Indiana Legislative Update – A Different Type of Legislative Session

After nine months of the pandemic being managed almost entirely by the Governor, many lawmakers have begun attempts to rein in the Governor’s power. This is the focus of at least 6 Senate bills and 10 House bills in the 2021 session. Current law prescribes that every 30 days an emergency order may be renewed by the Governor,” said HB1123 author, Representative Matt Lehman (R-Berne), in Rules Committee on Tuesday.  “If we leave session as we did last year, those 30-day renewals can go on until we return back here in January of 2022 for the next legislative session.”  Under Lehman’s bill, the legislature would need to be in Session (no action necessarily required) to extend the declaration more than 60 days. 

Other bills forbid the governor and local officials from closing schools or churches. Others demand equal application of restrictions to businesses as an industry, the big box and mom and pop stores alike. SB74, which was heard in Senate Pensions & Labor Committee on Wednesday prohibits an employer from requiring, as a condition of employment, an employee or prospective employee to receive any immunization. The hearing prompted the first “crowd” this Session as more than 65 people turned out – mostly maskless and ignoring social distancing recommendations – to speak in support of the bill. The activity has prompted the Governor and legislative leaders to discuss greater enforcement of COVID-related rules to minimize exposure to the many people working in the building.

On Wednesday, Governor Holcomb unveiled his $35 billion, two-year budget which notably includes approximately $377 million more funding for education and maintains the state’s surplus. Detractors point out that it does not include any funds designated for increasing teacher pay. Indiana finished out the budget cycle with a $2.2 billion surplus and not surprisingly critics of the plan believe the “rainy day” is upon us and the surplus should be used now to provide Hoosiers with more relief during the pandemic.

The new coronavirus variant was discovered in Indiana this week. While found to be more contagious than the original, the good news is the new strain is reportedly less deadly. The legislature continues to make concessions to deal with the virus, such as the House only convening full Session on Thursdays for these first few weeks. Speaker Huston has expressed a desire to limit the exposure of lawmakers to the COVID-19 virus, “If there’s not a reason for the 100-plus of us to gather in this room, let’s just not unnecessarily do it.” Lawmakers may attend committees remotely, though they must attend in person if there will be a vote in Committee.

While Indiana lawmakers are calling for flexibility and bipartisan unity in the midst of numerous adjustments at the statehouse, Republican President Donald Trump was impeached this week for “incitement of insurrection” after the Capitol was attacked last week. Trump is the only U.S. President to be impeached twice in U.S. history. The soonest the Republican US Senate would begin their impeachment trial is next Tuesday, the day before Joe Biden will be sworn in. The Indiana Legislature will be “off” Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day and has scheduled work for Tuesday through Thursday, though they have noted the schedule may change if the threat level for protests in Indianapolis becomes significant.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at the start of Session with so many bills; one strategy is to focus on the bills of interest that are already moving. These include:

  • The bills seeking to provide civil immunity to employers from COVID-19 impacts continue to move through the process. On Tuesday, Sally Rideout represented ~10 metro Chambers from across Indiana speaking in support of HB 1002 as it was considered in the House Judiciary Committee. The House bill includes specific protections for health care providers in addition to coverage for other employers and to the manufacturers that switched processes to produce PPE or other COVID-related supplies. It will be heard again on Tuesday for amendment and Committee vote. It is more comprehensive than the introduced version SB1, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday and will be considered for a final vote next week. After amendments to SB 1, it now includes similar concepts to those in HB 1002, and it is further along in the process. As legislators have indicated a desire to move this legislation through quickly we will keep a close eye on both bills over the next few weeks.
  • On a similar fast path are the bills designed to ensure full funding of students regardless of the amount of virtual instruction required during the pandemic. SB2 passed out of Senate Education this week and must now be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee due to the fiscal impact. Meanwhile, HB1003 has moved through the House Ways and Means Committee and is ready for full House consideration next week where it is expected to pass easily.
  • Learning lessons from the quick expansion of “telemedicine” during the pandemic, the Senate Health & Provider Services Committee heard testimony this week on SB3, which works to put new practices into statute and ensure sufficient guardrails are present going forward. They intend to consider amendments and vote the bill out of Committee in future weeks.
  • Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee will hear a bill that adjusts the calculations and exemptions associated with business personal property tax, SB336, on Tuesday.
  • Two environmental bills of interest will be heard in committee Tuesday. Senate Natural Resources will consider SB373 to establish a carbon credit program in Indiana while the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee will hear SB389 to repeal the state regulated wetlands law.
  • Wednesday the House Ways & Means Committee will hear several bills, including two of the key House GOP agenda items including a small business restart grant program, HB1004, and the student learning recovery grant program, HB1008
  • Rep. McNamara’s bill to rename the current state aircraft to the Hoosier Spirit II, HB 1197, has passed out of Committee and will be ready for 2nd reading in the House next week.

