Indiana Legislative Update – A tough week…

When asked, “Shall the act become law, the Governor’s veto not withstanding?” lawmakers returned with “Aye.” It was a tough week for Governor Eric Holcomb as House and Senate Republicans voted 67-32 and 30-17 respectively, to override a veto of a 2020 bill that regulates landlord/tenant relationships. In Indiana, it only takes a simple majority to override a veto vs. a 2/3 majority in many other states.

Last week the Governor issued a statement standing by his veto, “I remain confident in my past decision to veto Senate Enrolled Act 148 last year. To be sure, we are still navigating through this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and therefore I still believe this is not the right time for that overly broad language to have become law. I hope the General Assembly will take a careful look at how this new law will effect local residents and units of government.”

Republicans, accused of “stripping Indianapolis renters of their rights” remained firm in their resolve that they were doing the right thing, “Currently throughout the state you have a hodgepodge so to speak of landlord-tenant zoning matters all over the state,” said Rep. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) who presented the veto override on the Senate floor. “This bill simply seeks to clarify those and standardize those and set one kind of floor for landlord-tenant issues in the state.”

To address the Governor’s concerns, lawmakers are moving “follow-up” bills, SB150 and HB1541, in both Chambers to eliminate the offending eight little words the Governor deemed overly broad: “any other aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship.” Opponents have argued that these bills still tilt the balance of power too far toward landlords.

On Thursday, Governor Holcomb signed into law SB1, a priority bill this session, which provides civil immunity to Hoosier businesses who have attempted in good faith to protect their customers and employees from COVID-19, protecting them from frivolous lawsuits. “I made providing assurances that they will not have to live and work in fear of frivolous lawsuits a part of my Next Level Agenda,” the Governor said. The act goes into effect immediately. 

One major obligation of lawmakers this session is to pass the biennial budget for the State of Indiana. HB1001 appropriates money for capital expenditures, the operation of the state, K-12 and higher education, the delivery of Medicaid and other services, and various other distributions and purposes. Notably, the House Republican budget differs from the Governor’s budget this year in including a 50 cent per pack cigarette tax hike, the first since 2007, and funding to cover the loss in fees if Indiana eliminates gun licenses for Hoosier, as prescribed in SB1369 which passed second reading this week. The budget invests heavily in education, as it increases the value of private school vouchers and eligibility for them, launching an education savings account program for students with disabilities and children of active-duty military personnel who opt out of both public and private schools, and a 30% funding boost for school-based social and emotional health programs. Education stakeholders around the state vehemently oppose the Republican budget, claiming $144M in new money goes to private schools and complain the new budget would “divert significant monies away from public schools, enhance the opportunity for a lack of oversight related to the intended educational purpose of such funds, further exacerbate insufficiencies tied to Indiana’s teacher compensation, and increase the risk to student growth, proficiency, and well-being.”  Republicans returned fire with “We fund students – not school buildings.” 

The committee hearing deadline for both chambers was this week.  If a bill did not make it out of committee today, it’s considered “dead,” and those bills are no longer on your bill list. There are still many bills that we support and a few that concern us still in the mix.

