Indiana Legislative Update – Change is Good…Maybe

On Tuesday, the statewide COVID-19 restrictions mandated by Governor Eric Holcomb ended leaving all pandemic-related restrictions to be handled on a local level.  A bill to provide an appeals process for enforcement actions imposed by local health officers, SB5, passed the House 65-28 this week, and if signed by the Governor, will require local elected officials, in most cases the County Commissioners, to decide those appeals and oversee other local actions of the health department.

In related action, the House and Senate took up the Conference Committee Report for HB1123 on Monday. First, a reminder on process. When a bill is amended in the 2nd house (the Senate for a House Bill), the house of origin must vote to either Concur with the changes or they Dissent on those changes and move the bill to Conference Committee. In the Conference Committee process, 4 legislators (a Republican and Democrat from both the House and the Senate) negotiate the issues and develop a final draft of legislation called a Conference Committee Report (CCR). HB1123 is the first bill to go through this process during the 2021 Legislative session.

Bill author, Rep Matt Lehman (R-Berne) presented the CCR to the House noting that what they would be voting on creates a mechanism for the Legislative Council to adopt a resolution during a state of emergency to call the General Assembly into Session; establishes a state of emergency advisory group of legislative leaders to advise the Governor; and specifies that discretionary federal stimulus dollars are deposited into a special Economic Stimulus Fund that will be spent by the Legislature if/when they are in Session or by the State Budget Committee if the Legislature is not in Session. Two Democrat Representatives spoke against the bill as an unnecessary step to take away executive power at a time when it is needed and Republican Rep John Jacob (R-Indianapolis) spoke against the bill saying it did not go far enough to limit the Governor’s power. Ultimately the CCR passed the House 64-33 with 3 Republicans joining most of the Democrat caucus voting against it. Less than 2 hours later, the CCR passed the Senate 37-10. The bill officially reached the Governor’s desk on April 7th giving him until April 14th to sign or veto the bill. Without a veto, on the 15th, the bill will “become law without his signature.”

On Thursday morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee debated amendments to HB1001, the biennial state budget bill, after taking testimony on the House-passed version over the last few weeks. As passed from Committee, the Senate version:

  • Spends approximately $900M in federal one-time dollars, including:
    • $250M for broadband expansion
    • $150M for the Next Level Regional Recovery program (similar to the former Regional Cities program)
    • $60M for small business grants (HB1004)
    • $100M in water infrastructure grants
    • $30M for state public health grants (HB1007)
    • $100M for mental health programs
    • $27M for public safety
  • Increases K-12 educations support by 1.2% in the first year and 4.2% in the second with increases to foundation/base levels, complexity formula, and special education funds
    • It expands private school voucher eligibility, but less than the House version
    • It establishes Special Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s), but restricts the use to services not products and allocates a smaller amount than the House version
    • Charter school funding is increased, but at a smaller level than the House
    • Plus there is $150M in learning loss grants (HB1008)
  • Sets initial taxes for vaping, which has never been taxed before, but it is “woefully inadequate” (Indiana Chamber of Commerce) and there is no cigarette tax increase, which many advocates had been working toward

The bill will now be considered by the full Senate Monday and Tuesday, and then head to Conference Committee for final negotiations.

The other newsworthy item of the week was a Facebook post over the weekend from Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) siding with the opponents of SB1369, the “lawful carry” gun bill that would repeal the requirements to obtain a license to carry a gun in Indiana. That letter and the lack of a committee hearing this week killed the bill, though the language could still show up in another bill during the Conference Committee process.

This week lawmakers are amending bills to “narrow the scope and address concerns,” said Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers).  As deadlines approach, compromise is seen, and some of the most controversial pieces of legislation that found support in the former chamber die. There are now ~45 bills listed on the Governor’s Bill Watch Page; as for the bills we are watching for you, this week he signed:

  • SB386 – Professional Sports Development Areas
  • HB1152 – Unemployment Insurance

Your Bill Report is a little shorter this week after removing bills that did not pass out of Committee by today’s deadline. Because the language in these bills has already passed one house, the language is available to be amended into any other bills on 2nd Reading Monday or during Conference committee.  The bills removed from your list include:

