A short COVID-19 update before we dive into Legislative news: the Governor announced today that the Executive Orders expiring this weekend will be extended another 30 days to get through the many NCAA tournaments happening across Indiana. Though pleased with the continued improvements in positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, the practices in place to slow the spread will be valuable throughout the tournaments. The state continues with the work to vaccinate Hoosiers based on age and this week opened registration up to anyone age 60 and above. To register for an appointment at any of the more than 200 vaccination clinic sites, call 211 or visit ourshot.in.gov.
Legislators crammed long hours and important work into this short week of Session to beat 1st half deadlines. Next week we proceed to the phase of Session where each Chamber will now consider the other’s bills with a fresh set of eyes, and go through the whole process of committees and floor debate again. After taking a long weekend, lawmakers will be back to work next Monday focused on committee hearings.
This past Monday, HB1001, the $36.3B (yes, billion) biennial budget, an increase (yes, increase) over the $34.6B budget passes in 2019, was approved 65-30 mostly along party lines. If budgets reflect priorities, the difference between the political parties couldn’t be more clear, as Ways and Means Chair Rep Tim “Doc” Brown (R-Crawfordsville) explained, “The vision of this budget is employing Hoosiers and helping businesses get out of this recession and moving forward. We are #1 in the Midwest – with 4.3% unemployment – thanks to all of you and what we’ve done in the past. This is a good budget that will keep us #1.” Democrats in the minority, voiced their complaints, and Rep Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis) was not impressed, “What is the biggest problem with this budget? It has no vision. Where are we going? Are we going to continue to be the state with the lowest college graduation rates, overweight, with high blood pressure? If your idea of success is to take on no debt, paying off any bills as fast as possible, and you only care about our surplus and bond rating, then we are a success. We get it. You’ve got the supermajority. Do something besides pat yourself on the back.”
One item drawing the most ire in the budget is that while it increases funding for K-12 Education by $378 million, much of that is designated to increase the private school voucher program, a move Democrats consider “tone deaf” to the recommendations of Governor Holcomb’s Teacher Pay Commission which calls for $600M in teacher salary increases. “This $378M is in addition to the $150M for immediate help to public schools in HB1008 and that is on top of the $800M in COVID relief aid they received from the federal government,” said Rep Holli Sullivan (R-Evansville). While Republicans have embraced talking points with regard to school funding that, “We fund children, not schools,” Democrats respond, “We don’t just fund a student, we fund a community,” said Rep Carey Hamilton (D-Indianapolis). The difference is again clear. “These communities deliver so much more than any test would reflect. This budget continues the destructive trend of taking money away from our K-12 schools and from our dedicated teachers who support all of our students.”
Democrats persisted in their role of highlighting the needs of Hoosiers across the State, “I’ve been in this rodeo before about the budget,” said Representative Greg Porter (D-Marion), “We have a AAA bonding, but we don’t use it. We should utilize it. It’s cheap money.” But Republicans shot down Democrat amendments to the budget, intent on maintaining State reserves – of 11.9% this fiscal year and 11.7% in 2023. Budget hearings before Sen Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) will commence in Senate Appropriations Committee next week.
Besides the budget, broadband has been a hot topic in both chambers. There are several bills tackling broadband development opportunities and how to spend a proposed $250M dedicated to the Next Level Connections program in the House-passed budget.
First up is Rep Ed Soliday’s (R-Valparaiso) HB1449, “a very important bill” which subsidizes for 4 years 1Gig service to schools and health clinics, increases the standard minimum up/download speeds and establishes a “reverse auction” process by which individuals/entities could “raise their hand” to request service with nearby providers “bidding” on the opportunity to extend service to them with the potential for government subsidies to support the buildout as needed. That same idea is also part of Sen Andy Zay’s (R-Huntington) “Broadband 3.0” or SB377, which also adds subsidies to increase adoption from individual homeowners if the technology is “at their door,” but they can’t afford the connection.
