third reading with relative ease;
  • SB235 deals with the process and criteria for expungements (supporting ex-offender re-entry to the workforce); it passed third reading after minor amendments to address law enforcement concerns;
  • SB436 (Nurse Licensure Compact) passed committee with minor amendments, putting Indiana a step closer to licensing reciprocity with other states to address nursing workforce shortages;
  • HB1008 (Teacher Career Ladders) establishes the teacher and student advancement grant program – it climbs one more rung towards final passage with a positive committee vote;
  • HB1002, covering Career and Technical Education and encouraging real-world employer engagement in K-12, passed committee on Thursday;   
  • HB1641, on the other hand, was heard but held; among other charter school issues, it would reduce the window for charters to pursue unused school facilities and remove other financial liabilities, helping IPS maximize the market potential of Broad Ripple High School and other properties;
  • HB1003 made it one step further: It sets efficiency targets for school corporations (an 85/15 ratio of education versus administrative and capital expenses) to encourage districts to raise teacher salaries; it was engrossed after second reading, but (a little surprisingly) didn’t get called for third reading this week.