  • A bill to increase public health funding, HB1007, passed the House Tuesday with a 94-2 vote. The bill establishes the IN It for Health grants so that community organizations can apply for grants to tackle various health initiatives. Bill author Rep. Vermillion (R-Marion) said the bill is a way to “finally acknowledge that we’re not satisfied with low health rankings and being nearly last in public health spending.”
  • As part of a comprehensive bill dealing with mental health and addiction forensic treatments, HB1127 includes language to establish the long-term recovery group for Southwest Indiana program and a fund to support the program. No state funds were allocated to the fund at this time, but that could change throughout the Session or can be later filled with grants and other nonprofit support. The bill passed two committees with unanimous support and faces a final vote in the House on Monday.
  • HB1309, a bill to clarify that an employee can request accommodations for a pregnancy, passed the House Wednesday 95-2. The bill does not require an employer to provide an accommodation unless there is existing state or federal requirements. The SW IN Chamber joined other metropolitan Chambers in supporting a stronger bill that had language similar to KY and TN, but that bill did not move forward. This is hopefully a good step that can be strengthened for workers and clarified for employers in future years.
  • A popular bill designed to increase participation in work-based learning, pre-apprenticeship, and apprenticeship and increase STEM, hands-on classes for HS students, HB1397, passed the House unanimously on Wednesday.
  • Utilities Chairman Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) presented HB1449, adding it to the list of pending broadband development bills this week. Amendments were proposed to prioritize schools, hospitals, and medical clinics getting a minimum of 1 gig speed service. It will prohibit the State from using the Next Level Broadband grants where federal grants apply and establishes a process for individuals/businesses to “raise their hand” to the state for a “reverse auction” process for nearby providers to bid on serving those potential customers. The amendments were deemed necessary to improve transparency and costs to consumers, however, some committee members felt overwhelmed by the range of changes proposed, “There is a lot in these amendments.  This bill used to be about getting service to underserved areas.  Now it is about schools, hospitals and school kids.  I’m not saying those are bad changes.  I just haven’t absorbed it yet,” said Rep Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington).  Stakeholders present all spoke in support of the bill.  Rep Pierce dissented, “At least one person needs to vote no to signal there is a problem and this bill needs more analysis.”  The bill passed 11-1 and will be considered by the full House next week.
  • Government Affairs Specialist Sally Rideout testified before the Senate Tax & Fiscal Affairs Committee Tuesday morning in support of SB213 and SB215. Both bills are important to economic development moves in downtown Evansville and passed the Committee unanimously. SB213 would allow our Certified Technology Park (Innovation Pointe) to capture an additional $150,000 in annual revenue from the income taxes generated inside the Park. As introduced, SB215 would have benefited the proposed redevelopment project at 5th and Main, but was amended to be less impactful. There are still some good parts of the bill and we will continue to work on it to potentially reinstate some or all of the language we valued.
  • SB214 establishes a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program to encourage the development of affordable/workforce housing. The bill originally offered a tax credit for the developer, but fiscal concerns led to an amendment that instead established the PILOT to allow local governments and developers to find agreement on the tax revenue that will be collected for the project. The PILOT provides stability to both parties and would hopefully encourage the development of affordable housing. It passed the Senate 49-0
  • SB384 renews the Evansville Professional Sports & Convention Development Area (PSCDA) for the next 20 years and adds the Doubletree Hotel to the PSCDA, which captures income, sales, and food and beverage taxes generated in the Area and uses those funds to pay toward the bonds for the Ford Center. The bill also makes changes to the PSCDA’s in Fort Wayne & South Bend. It passed the Senate 41-5 on Monday.
  • The Chamber has supported SB386, a bill to allow Vectren to “securitize” (bond) the existing capital value of the AB Brown power plant assets when it is decommissioned in 2023. With guardrails added to the bill on 2nd reading, we believe the bill is a win/win/win for Vectren, ratepayers, and the community-at-large. It passed the Senate 39-6 on Monday evening.
  • One of the most controversial bills of the Session is HB1005, which expands the school choice (voucher) program by increasing the eligibility to families earning 300% of the “free and reduced lunch rate.” The bill also creates Educational Savings Accounts (ESA’s) for parents of Special Education students or foster children and also for military/national guard parents. The ESA’s would be funded with money that would have been allocated to the public school for the child and will be an “account” managed by the IN Treasurer where parents will be able to use the funds for tools and services to support the child’s education. Opponents are concerned about the diversion of funds from public schools and the lack of accountability in the ESA program. The bill passed the House 61-38 along a mostly party line vote, though a handful of Republicans joined Democrats in voting no.
  • HB1164 was held over from last week to work with stakeholders and address concerns.  The bill is tasked with “building our broadband infrastructure and getting that policy deployed” was amended to remove issues of concern regarding caps on fees and IURC changes.  Direction with regard to co-location of telecom with existing light poles, and notice by mail of homeowner’s associations of when new permits were filed was included. The bill author promised to schedule further discussion with the parties.  The bill passed out of committee 9-4.
  • In a somewhat contentious committee hearing, HB1190 narrowly passed the Roads & Transportation Committee 7-5. The bill initially increased the types of materials that can be transported via an “overweight” permit and increased the fees for those permits to help cover the potentially increased costs for road maintenance. The bill was pared back from the original draft by limiting the number of permits, though some legislators are still concerned about damages to the roads and safety of other drivers. On the House floor a second reading amendment was offered by the bill author deleting the increase in permit costs, with the intention that INDOT will adjust permit costs according to the 2014 Purdue Study of the impact of overweight divisible loads on Indiana roads.  The Indiana State Police are directed to provide a yearly legislative report of the number of accidents involving applicants permitted for overweight loads, and INDOT will submit a report as to the market use of the permits annually.  The amendment prevailed and the bill now proceeds for further consideration in the Senate.
  • Area Rep Shane Lindauer (R-Jasper) presented HB1286 to the House Wednesday as a bill that recognizes Telehealth is not just for rural Indiana, but for all Hoosiers who have an increased need for access to quality medical care. The bill creates a consistent definition for telehealth, ensures it is an option for a wide range of medical professions, and puts in necessary guardrails for privacy, record retention, etc. The bill passed the House unanimously and goes to the Senate.
  • HB1381 establishes statewide standards for the siting of wind and solar energy generation including rules for minimum setback from neighbors, restricting access to the sites, ground cover and required clean up, and several other items. Local government can establish more relaxed rules, but cannot be more restrictive. Supporters argued there is a need for these statewide rules to ensure that where there is a market for renewables, Indiana can be more than just a buyer. Opponents noted that we have consistently told concerned citizens that these are local issues and could be worked out at the local level – many communities have done so, and these rules will now override those decisions. Ultimately, the bill narrowly passed the House with a 58-39 vote to move to the Senate for their consideration.
  • HB1396 is a comprehensive bill overhauling several regulations for the sale of alcohol. We are pleased to see provisions moving forward that will make the food hall proposed in the 5th and Main project more attractive to craft breweries/wineries and other changes to festival and entertainment gatherings for community development. The bill passed the House 90-4 on Thursday and moves to the Senate.
  • SB220 provides the first increase to Workers Compensation benefits since 2016 passed the Senate 43-3. Presenting the bill to on the floor, author Sen Karen Tallian noted that Indiana is currently 49th in the nation for lowest premium costs to employers and 46th in the nation in benefits paid to employees. The bill would increase the benefits by 2% a year for 3 years beginning July 1, 2021. It moves to the House for consideration.  
  • HB1028 was originally a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. It was amended in Committee to instead define a criminal level for nanograms of THC in your blood as a way to determine Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) status for law enforcement. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials opposed the bill expressing no true way to determine impairment. Ultimately, the bill passed out of Courts and Criminal Code Committee 9-2 and will be considered by the full House next week.