  • HB1003 – Tuition Support
  • HB1005 – School Choice Matters
  • HB1286 – Telehealth Matters
  • HB1337 – Planning & Zoning
  • HB1397 – Technical Training & Workforce Development
  • SB36 – Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact
  • SB207 – Highway FInances
  • SB123 – Audiology & Speech-Language Pathology Compact
  • SB213 – Certified Technology Parks
  • SB215 – Redevelopment Projects
  • SB220 – Worker’s Compensation
  • SB238 – Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas
  • SB264 – Broadband Capacity Infrastructure Study
  • SB305 – Physical Therapy Licensure Compact
  • SB407 – State Disaster Emergencies

And, finally, here are the highlights for your bills this week:

  • The House voted to concur with the Senate amendments to HB1004, the Hoosier Hospitality Small Business Restart Grant bill. The bill appropriates $60M to the IN Economic Development Corporation to provide grants to small businesses impacted by the pandemic. The Concurrence motion passed 94-3 moving the bill to the Governor.
  • HB1009 provides relief to Hoosiers “in apprenticeship programs, and in post-secondary programs,” said Sen Jon Ford, “The income they earn will not be used to hurt them with their TANF eligibility.” The bill was amended by Sen Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) to remove the fiscal from the bill and “takes it back to SB233.” Anne Valentine of the United Way of Central Indiana testified in support of the legislation, “At the heart of the two-generation approach we use is the belief that working intentionally with the children and adults to integrate services that support them leads to greater promising outcomes.”  The bill, which also increases the EITC 1% passed out of Appropriations 12-0. 
  • HB1309 allows pregnant workers to ask for a pregnancy accommodation, requires an employer to respond “in a timely manner” to her request, and prevents an employer from firing her for asking for it. It doesn’t require a business to grant requests.  Some opponents of the bill don’t want to put an “undue burden” on business. Others object saying it, “doesn’t go far enough.”  The measure passed out of the Senate 31-19. Bill author Sen Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) offered an impassioned closing on the Senate floor, “I appreciate everyone’s stance on this.  If we wait for the federal govt we will be waiting a long time.  I wonder how many women will be affected until that happens…In the real world, things happen.  How is this dealing with the pregnancy bill – I’m thinking of my mother.  It doesn’t go far enough, but it gives a woman the legal right to ask.” 
  • SB352 is one of several broadband bills we have been tracking. It is focused on providing up-front information from broadband providers to the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), the agency that oversees the Next Level Broadband programs, to reduce the amount of work done before determining that a provider already serves an area and would ultimately challenge a grant to another provider. The bill also provides clarity for when INDOT is able to declare underground conduit in the right-of-way as “abandoned.” The bill passed the House 93-1 and returned to the Senate with amendments.
  • Sen Scott Baldwin’s (R-Noblesville) SB359 requires INDOT to create a broadband corridor program (Dig Once Program) to manage the location, installation and maintenance of communication infrastructure used in rights-of-ways of limited access highways.  The bill passed Third reading this week 94-1 and returns to the Senate with amendments. 
  • On Tuesday, an amended HB1002 passed Third reading 41-9.  The bill, which was originally a comprehensive COVID-19 immunity relief bill, is now narrowed down to provides protections to nursing homes and other health care providers. The bill also shields higher education institutions and governmental entities from class action suits.  Considerable debate has followed the bill as lawmakers struggle to offer healthcare providers the same protections afforded other businesses across the state, yet not “go too far in letting nursing homes off the hook” for deaths and injuries caused by acts or omissions that constitute gross negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, or intentional misrepresentation. 
  • Rep. Pressel’s (R-Rolling Prairie) HB1025 provides that an enterprise zone may be renewed for an additional five-year period if the local unit of government reauthorizes the property tax deduction. Income tax deductions within the zone will not be continued with any local reauthorization. This allows each of these zones to expire and for the state and local governments to determine incentive opportunities going forward. The bill passed the Senate 48-0 and because it was not amended in the Senate, moves to the Governor for his consideration.
  • An amended HB1164 survived Senate Utilities this week after more than 20 stakeholders came to be weigh in on the bill.  Lawmakers were called upon to become mediators on behalf of constituents, “The small cell rollout happening in Central Indiana is sloppy, contentious and lacking in transparency.  It happens without notification, without our ability to remonstrate and without our consent.  We are not opposed to 5G.  We just want towers out of our front yards.  We have been brushed off with the explanation that they are doing what they are legally permitted to do. We are asking that you change that equation on our behalf.”  Meanwhile, broadband surrogates reminded everyone of current events, “We need policies that encourage broadband investments.  We all know broadband is more important than ever.” The bill passed out of committee 7-3. 
  • The controversial HB1190 Overweight Truck Permits bill authored by Rep Jim Pressel (Rolling Prairie) emerged successfully from Senate Homeland Security and Transportation Committee 6-3 and passed out of the Senate by week’s end.  The amended bill, which allows heavier trucks to travel Indiana roads, now moves to a conference committee for final consideration. 
  • It’s official.  The House concurred in Senate Amendments 88-0, and Rep Wendy McNamara’s (R-Evansville) HB1197 Hoosier Spirit II Designated State Aircraft bill heads to the Governor for signature. 
  • Rep Ed Soliday’s (R-Valparaiso) HB1348 was heard in Senate Tax and Fiscal Committee this week where it was amended to direct the use of the income approach to provide a uniform formula for assessments across the state for these types of projects.  Stakeholders agreed, “the income approach would be the appropriate mechanism,” however, concern was expressed as to how the income approach would be derived.  The bill requires the DLGF to determine a base rate value per acre for land use for renewable energy production purposes that is based on an income capitalization rate.  The bill passed 12-0.