There is also SB352, which increases transparency in the Next Level grants program, creates a “curing process” for providers to reduce overbuilding, directs dollars to where they are most needed, changes language regarding speeds to 25/3 to mirror federal standards, and provides increased access to INDOT’s broadband corridor. And, finally, SB359, which assists buildout by providing a funding mechanism for local government and adopts a “Dig Once” priority into INDOT and other road construction projects.
Each bill offers items that we believe will be ultimately helpful in improving access, esp. combined with the additional funds. We have been actively engaging in communication with the legislators working on these bills and look forward to seeing how they come together in the 2nd half of Session.
Any bill that did not pass the chamber where it was introduced is now officially “dead” and is no longer tracked. It doesn’t mean the issue is dead, as it could show up in another bill via amendment, and we’ll watch closely for that activity over the next 2 months. Here’s what happened this short, but active legislative week.
- HB1009 received genuine feel-good bipartisan support, was touted as “a hand-up legislation” and is a real boost to low-income families in Indiana through an increase in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits and allows individuals up to age 24 pursuing skills training will not be penalized for earning wages as they attempt to work themselves out of generational poverty. It is estimated the bill will put an additional $11M into the hands of low-income families, a good result for workers and employers. It passed 93-1 and goes to the Senate for consideration.
- HB1127 updates several provisions in state law regarding mental health and addiction forensic treatments. Important to SW IN, is that the bill puts into statute a “long term recovery group for Southwest Indiana fund.” No state revenues have been allocated to the fund, but that creates a possibility for the future and can also be a way to receive grants or other donations in addition to any public dollar contributions. The bill passed unanimously 92-0 and should move through the Senate in the coming weeks.
- Innovation Pointe in downtown Evansville is one of 22 Certified Tech Parks (CTP) across Indiana where incremental additional income taxes generated in the CTP are captured for reinvestment into the CTP. Originally, these CTP’s were capped at capturing a total of $5M over the lifetime of the CTP and 14 of them have reached that cap – including Innovation Pointe. Two years ago, we passed legislation to allow those CTP’s to capture an additional $100,000 in income and SB213 will allow for another $150,000 to be captured. Innovation Pointe uses these dollars to support entrepreneurs, technology needs for co-workers and startup businesses, and other upgrades to the building. The bill passed the Senate 47-2 and local Rep. Holli Sullivan will sponsor the bill in the House.
- Sen Travis Holdman (R-Markle) presented SB215 recounting a conversation he had with Governor Holcomb who said, “This is no time for Indiana to pull in their horns when it comes to economic development and competing with our neighboring states.” The bill establishes regional economic acceleration initiatives. As introduced, SB215 would have been fairly beneficial to the financing options for the redevelopment project proposed for 5th and Main. The bill was amended in Committee to be less impactful to that project, but it now includes language to establish the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI), which is one version of a new “Regional Cities” program that our region very successfully used to support several projects. We’re thrilled to see a new program start coming together in legislation again and pleased that the bill passed the Senate 45-4 and will be ushered through the House by local Rep. Holli Sullivan.
- Though it hasn’t been a significant in our region yet, many central Indiana communities have been dealing with the installation of poles/towers for new wireless technologies, often upsetting homeowners who come home to a new pole in their yard that they weren’t expecting. The “streamlining” provided in HB1164 caused concern for Rep Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) “Every word counts with the communications bills. This is the third bite at the apple for telecom. This allows telecom to bulldoze over the top of the local units of government.” A concern echoed by Rep Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis), “Its uncomfortable talking about utilities, but it is more uncomfortable to ignore the needs of my constituents. People are not happy. I think it’s really time for this to stop.” The response was unflinching by bill author Rep Ethan Manning (R-Logansport), “As a state we have said broadband is a priority. We can’t accomplish it if we have barriers at the state or local level.” HB1164 is an attempt to standardize the way these decisions are made across the state while also increasing options for shared infrastructure. The bill narrowly passed the House 54-39 and will now face the Senate.
- A somewhat controversial bill to change the rules and perhaps in the future would provide more permits for “overweight divisible loads,” HB1190, moved through the House Monday. Opponents expressed concern for safety and road maintenance. Supporters argued that the bill does not increase the number of these permits above what is currently happening right now and creates a system to determine if more can be safely issued. It passed the House 57-35.