Important Dates:

  • Tuesday, January 19th
    • 6:00 p.m.: Governor Holcomb presents the State of the State (generally available for live viewing on some network TV and various internet sites – watch local listings)
    • House Judiciary
      • HB1002 Civil Immunity Related to Covid-19
    • House Employment, Labor and Pensions
    • Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy
      • SB336 Assessment and Tax Exemptions
    • House Family, Children and Human Affairs
      • HB1101 Daycare Licensure Exemption in Declared Emergency
    • House Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development
      • HB1025 Enterprise Zone Renewal
      • HB1224 Craft Hemp Flower and Hemp Production
    • Senate Natural Resources
      • SB373 Carbon Credit Programs
    • Senate Environmental Affairs
      • SB389 Repeals State Regulated Wetlands Law
  • Wednesday, January 20th
    • 11:00 a.m. Central time – Joe Biden sworn in as President (available to view on most major TV networks and across the internet)
    • House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications
      • HB1220 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force
      • HB1287 Water or Wastewater Service for Underserved Areas
      • HB1385 Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Pilot Programs
      • HB1419 Reporting of Stranded Electric Utility Costs
    • House Ways and Means
      • HB1004 Small Business Restart Grant Program
      • HB1008 Student Learning Recovery Grant Program
    • Senate Public Policy
      • SB5 Appeal of Local Health Enforcement Actions
      • SB238 Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas
    • House Public Health
  • Thursday, January 21st
    • House Ways and Means

COVID-19 Information and Updates:

  • Since Sunday’s update, the state has reported 14,841 new positive cases (578,494 total), 217 new deaths (8,830 total), 39,767 new individuals tested (2,792,291 total), and 162,450 new tests administered (6,271,603 total). There are an additional 372 probable Covid-19 deaths (X-Ray, CT, symptoms & exam consistent w/Covid-19, but no positive test received).  All of this information is on the ISDH dashboard at www.coronavirus.in.gov.
  • The state shares 2 different positivity rates. The positivity rate for ALL tests administered (comparative metric to most other states) is 10.9% from the beginning of testing and 15.3% for the 7-days ending on 01/07. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 20.7% since the beginning of testing and is 26.3% for the 7 days ending 01/07 (rates trail by 7 days to account for lagging reports).
  • The color-coded county metrics that combine new cases per 100,000 people over the last week and the 7-day positivity rates updated Wednesday keep all of SW IN in red (high community spread) – currently 73 of 92 Counties are in red. The nearest Counties in orange (moderate to high community spread) are Monroe to the NE and Perry on the East. You can find these metrics and how they are calculated by choosing the “County Metrics” tab above the map of Indiana on the state dashboard.
  • The state also publishes county-level 7-day positivity rates for all tests given. Currently, SW Indiana rates as of 01/07 are: Gibson 21.8%, Posey 23.4%, Vanderburgh 16.8%, Warrick 18.4%, and Spencer 22.8%.  You can find the county-level information by choosing the “Positivity” tab above the map of Indiana on the state dashboard.
  • The Vaccination Dashboard shows that as of this morning (1/14), 238,802 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the vaccine and 48,437 are considered “fully vaccinated” for COVID-19. The site also has county-level vaccination numbers and information re: age, gender, race, and nationality of those vaccinated.
  • There are nearly 280 testing sites across the state. You are encouraged to get tested if you have any symptoms or are have had contact with someone who has tested positive.

You can see the Governor’s Executive Orders here