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To say it’s been an eventful week would be…a bit of an understatement.  But sticking to the Statehouse, the 2020 session of the General Assembly came to an end late on Wednesday.  (The title of the 2009 Black-Eyed Peas album is an acronym for ‘Energy Never Dies’ – that’s not a crack about HB1414, but an acknowledgement that it took plenty of energy to keep up with fast-moving action at the legislature.)

After the gavel fell and as the dust clears, we can report some progress on our top priorities – regionalism, public health and employer-driven workforce development – as well as playing some defense on anti-business, anti-Indianapolis proposals.  Speaking of which…

Shut ‘em down!
We wrote about Public Enemy last week, and the latest developments on mass transit deserve another P.E. shoutout – Speaker Huston and Representative Ed Soliday teamed up to shut down the anti-transit amendment added to HB1279 on the floor of the Senate.

Representative Soliday (the bill’s author) set aside his original policy objectives and Speaker Huston didn’t call HB1279, giving new IndyGo CEO Inez Evans a fair chance to build her team and find a fair compromise without risking our bond rating or planned service improvements. Shout-out to Senators Taylor and Merritt, Representative Macer and other legislators who stood up for Marion County taxpayers and voters who supported local transit in the 2016 referendum from knee-jerk negativity.

Speaking of the newly-elected Speaker, we were going to make a ’99 Problems’ reference about the challenge of holding the rest of the 100-member House together – filled with personalities, political agendas and pet issues – but given his deft action in the waning hours, ‘Smooth Operator’ may be a better moniker.

Putting health first:
Obviously, healthcare challenges are top of mind these days – none of us could have imagined the world we’re living in now when the General Assembly convened back in January.  But the legislature did start with health issues on the agenda, particularly the consequences of high costs and preventable ailments to individuals and employers.

Given the fiscal limitations of the short session, policy prescriptions focused on bringing more transparency to medical pricing and figuring out how to enforce federal action to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products.  Here’s what made it out of conference committee and to the Governor’s desk this week:

  • SB1 implemented the federal mandate raising the legal age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 (‘T21’ – one of our top priorities), including doubling fines on retailers selling tobacco to minors (HB1006, its House companion, turned into a proposal raising the legal marriage age from 15 to 16);
  • Taking on ‘surprise billing’ to protect patients from unexpectedly high costs for out-of-network medical care while making (non-emergency) price estimates available to patients ahead of time  (HB1004); and
  • Requiring hospitals and other healthcare facilities to publish average cost information online, while creating a centralized ‘all-claims database’ to compile and compare healthcare pricing data (SB5).
As we mentioned last week, another important health issue faltered this session: SB342 (pregnant worker accommodations) was stripped of meaningful substance on second-reading amendment in the Senate.  The watered-down remainder (an interim study committee on the workplace protections for expectant mothers) didn’t make it out of House committee.

However, a national coalition of employer, social service and pro-family groups continues to grow behind H.R. 2694, a congressional proposal offers common-sense workplace rules similar to SB342 (and the 27 other states that are ahead of us in enacting such laws) providing clarity to businesses across Indiana and the nation.  We support this resolution (Representatives Carson, Brooks, and Visclosky are already co-sponsors of the bill from Indiana) as a similar strategy to success on T21: Federal leadership followed by state-level implementation.

Given all this, we’re willing to judge the 2020 session a qualified success on health issues – we’ve laid out some “healthy foundations” that we can keep building on next year.

Get in where you fit in:
This session was not “too short” to make progress on our most challenging issue, regionalism.  Even though the primary legislative vehicle advancing regional development, SB350, changed a lot through the process, Central Indiana still fit into the final bill as the model for interlocal collaboration and planning.

From a blueprint for statewide “investment hubs,” SB350 was narrowed to Central Indiana, giving our Regional Development Authority the ability to create a comprehensive economic development strategy for the region in collaboration with a newly-independent Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).  With these organizations joining forces to represent local governments across the Indianapolis region, the bill creates a new structure for organizing across county and city borders to address infrastructure and basic services along with longer-term priorities.

It’s a good start, with plenty of work left for next year’s budget session: We need regional revenue-and-investment capacity – which will also require reforms of how we raise and distribute local taxes – to execute plans around housing, land use, quality of life, transportation and other infrastructure projects to enhance regional economic competitiveness.

Getting the job done:
Workforce development has also been (and will continue to be) one of the cornerstones of our public policy agenda – as our economy and job market changes, our workforce system has to follow…that means connecting these programs with the needs of employers through initiatives like Business Leaders United (BLU).

We knew coming into this session that some of our workforce priorities, like expanding the Next Level Jobs program, would need to wait for the budget-writing year (2021).  But we wanted to aim for better alignment and planning to get the most bang for the bucks that will be appropriated next year.

HB1153 does just that, directing the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet to undertake a comprehensive plan to align primary, secondary, post-secondary and workforce systems with employer needs, and was amended to include other career-focused programs – it made it out of conference this week and should be signed by the Governor.

Scrambling towards Sine Die:
With more and more major events and daily gatherings put on hold this week, there was one place where “social distancing” wasn’t an option – the Statehouse, as the clock ticked towards final adjournment.  We’ll annotate our agenda with a more thorough list of what passed and what didn’t next week, but here are some highlights from the final frantic days of the session:

  • HB1003, an education bill dealing with teacher training and the rule-making (and waiver-granting) authority of the State Board of Education, along with school accreditation and other matters, made the grade from conference committee;
  • HB1065 dealt with local tax issues – property assessments, maximum levy calculations and local income tax councils – but got public attention for a Senate amendment allowing public school districts to share property tax referenda revenues with charter school partners; it passed conference despite the flare of controversy;
  • Another note on HB1065: It was also amended to include an interim study committee on a film and media tax credit (formerly in SB262, which died in committee);
  • SB408 deals with school finance and a host of state and local tax issues – it passed conference committee, but without language supporting certified technology parks;
  • SB148 also passed conference committee and concurrence votes – it contains landlord-tenant regulations that could pre-empt local ordinances around rental agreements , such as one recently passed by the Indianapolis City-County Council: Clearly, this is one more skirmish in an ongoing battle over home rule waged among the state legislature, city halls and county courthouses (as we saw in HB1279);
  • Finally, SB335 (expungement for older criminal offenses) emerged from conference after an agreement that moved new panhandling restrictions to a different bill, HB1022 (which formerly dealt with legislative notaries, leaving their fate to be determined elsewhere), which also goes to the Governor.
Speaking of HB1022, it also serves as former Speaker Brian Bosma’s final victory in nearly 35 years of serving Hoosiers and strengthening Indiana’s business climate. Channeling Kool Moe Dee – “How you like me now?” – he brought the panhandling language back from the dead. In doing so, he and Senator Messmer filled the need for statewide rules to curb aggressive panhandling around retailers and financial institutions; locally, it helps make our downtown district safer for employees, residents and visitors as we seek more comprehensive solutions for homelessness and inclusive growth.

That’s all for now; we’ll wrap up some odds-and-ends next week, but thank you for sticking with these updates and staying engaged in promoting a pro-business, inclusive agenda for the Indy Region.  And finally – we know global challenges and daily crises have overtaken events at the General Assembly in the last few days; let’s stay safe, take precautions, and stick together to get through this as a community.

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