  • Senate Tax and Fiscal Committee members hosted the controversial HB1381, which establishes default standards to create some consistent standards for locating wind and solar projects across the state.  The bill, among other things, allows options for counties to consider accepting proposals for Renewable Energy Districts (R.E.D.) in their counties, as well as “the carrot” incentives for accepting a RED zone of $3,000/megawatt payment for wind projects.  Testimony was offered by a number of stakeholders for both sides.  The Association of Indiana Counties “appreciated the movement toward incentives” and asked that the statutory deadline of July 1 for acceptance of existing wind and solar regulations was “too quick,” requesting six months for counties to draft potential ordinances.  Of the 92 counties in Indiana, 32 have some form of ordinance limiting wind or solar installation.  Those in favor praised the work of the committee saying, “This bill gives us a shot of something we’ve not had in Indiana – a chance to do business here.  Indiana is the crossroads of America in terms of roads, industry, electricity and everything else.  It sits between two grids that power the lights in the room we are sitting in today.  This is the future of Indiana’s energy.”  The bill garnered bipartisan support and passed out of Committee 10-3. 
  • The Senate Public Policy Committee made significant amendments to HB1396 on Wednesday. Most of the language we have previously tracked as positive developments for downtown entertainment options are now in SB175, there are still some aspects of HB1396 that are beneficial to entertainment options in our region and we will continue to track it. The Committee passed the bill 10-0 and sent it to the Senate floor for consideration.
  • Senate Commerce Committee voted Monday to approve HB1418, the annual update bill for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). The two things of greatest relevance to the Chamber are (1) eliminating the position of the IEDC President and leaving those duties with the Secretary of Commerce and (2) clarifying that the details of an incentives offer from the IEDC are not subject to public records rules unless and until that the final agreement has been executed by both the IEDC and the applicable company. The bill passed Committee unanimously 9-0. 
  • The Senate voted to concur with the amendments made by the House to SB3. The final bill is a comprehensive telehealth bill putting into statute many of the practices adopted this past year and incorporating the lessons learned from the quick ramp-up of telehealth services during the pandemic. It is hoped that the common practice of telehealth will lead to greater access to Hoosiers living in rural areas, those without transportation options, or other issues impacting their ability to get to a doctor’s office. The Concurrence motion passed 44-3 sending the bill to the Governor.
  • SB271, IDEM’s annual agency cleanup bill, was amended early in the week on second reading to remove fee language in the bill, which according to rules, must be included only in House bills.  On Thursday the bill, which shifts the burden of approving industrial waste control facility property tax exemptions to local assessors, extends the deadline for IDEM to provide a new fee schedule an additional year, and establishes a state permit program to provide permits for coal ash ponds, passed out of the House 88-0.
  • SB373 began this session as a bill to establish a carbon trading program utilizing Indiana’s farm and forest lands. Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee deleted that language instead creating a “working group” to study the role of a voluntary carbon credit market and report back to the Legislature later this year. The Committee also added a major amendment regarding a proposed carbon sequestration project in Terre Haute and would provide significant liability protections that are somewhat controversial with unclear ramifications. Due to the legal nature of the amendments, the bill was sent to House Judiciary Committee for consideration. In a hearing Wednesday, the Committee accepted an additional amendment that will require the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to consider the financial costs of building new or retiring old power production caused by “federal phaseout mandates.” Utility companies and organizations representing manufacturers spoke against the amendment for concern it would increase power costs. While there are still significant concerns about the liability issues surrounding the carbon sequestration project and impacts to land and water resources, the Committee passed the bill 9-3.
  • The controversial Repeal of State Regulated Wetlands bill by Sen Chris Garten (R-Charlestown), SB389, was heard once again in House Environmental Committee on Wednesday where it was amended to further soften the bill.  Environmental groups have rallied in opposition to SB389 stating the legislation eliminates protection of wetlands. The amended bill does not exclude any category of wetland from permitting, but instead excludes certain types of situations from being considered a wetland, particularly cropland.  “Rather than take a meat cleaver to this, we are taking a little more surgical approach to identify the problem.”  The amendment, which passed by consent, makes some adjustments to fee structure and alters mitigation requirements in a way that was called, “a more prudent way forward.”  Committee members were assured under the current law there would be no net loss of wetlands with the proposed changes.  The amended bill garnered tepid bipartisan support, “I will vote yes in committee and reserve my right to change my mind on the floor,” said Rep Sue Errington (D-Muncie), with her fellow minority committee colleagues echoing, “Ditto”.  The bill passed 12-0.   
  • HB1008 establishes the Student Learning Recovery Grant Program creates opportunities for K-12 students across Indiana who may have experienced learning loss during the pandemic and appropriates $150M to support the efforts. The funds appropriated must be spent before June 30, 2023 allowing for the remediation work to start this summer and continue for the next 2 years. HB1008, authored by Evansville Rep Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville), a school administrator, passed the Senate Monday 48-0. The Bill returned to the House with amendments.
  • HB1402 builds off the 2020 creation of an All-Payer Claims Database that will ultimately provide transparent data for Hoosier healthcare providers, consumers, employers, etc. regarding the cost and quality of healthcare services in Indiana. The bill establishes the oversight board and sets details about functional aspects of setting up the database. It passed the Senate 48-0 on Monday.

