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One more chance…

For this Valentine’s Day edition of your Indy Chamber advocacy update, an old-school ballad from Biggie and Faith Evans that also describes the state of play in the General Assembly: With the second half of the session underway, we’ve got one more chance to influence the direction of our key priorities as legislation gets a fresh look by members of the other chamber – so there’s still time for lawmakers to show some love for pro-business, pro-growth proposals before sine die next month.

Mama says knock you out
We won’t call it a comeback, but we do have plenty of work to do knocking out misconceptions and unfounded apprehensions about SB342, which originally featured common-sense workplace accommodations for pregnant workers.  As we reported last week, it was amended on second reading in favor of an interim study committee on the issue.

We need to flip the script on concerns over the bill’s impact on business.  It offers clarity to mid-sized employers with reasonable guidelines to support mothers-to-be on the job (water and restroom breaks, the ability to sit instead of stand and other job modifications, scheduling flexibility), offering a consistent playbook for reducing liability and disruption while taking aim at a broader goal – reducing Indiana’s infant mortality rate by promoting prenatal health.

Governor Holcomb isn’t giving up, and neither are we.  We can’t afford to let another Mother’s Day go by before legislators even schedule more meetings to discuss workplace accommodations already offered in 27 other states (we’re even behind Kentucky on this one) to protect working moms.  Contact your representative and urge them to restore the committee-passed version of the bill.

While we’re looking to strengthen SB342, we’d like to deliver a stiff uppercut to SB320, which makes it more difficult for companies to outsource payroll services by prohibiting the Department of Revenue from accepting tax withholding payments from third parties.  It adds unnecessary administrative burdens to local businesses while taking aim at providers that can help streamline back-office operations.

More taxing issues:

Speaking of taxes, there are plenty of proposed tweaks to the state and local revenue system (even in the short session) that we’re tracking:
  • SB264 (allowing additional tax increment growth capture for certified technology parks) has been assigned to Ways & Means and awaits a hearing;
  • SB262 creates a new film and media tax incentive – the bill passed its Senate screen test and also waits for an audition in Ways & Means;
  • Also sitting on the Ways & Means docket is SB183, creating a study committee to review local food and beverage taxes – we’re keeping a watchful eye on any attempts to limit or impose new restrictions on this local revenue tool;
  • SB123 (Affordable and Workforce Housing Incentives) is also part of the Ways & Means backlog…
Squad up!
A bill that has been assigned a Ways & Means hearing is SB350; it’s scheduled for Wednesday the 19th, and we’re looking forward to it!This started out creating regional ‘investment hubs’ statewide, but was later limited to let Central Indiana lead the way.  The current version empowers our Regional Development Authority (RDA) and blesses the creation of an independent Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) engaging in long-term transportation, housing, land use and water planning.  Under the auspices of SB350, our RDA and MPO could bring local governments across the region together to collaborate on a comprehensive economic development strategy for Central Indiana.

The bill isn’t perfect: As a short session vehicle, it doesn’t tackle the need for regional revenue capacity to invest in transformative projects, or reforming local revenue collections and distribution to support basic service and infrastructure needs without deepening fiscal disparities across the region.  We’ll reiterate these points on Wednesday, but are pleased to be on track for stronger regional cooperation with an opening to address revenue issues next year.

Regionalism is also moving down the tracks with HB1279 (Development Areas), which allows the Northwest Indiana RDA to expand its reach in creating transit development areas, supporting the South Shore rail line ‘double tracking’ project.  The bill doesn’t directly affect us, but opens the door for similar efforts closer to home.

The way you move
And as a matter of fact, we’re already doing a lot to advance mobility and connectivity as business climate issues.  As a result of the Marion County transit referendum in 2016, we continue to see IndyGo making much-needed strides in service, frequency and route coverage to connect people, employers and neighborhoods across the city while encouraging (and thoughtfully planning for) the transit-oriented development that follows these enhancements – particularly around new rapid transit lines.

(For more on land use and the impact of transit-oriented development, check out this presentation from the Urban Land Institute’s Real Estate Trends event in late January.)

On Wednesday, transit advocates rallied to speak in favor of public transportation at a town hall organized by Senator Mike Young to get input on plans for the Blue Line bus rapid transit route along Washington Street.  We’ll continue to champion transit options on behalf of the business community and public-at-large, and fight any attempts to roll back the pro-mobility wishes of Marion County voters.

Transit projects like the Blue Line also represent significant infrastructure investments – 17.5 miles of repaved roads, 55,000 feet of new or replaced sidewalk, 65 new or upgraded traffic signals and more.  But when it comes to infrastructure, rebuilding the downtown interstate loop is another level of generational opportunity.  This week we announced big news about a new vision for the I-65/70 loop that reconnects downtown neighborhoods and maximizes redevelopment potential while addressing traffic and safety priorities.

The Lilly Endowment has made a $475,000 grant to the Indy Chamber Foundation to conduct a technical study in tandem with public engagement around engineering designs for the inner loop, partnering with the Rethink 65/70 Coalition, civic leaders and city and state officials.

The project excludes the North Split (where reconstruction is getting started), but will analyze alternative concepts including a recessed-highway approach for the other legs of the loop.  We’ll listen to the community and follow the facts, but we’re optimistic this design fits how we’ll live, move, and do business in downtown Indianapolis over the next 50 years, setting the foundation for an interstate system that enhances mobility and economic growth in the urban core and across the region.  Read more here.

Second half scramble:
There was plenty more action in the first week of the session’s second half; Speaker Bosma even threw a little shade at the Senate for sending over too many “peripheral issues” to work through.  Here are some highlights:

  • In education, SB2 finished its whirlwind tour of the legislative process with the Governor’s signature this week, providing a two-year “hold harmless” period for school accountability with the transition to the ILEARN test;
  • SB223 – requiring high school graduates to fill out the FAFSA, to encourage a realistic look at the cost of college and maximize financial aid for students pursuing higher education – was heard and held in committee, as was HB1082 (post-secondary and financial aid tweaks pushed by the Commission for Higher Ed) and HB1091 (establishing in-state tuition for dependents of active-duty military personnel);
  • SB266, evaluating teacher training and reporting on ways to streamline teacher requirements, was also held in committee;
  • And continuing the trend, HB1003 – offering more flexibility on teacher training and certain graduation requirements through the State Board of Education – also stays in committee for some extra homework;
  • From teachers to townships, HB1027 was also held in committee – but it looks like this proposal to eliminate Indiana’s remaining township assessors is dead for the session, in a disappointing rebuke of smaller, smarter local government.
Your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear
Lawmakers also took a few shots at predicting the future this week; it remains to be seen how their prognostications will pan out:
  • HB1111 attempts to gauge the durability of our economy and the state’s unemployment trust fund, and how much employers should be paying into the fund to cover the possibility of a recession (and higher jobless claims) – the bill streamlines and freezes current rates for the next five years (it’s held for now);
  • HB1143 takes a more dystopian view of tomorrow’s business climate and prohibits employers from requiring microchipping of their workers (it passed committee – whew!);
  • There was no action but plenty of controversy on HB1414, which peers into Indiana’s energy future and sees the need to delay the retirement of coal-fired power plants for another year (we have no formal position on the bill).
We heart your commitment to the Chamber and our advocacy agenda, and we’ll be asking for your help to keep important bills like SB342 (workplace accommodations) from getting friend-zoned.  Thanks for reading and staying engaged.
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