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There’s never a bad time for Ice Cube, but the reference hit a little different this week. It may sound like sloganeering, but we believe Indianapolis does big things by working together: Transforming ‘Indy-a-no-place’ into a world-class city. Regionalizing economic development and accelerating our evolution from the buckle of the Rust Belt to a high-tech capital of the Midwest. Rallying civic support for investments in mass transit, raising salaries for IPS teachers, and tying tax incentives to inclusive growth – the list goes on.

The recurring theme is collaboration between the public, private and philanthropic sectors to make things happen – that’s how we do it. And given our track record as a community, we’re confident in our ability to find local solutions to even the most challenging circumstances.

But this formula is under siege at the Statehouse, forcing us to play defense more than ever before as we pursue continued progress. It’s tougher to build local partnerships based on shared commitment and trust when local control and accountability are being chipped away by legislative action.

Throwing our recovery into reverse:
Even before COVID, the growing distance between potential workers and employers – and the economic isolation of many urban neighborhoods – was a barrier to inclusive growth. To rebuild from the pandemic, it’s even more important to reconnect people and jobs through accessible transit and affordable housing.

But SB141 would overturn a popular mandate for mass transit (a 2016 referendum win for transit expansion). As we’ve reported, it excludes federal grants from the 10% level of non-tax, non-fare funding already required of IndyGo to pursue rapid transit projects (the Blue and Purple Lines). Private fundraising for public infrastructure is already an unreasonable hurdle that this bill makes even higher.

SB141 is a back-handed assault on local support for improved transit, making it tougher for riders to get to work. Another effort to attack local authority would make it harder to live closer to jobs, too.

Last year, SEA148 would have overruled stronger tenant protections (taking aim at an Indianapolis landlord-tenant relations ordinance) – Governor Holcomb vetoed the bill, but a threatened override would again cancel the ordinance. A new bill, HB1541, would have much the same effect: Adding housing insecurity to the hardships faced by vulnerable families and making it more difficult for businesses to hire locally.

Trust:
Transit and housing are priorities in any blueprint to battle poverty, which has obviously grown through the pandemic. Crime has also risen with economic hardship, with violent offenses up in cities across the nation. Public safety is certainly a challenge in Indianapolis, but some lawmakers are ignoring the national trends and blaming local officials as a way to justify a political takeover of mayoral authority and civilian oversight:

  • We’ve talked about SB168 before, but this bad bill deserves all the criticism we can muster: Again, this ill-conceived proposal would take control of IMPD away from the Mayor of Indianapolis and effectively eliminate local accountability by imposing a state-appointed governing board;
  • Two authors of SB168 are former City-County Councillors who seem to be using their legislative positions to intervene in issues rightfully debated and settled in the Council, particularly the new Marion County General Orders Board creating civilian oversight of the policies and procedures followed by IMPD – a more transparent process aimed at rebuilding trust between police and the neighborhoods they serve and protect;
  • SB168 would be a dramatic encroachment on home rule, but it could pave the way for a ‘compromise’ position that would still gut civilian review: HB1427 and SB394 make the General Orders Board void, mandating that police department administration be under the authority of the chief of police or town board of metropolitan policy commissioners.

All of these measures would erase the difficult work that was done in the wake of this summer’s protests to reform oversight. And while it’s a new paradigm for local law enforcement, it’s consistent with everyone’s desire for a safer community: IMPD went from a homicide closing rate of just over 60% in 2018 to 40% in 2019 and 38% last year. IMPD officials believe  this downward trend results from mistrust and a lack willingness to help law enforcement solve cases.

Again, shoving aside local government also pushes away the people closest to the tough issues with the greatest ability to build partnerships and find solutions (the way we’ve earned our biggest ‘wins’ here in Indianapolis). We expect SB141 (transit) to get a committee hearing on February 9th and both SB168 and SB394 to be heard on February 16th, so we’ll be talking more about defeating these plans.

On the other hand…
While SB168 represents a backlash against reform, last summer’s protests and national debates over law enforcement policies also created positive momentum on criminal justice matters that’s paying off in the General Assembly:

  • HB1006, the bipartisan police reform bill, has now passed the Criminal Code and Ways & Means Committees and is ready for a verdict on the House floor; the bill limits the use of chokeholds (unless officers are confronted by deadly force), provides de-escalation training, penalizes officers who intentionally tamper with body cameras and establishes procedures to decertify and track officers guilty of misconduct – we hope the bill makes it out of the House and through the Senate with this substance intact;
  • From law enforcement reform to sentencing reform, HB1202  requires the Parole Board to review and discharge an inmate (convicted pre-2014), to parole or release a nonviolent inmate to the committing court for probation if their current time served exceeds current maximum sentencing.

Back to Business:
From public safety and thwarting the erosion of local authority to recovering from the pandemic, this week also featured movement on a number of bills focused on Indiana’s post-COVID comeback:

  • Both COVID civil immunity bills saw action this week: SB1 passed second reading on the floor and HB1002 passed committee; these measures protect employers from legal action related to COVID to accelerate re-opening of the economy;
  • HB1004 passed Ways & Means, one step closer to creating a $31 million fund to assist small businesses through the pandemic;
  • HB1008 also passed Ways & Means, another COVID-related grant program aimed at schools: It authorizes a $150 million Student Learning Recovery Grant Program and Fund to combat learning losses through this year of disrupted education;
  • Sticking with schools, HB1003 became one of the first bills to pass the full House and head to the Senate, fixing the definition of virtual education to “hold harmless” schools that shifted from in-person to remote learning during COVID against potential funding cuts (the Senate version, SB2, passed Appropriations on its way to the floor – setting up a reconciliation between the two plans).

Hey (must be the money):
You might have noted that HB1006 had two committee votes – many bills are assigned a committee based on policy (Criminal Code, in this case), but also has to pass muster with the Ways & Means Committee (called a “recommit”) to address the fiscal impact.

So Ways & Means always gets plenty of attention, and doubly so this week as the panel also heard agency requests based on Governor Holcomb’s recommended budget (HB1001). Aside from some fiscal fireworks over plans to fund capital construction projects using a portion of the state surplus (with Democrats pushing for pushing more resources into operating priorities like education), the hearings were pretty straightforward – but set up the terms of negotiations among the Governor, House and Senate.

One more budget-related note: HB1434  increases the cigarette tax from $1 to $1.995 per pack and imposes a tax on e-liquids that contain nicotine – a Chamber priority that gets a committee hearing on Monday morning. We’re pushing for a win for Hoosier health that also adds much-needed revenue (which we’d like to see targeted to public health challenges) to the state’s bottom line over this biennium.

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