Important Dates:

  • Monday, February 22nd
    • Deadline for House bills to pass 3rd (Final) reading in the House
  • Tuesday, February 23rd
    • Deadline for Senate bills to pass 3rd (Final) reading in the Senate
  • Tuesday, March 9th
    • SW IN Virtual Chamber Day at the Statehouse

COVID-19 Information and Updates:

  • Since last weeks’ update, the state has reported 8,239 new positive cases (653,245 total), 294 new deaths (11,898 total), 39,923 new individuals tested (3,069,866 total), and 257,953 new tests administered (7,683,034 total). There are an additional 427 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 positivity rate for ALL tests administered is 10.1% from the beginning of testing and 4.4% for the 7-days ending on 02/12. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 21.3% since the beginning of testing and is 11.3% for the 7 days ending 02/12 (rates trail by 7 days to account for lagging reports).
  • The color-coded county metrics (combines: new cases per 100,000 people in the last week and 7-day positivity rates) updated Wednesday has Vanderburgh and all surrounding Counties in yellow (moderate community spread). There are no Counties in red any longer, 8 counties are in orange (moderate to high community spread), and 11 Counties are blue (low community spread). 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 02/12 are: Gibson 4.6%, Posey 8.1%, Vanderburgh 6.2%, Warrick 6.8%, and Spencer 8.3%. 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 through 2/18, 866,680 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the vaccine and another 402,792 (nearly 6% of all Hoosiers) are considered “fully vaccinated” for COVID-19. More than half of Hoosiers over the age of 70 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
  • 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