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It was a hectic week at the Statehouse, with a full schedule of committee hearings and action on hundreds of bills as halftime for the session looms ahead.  And we don’t expect the pace to slow down, with Tuesday being the final day for committee action and third reading deadlines for the House and Senate on February 3rd and 4th, respectively.

In fact, next week will be big for a top priority we share with Governor Holcomb: SB342 clarifies reasonable workforce accommodations for pregnant women, putting us in alignment with the majority of states (we can aspire to be as good as Kentucky on this, right?).  We think it’s pro-business to maximize workforce participation and provide clear-cut direction to employers.  So you won’t have to microchip us to know where we’ll be…at the Statehouse, pushing our agenda and reporting to you.  But first, here’s what happened over the last week.

Minding My Business
This week we kept an eye on a few bills that get the state too mixed up in the business of local governments and employers.

First, there was SB320, a deceptively obscure edit to Department of Revenue rules that could cause major headaches for business (especially small and mid-sized companies).  It would prohibit DOR from accepting tax withholding payments from a third-party account, limiting the convenience and effectiveness of payroll administrators and HR firms to help customers that would rather outsource those services.

It’s a bad idea that begs the question…why impose bigger administrative burdens on the private sector and make it harder to pay taxes?

We’re also not fans of SB46, which exempts churches and schools from paying stormwater fees, putting local government even further in the hole in funding basic services and infrastructure (a move that would hit Marion County especially hard, with our high concentration of exempt properties).

We have mixed feelings about HB1060, which works to bring down construction costs (to encourage affordable housing), but does so by preempting state or local governments from adopting stricter construction and building materials codes than applicable national standards.  By forcing generic guidelines on local communities, it could hinder thoughtful redevelopment planning and efforts to create more attractive, livable places.

The legislature was also poised to get in the middle of a dispute over local income tax distribution, but a ‘handshake agreement’ among Hamilton County officials caused HB1412 to be withdrawn.  Now, if we could only get a deal on the broader challenge of equitable distribution of local revenues across county lines within regions!

(And speaking of regional revenues, SB350 – the Regional Development Authority ‘investment hub’ plan – is anticipated to get a hearing next week. Stay tuned for more on that.)

Capital Gains
Late Thursday the Senate passed HB1007 on to the Governor’s desk, likely for just as quick a signature.  The bill spends nearly $300 million of the larger-than-expected state surplus on capital projects (minus the Swine Barn) to bring reserves closer to the $2 billion mark.  (The Senate fast-tracked the measure to avoid more maneuvering by Democrats to redirect the money to teacher compensation.)

The Senate also passed SB190 through committee to improve local flexibility on capital spending. It amends the definition of a “controlled project” to exclude roads, streets and bridges to avoid triggering referendum and remonstrance requirements on such projects based on their relative impact on the local tax base.

Be Healthy!
Like Dead Prez rhymed, “true wealth comes from good health,” and we definitely buy into the economic upside of improved health outcomes.  This week, HB1006 passed third reading, raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 (following up to clarify federal action on the issue) and increasing civil penalties for retailers to help enforce the new rule.  SB1 also passed third reading, so the two companion tobacco bills swap chambers.

Another twist on public health, SB246 requires a school corporation (or charter, etc.) to have a partnership with a community mental health center or mental health professionals on contract or staff to provide student services in order to qualify for certain state funding.  It passed third reading this week.  On a related issue, SB142 allows schools to seek funding for such services by applying for Medicaid reimbursement through the FSSA.

To protect Hoosiers already burdened by health concerns, HB1004 seeks to curtail ‘surprise’ out-of-network medical billing – it passed committee and hit the full House this week.  A related plan, HB1005, takes aim at hospitals (and their affiliated facilities) with requirements to supply patients with ‘good faith’ estimates on non-emergency procedures; it also cleared its first committee hurdle this week.

To further advance health cost transparency, SB4 establishes the ‘all payer claims database’ to give consumers (patients and other payers) access to medical pricing data.  It also passed committee by a healthy margin this week.

And what’s that saying? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? On that premise, we also strongly support (and testified for) SB356 (Healthy Food Finance) authored by Senator Merritt.  The bill would irrigate neighborhood food deserts with a new healthy food financing fund and program under IHCDA.  It passed committee unanimously.

Like coal-fired power plants, you just can’t stop us:
Yes, there’s more.  Here’s what else happened this week…

  • SB67  (Township Homeless Assistance) passed third reading; it provides that a township trustee of a township that has a population of more than 10,000 can provide assistance and shelter to local homeless (we hope there’s as much support in the Senate for reforming townships, ahem, HB1027);
  • HB1009 excludes a minor’s internship or work study earnings from applying to income limits for SNAP and TANF benefits, to avoid discouraging students from lower-income families from pursuing these opportunities – it sailed through the House unanimously;
  • SB223 passed committee with a minor amendment (exempting private schools); we support this bill requiring all students in their senior year to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to help maximize financial support for young Hoosiers seeking higher education;
  • HB1003 also passed committee; it authorizes the State Board of Education to determine the timing, frequency, and method of certain teacher training requirements; allows high schools more flexibility on STEM course requirements to grant Core 40 diplomas, and encourages districts to publicize annual school performance reports, among other provisions;
  • HB1153, which directs the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet to undertake a comprehensive plan to align our primary, secondary, post-secondary and workforce systems with employer needs, passed out of committee unanimously in a win for connecting education and training to the job market;
  • SB190 (mentioned above) tweaks the definition of controlled project to help local governments deal with the controls and caps on property taxes – HB1065, which was heard and held in Ways & Means, tries similarly to adjust maximum levy and local income tax formulas to help communities keep up with growing demand for public safety and other services;
  • HB1104 puts the creation and manageable of affordable housing and microenterprise program funds more directly under the oversight of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (passed third reading 95-0), taking another angle on affordable housing from HB1060;
  • HB1091 (school enrollment for military dependents) also passed unanimously; it provides that a student meets the residency requirements for enrollment at a public school if the parent of the student is transferred to or is pending transfer to a military installation within Indiana while on active duty.
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