- HB1266 intends to explore new ways to reduce K-12 education costs by allowing for the creation of regional transportation and educational building authorities that would work across school district lines to support these aspects or providing education. While the bill received bipartisan support in committee, stakeholders pushed back, citing a potential reduction in jobs if consolidation took place. This was met with frustration, “You can’t just say ‘Give us the money, we’re going to do things the way we are going to do things, which is the way we’ve always done them. We are just trying to start a conversation about efficiencies that could be realized. We aren’t forcing anyone to do anything but hoping to open up opportunities that could get more dollars to the classroom, especially teachers,” said Rep Ed Clere (R-New Albany). The bill passed the House 87-1 on Monday and goes to the Senate for consideration.
- SB373 is an attempt to establish a program for farmers and foresters to receive a financial benefit for using their lands as carbon sequestration options. Once confirmed by a state-certified verifier, the land becomes available for a business/entity to buy carbon credits to reduce their carbon footprint or gain carbon neutrality. The bill passed 33-16 and moves to the House for consideration.
- One of the last bills to pass the Senate before the mid-session deadline was SB407, which is the Senate’s version of HB1123 designed to “balance” power between the Governor and the Legislature in times of widespread disaster emergencies. It is likely that House and Senate leaders will use the remainder of the Session to negotiate differences between the two bills and also related subject matter in SB5 (Appeal of Local Health Enforcement Actions) and SB263 (Religious Activities as Essential Services), which have already passed the Senate. SB407 defines a “widespread disaster declaration” as one covering at least 10 counties. It states that such a declaration cannot extend for more than 45 days without the Legislature coming into Session for approval. It also establishes an advisory group of legislative leaders to work with the Governor and provide stronger communication between the 2 levels of government. The bill author, Sen Susan Glick (R-LaGrange) repeatedly stated that this was “not an adversarial situation. The General Assembly is the offensive line. If we lay down, the quarterback will be looking up at the stars. We want to be part of the huddle when decisions are being made. There are 150 members of the General Assembly and we have listened to our constituents. Whether we are the majority or the minority, we want to be there. We want to represent the people who sent us here.” The bill passed the Senate 38-8.
- SB143 creates an appellate process for pharmacies to negotiate with PBM’s, making the insurance commissioner the arbiter. This piece of legislation adds requirements of PBM managers when denying an appeal of the maximum allowable pricing of a prescription drug. Senator Liz Brown (R-Ft Wayne), who serves on Senate Health & Provider Services Committee, from which the bill emerged last week with her begrudging consent 12-0, spoke in strong opposition to the bill when the bill came for final reading in the Senate, citing concerns that the bill was “not looking to keep price low…. What we are doing in this bill is protecting the pharmacy.” In his closing, bill author, Sen Andy Zay (R-Huntington) conceded, “There are complex issues surrounding PBM’s. This bill advances only one small piece in this PBM transparency problem, but it is one step we should be taking to bring down healthcare costs in Indiana.” The bill passed 45-3 and moves to the House where it is sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader, Matt Lehman (R-Berne).
- Tuesday, March 9th
- Tuesday, March 16th
- Monday, April 19th
- Deadline for Senate bills to pass the House
- Tuesday, April 20th
- Deadline for House bills to pass the Senate
COVID-19 Information and Updates:
- Since last weeks’ update, the state has reported 4,798 new positive cases (658,043 total), 141 new deaths (12,039 total), 23,823 new individuals tested (3,856,992 total), and 173,958 new tests administered (7,856,992 total). There are an additional 428 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 10.0% from the beginning of testing and 4.1% for the 7-days ending on 02/17. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 21.3% since the beginning of testing and is 11.1% for the 7 days ending 02/17 (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, Posey, Warrick, and Spencer in yellow (moderate community spread) with the remaining SW IN counties moving to blue (low community spread). Again this week, none of the state’s 92 counties are in red and only 3 counties are in orange (moderate to high 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 02/17 are: Gibson 4.7%, Posey 8.3%, Vanderburgh 4.9%, Warrick 7.4%, 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 2/23, 920,930 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the vaccine and another 482,564 (nearly 7% 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.