Indiana Legislative Update: And…They’re Off!

Indiana legislators have returned to Indianapolis for the start of the 2022 legislative session. In even-numbered years, like 2022, the legislature adjourns by mid-March vs. odd-numbered years when it meets through the end of April. “We don’t get into as many things, or as complex of things, as we might in a long session,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said. “And we don’t do budget concerns.” Still, the slate of bills eagerly filed by lawmakers this short session is filled with issues important to Hoosiers. More than 1675 bills have been filed tackling topics including healthcare costs, gun rights, education issues, vaccine mandates, tax cuts, and tightening up language related to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s public health emergency powers. 

House Republicans are eager to advance HB1001, requiring employers to grant broad exemptions from vaccine mandates. The business community has voiced opposition to the measure supporting the prerogative of an employer to make decisions for their business and its employees. Governor Holcomb and Senate Republicans have been fairly tepid in their support for the bill, so we will learn more as the bill advances.  

Governor Eric Holcomb issued the first public health emergency order related to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 6, 2020, and has extended the executive order 22 times, most recently on Dec. 29, 2021. In the aftermath of intervention that ascended to the Indiana Supreme Court in 2021, lawmakers are revisiting their role and carefully defining appropriate input in the event of emergency intervention by state government. Governor Holcomb once said, “Our State, and its people, deserve clarity and finality on this important issue.” Indiana lawmakers are working to provide that clarity in 2022.  

Despite inflation and concerns about a slowdown as federal COVID-19 monies taper off, the Governor and lawmakers are cautiously optimistic about potential tax cuts for Hoosiers. Official tax collection estimates project a budget surplus of $5.1B for the State of Indiana by the end of fiscal year 2022. House Ways and Means Chair Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) introduced HB1002 this week, which phases in a $1B reduction in taxes by 2025. The plan reduces the individual income tax rate from 3.23% to 3.0%, eliminates the 30% depreciation floor on business personal property purchased after January 1, removes the double direct test applied in production sales tax exemptions, and repeals the Utility Receipts and Utility Services Use tax that will result in an estimated $223M in savings for Hoosier consumers.  

Also this week President Pro Tem Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) issued a joint letter to Indiana hospitals and insurance executives requesting submission of a plan to reduce Indiana costs to the national average by April 1 or “we will be left with no choice but to pursue legislation to statutorily reduce prices.” The letter refers to the cost of healthcare in Indiana as “inordinately high” and “out of control” citing studies that reveal Indiana ranks 5th in facility fees and 6th in the nation for hospital price disparities, with Hoosiers covered by an employer health plan paying three times what Medicare would pay for the same procedure.  

Lawmakers still have a few days to file bills, so this is not a final list. There are also MANY other bills that are of interest based on our priorities, but because they are less likely to move, we have not included them in the Report. If they get scheduled for a Committee hearing, you will see them in future reports. Here are the highlights from this first week:

  • HB1001 emerged from the House Employment Committee Thursday passing 7-4 including an amendment to the bill by Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) preserving the additional $95/month in federally funded SNAP benefits for Hoosiers in need across the State. The bill provides that while an employer may impose a vaccine mandate, it must grant exemptions for employees for medical, religious, and natural immunity/antibodies and test no more than once per week. This is lawmakers’ response to “hundreds of emails” and more than 14 hours of testimony during 2 hearings. Furthermore, the bill has “teeth” with language that seems sure to be revised, as Rep Dan Leonard (R-Huntington) noted “I think there’s some dramatic improvement that can be made,” regarding the imposition of penalties for businesses who fail to comply with the new protections for the unvaccinated employees via the Unemployment Insurance system. The bill also preserves approximately $369M in federal funds for the State of Indiana that would be lost if the state merely ended the state of emergency. The bill is scheduled for 2nd Reading on the House floor Monday afternoon where any Representative will be able to offer amendments.  
  • Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel) presented HB1034 to the House Ways and Means Committee. A “belt and suspenders” bill clarifying that a lien resulting from an agreement between a commission and a taxpayer in a TIF area takes priority over any existing or subsequent mortgage, other lien, or other encumbrance on the property, and must have parity with a state property tax lien. The bill is held in anticipation of  further amendment. 
  • The House Government and Regulatory Affairs Committee heard two bills this week regarding state agencies – rulemaking abilities and appeal processes in court. Both bills were held for further consideration and potential amendment.
    • HB1063 tries to ensure that citizens are on the same level as a government agency when appealing a lower court ruling. IN Supreme Court established in a case that the agency interpretation of a rule/statute is given greater weight. This bill would require the argument to “start anew” if a ruling is appealed in court and strengthens the separation of powers. There is a belief that for some agencies (eg: Revenue, Utility Reg Commission) with specialized courts working their issues, that this idea of starting over would increase costs and do more harm than good. In other agency work, it might be beneficial.
    • Rep Steve Bartels (R-Eckerty) presented HB1100 as a “transparency bill” with similar “de novo” judicial review language as HB1063 and also requiring agencies to repeal rules before adopting new rules if the rule requires or prohibits an action on behalf of a person. It also limits the length of Governor’s executive orders to 180 days before they must be reviewed/renewed by the Legislative Council.
  • In the longest hearing so far this Session (nearly 8 hours) , the Senate Education Committee considered Sen Scott Baldwin’s (R-Noblesville) SB167, “My cell phone just went off and my ring tone is, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  I think that is fitting as we begin today.  This is a tumultuous, difficult bill and topic.  There are a lot of opinions in the room today.  Some think this bill goes too far.  Some think this bill doesn’t go nearly far enough.” The proposed bill prohibits K-12 schools from teaching that “any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation” is inherently, consciously or subconsciously superior, inferior, racist, sexist or oppressive.  It further prevents teaching that any person should feel guilt, anguish, responsibility or any other form of psychological distress” due to actions of one group upon another. Sen J.D. Ford made inquiry as to why sexual orientation and gender identity was excluded from the list, to which Sen Baldwin replied, “If you want to get to the heart of it, are you asking if children who express a gender different than their sex at birth – should we discriminate against them?  Absolutely no.  But I think the majority of my constituents would be resistant to having that conversation.” Sen Ford responded, “I think leaving those LGBT folks out really sends a message that their existence isn’t worth putting in the bill.”  Questions did arise about the motivation and timing of SB167 in light of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s release of a Parent’s Bill of Rights which Sen Eddie Melton (D-Gary) stated, “caused a frenzy amongst parents in the State.”   
    • HB1134 is a nearly identical bill to SB167 and is scheduled to be heard in House Education Committee on Monday.
  • SB2 was presented by Sen Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond) to address the issue of school districts potentially losing 15% of the state funding for students due to quarantine measures.  Senate Education Committee members were assured that the fiscal piece was already included in the existing state budget, so the bill required no additional funds. Stakeholders praised the bill, thanking lawmakers for their “commitment to finding a solution”.  The bill was approved 12-0, receiving unanimous bipartisan support, with Democrat Senators J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) and Eddie Melton (D-Gary) requesting to sign on as co-authors. 

COVID UPDATE

  • Indiana has shattered records with he number of cases reported this week and with the 7-day positivity rate. More concerning, though, is the number of patients in the hospital. It was December 3, 2020 when we last had this many hospitalizations for COVID and this is combined with significant other hospitalizations to drive available ICU beds across the state to less than 200.
  • The data continues to show the vast majority getting truly sick from COVID are unvaccinated. Since Nov. 4th (start of fall surge), the unvaccinated are 69% of cases, 91% of hospitalizations, and at least 74% of deaths. Of the 3.5M Hoosiers who are fully vaccinated, 3.7% have gotten sick, .06% have been hospitalized, and .03% have died.
  • Statewide, 54.9% of Hoosiers aged 5+ are fully vaccinated (2 or more doses of Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J). The 4-county SW IN region has 167,333 (58.5%) out of 285,818 residents aged 5+ fully vaccinated. If you want to get vaccinated or boosted, you can make an appointment online
  • If you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed and want to get tested, find a test site here:  Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): COVID-19 Testing Information
  • Indiana has had more than 1,314,688 positive cases of COVID-19; 19,332 of these are “reinfections since 9/1/21.”
  • All of Indiana is either orange (approaching high risk spread with 10% or greater positivity rate & 100-199 new cases/100,000 residents) or red (high risk spread with 15% or greater positivity rate & 100 or more new cases/100,000 residents) advisory levels (updated weekly on Wednesdays). Gibson, Posey, Vanderburgh and Warrick Counties are now all rated red. 
  • The 7-day positivity rate as of 12/30 (lags by 7 days to include late-arriving test results) for all test results is 23.8% and the 7-day rate for unique individuals tested is 35.8%. SW IN Positivity rates are: Gibson 17%, Posey 18.6%, Vanderburgh 20.1% and Warrick 23.7%.
  • The state reported 150 new deaths on Wednesday 1/6 (33 from Monday and Tuesday). At this time 18,794 Hoosiers have died from COVID; or if you include presumptive deaths (clinically diagnosed as COVID by a physician, but no COVID-19 positive test), the total is 19,448.

IMPORTANT DATES: