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We reported last week that the 2020 session got off to a blazing start – but all the same, how can lawmakers expect to deal with the over 1,000 bills that have been filed in the House and Senate in just ten weeks?

The answer is, they can’t. Many of those bills get assigned to committee and quietly expire without a hearing.  But in other cases, the same proposal can get double the attention…because nearly-identical pieces of legislation routinely get introduced in both chambers of the General Assembly.

You’ll hear us refer to these ‘companion’ or ‘mirror’ bills from time to time.  On some high-profile issues, lawmakers on both sides of the rotunda want plenty of opportunity to debate, amend, influence and claim credit.  Or there are modest differences that are still important to one of the authors or a key constituency.  And sometimes it’s just playing the odds – having two vehicles makes it more likely that one survives the session’s procedural gauntlet.

This year we have HB1001 and SB2, both “hold harmless” legislation protecting schools from falling accountability ratings in the first two years of the ILEARN test.  Both have already passed their first house third reading (!).  Similarly, HB1002 and SB59 both decouple teacher evaluations from student performance (testing) – HB1002 also sailed through third reading and heads to the Senate, but SB59 is still in committee.

A key GOP healthcare priority also gets a double-dose of legislative love, as HB1004 and SB3 both seek to curtail ‘surprise’ out-of-network medical billing.  The list goes on – including a number of House and Senate bills dealing with elements of tobacco and vaping reforms – and we’ll try to make note of mirror maneuvering as appropriate.

The waiting is the hardest part
Yeah, we usually go with old school hip-hop (did you ID the Black Sheep classic as this week’s title?), but Tom Petty just fits here.  After hinting at a State of the State (SOTS) surprise on teacher pay last week, Governor Holcomb delivered on Tuesday night…but for the next budget (2022-23), not next year.  (Proposing a variant on the idea he unveiled during last year’s State of the State, using a portion of new revenue growth to accelerate teacher pension payments and free up general fund resources for K-12 in the next biennium.)

Driving the economy
Another bill that’s a year early, but critical to recognize, is HB1255, which reconfigures the state’s road funding formula to reflect lane miles instead of road miles, easing the disadvantage towards metropolitan areas that tend to have more multi-lane thoroughfares for workers and goods.  It’s not likely to get a hearing, but we’re eager to hype up the idea and build momentum towards the 2021 budget-writing session.

Back on our grind
It can be tough to get back to work after the holidays – we feel that.  But for so many Hoosiers, a shot at a better job would be a gift, not a grind…that’s why we prioritize workforce policies that deliver high-demand skills in a competitive job market.

Governor Holcomb may be hitting pause on new teacher pay plans, but he’s set an aggressive pace on workforce development:  On Tuesday, he highlighted the nearly 25,000 Hoosiers who have enrolled in the administration’s Workforce Ready programs, with 10,000 already earning a ‘Next Level Jobs’ certification (and nearly a thousand businesses applying for Employer Grants to upskill their workforce).

We support these programs and applaud this progress.  There’s clearly more to be done, and workforce continues to be one of our top issues this session.  This week, the Education Committee heard 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 – a necessary step and a discussion we expect to play a key role in through our Business Leaders United (BLU) partnership.

Speaking of our priority issues, we’re pleased that SB1 passed committee this week, affirming federal action raising the legal age to buy tobacco (including vaping) products from 18 to 21 and setting enforcement by tripling current penalties for selling to underage Hoosiers.  This follows committee action on HB1006 last week (callback on ‘companion bills’).

The final (and perhaps most challenging) of our ‘big three’ issues is regionalism and interlocal revenue reform.  We also saw movement here this week, as Senator Holdman introduced SB350.

The bill empowers Regional Development Authorities to collect and distribute new local revenue streams (retail, income and food and beverage options) for transformative quality of life and economic development projects (the ‘investment hub’ concept we’ve described previously).

So we’re back on our grind too, pushing forward on our “Healthy State. Healthy Economy.” agenda.  Here are some other relevant updates from the week:

  • To strengthen Indiana’s certified technology parks, SB264 was introduced (and referred to Tax & Fiscal Policy) to allow additional tax increment growth from the parks’ business activities to be captured and reinvested;
  • From encouraging young companies to encouraging young Hoosiers, 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 experiential learning opportunities – it passed committee this week;
  • In a modest step forward for local government reform – and more professional and uniform property assessment – HB1027 passed third reading, eliminating the remaining township assessors offices by 2023 (the fairly narrow 53-44 vote shows the ongoing challenge of tackling the status quo here);
  • SB47 passed committee, providing that if a court reduces a Class D or Level 6 felony to a misdemeanor, the five-year waiting period for expungement begins on the date of the felony conviction (not the date of the reduction) to help ex-offenders re-enter the workforce;
  • Also working to ease workforce challenges, HB1008 seeks to streamline occupational licensing transfers for new Hoosiers (professionals moving from out of state) to help employers more easily recruited specialized skills; it was held in committee.
  • And after a decade of one off township fire departments, HB1193 would authorize the consolidation of all township fire departments and we could finally see true UniGov following the merger of Indianapolis Police Department and Sherriff in 2007.

And while much of the K-12 discussion this year has centered on teacher pay and minimizing the fallout from ILEARN, several other education bills saw movement this week, too:

  • After being held last week, SB195 passed committee – it creates a utility career and technical education cluster at the high school level to help address utility industry workforce shortages;
  • SB223 was heard and held; we support (and testified for) 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 and ensure no one falls through the cracks;
  • HB1003 was also heard but held; it authorizes the State Board of Education to determine the timing, frequency, and method of certain teacher training requirements and allows high schools more flexibility on STEM course requirements to grant Core 40 diplomas, among other provisions.
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