Important Dates:

  • Tuesday, April 13th – Deadline for House bills to pass the Senate and deadline for Senate bills to pass the House
  • Tuesday, April 20th – TheLloyd4U Virtual Public Meeting – Register in Advance
  • Wednesday, April 21stAnticipated last day of the 2021 regular legislative session
  • Thursday, April 22ndLloyd4U In-Person Public Meeting – Crescent Room at Milestones

COVID-19 Information and Updates:

  • Since last week’s update, the state has reported 7,123 new positive cases (694,836 total), 68 new deaths (12,710 total), 28,127 new individuals tested (3,290,645 total), and 399,334 new tests administered (9,114,851 total). There are an additional 404 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 9.1% from the beginning of testing and 4.6% for the 7-days ending on 04/01. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 21.1% since the beginning of testing and is 12% for the 7 days ending 04/01 (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 keeps Vanderburgh County in blue (low community spread), but neighboring Counties Gibson, Posey, Warrick, and Spencer have ticked back up to yellow (moderate 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 04/01 are: Gibson 7.9%, Posey 4.5%, Vanderburgh 4.6%, Warrick 6.5%, and Spencer 4.9%. 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 04/07, 1,321,876 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and another 1,873,481 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the 2-dose vaccines. This is 24.3% of Hoosiers over the age of 16 fully vaccinated and SW IN is leading the way with more than 20% of our region. More than 65% of Hoosiers over the age of 70 are now fully vaccinated and more than 60% of Hoosiers over the age of 60 have received at least their first vaccine dose. The 4-county SW IN leads the way with more than 30% of our regional population over the age of 16 fully vaccinated.  Statewide, nearly 70% of Hoosiers over the age of 70 are now fully vaccinated and more than 65% of Hoosiers over the age of 60 have received at least their first vaccine dose.
  • There are 300+  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