Indiana Legislative Update: First Week = Full Week

This was the first full week of the legislative session and we’re all glad that Monday is a holiday giving us time to continue reading bills, learn more about the details, understand the importance to constituents and clients, and prep for the remaining eight week sprint.

As part of the regular work, Governor Eric Holcomb delivered his 6th State of the State address Tuesday evening opening with a quote from Winston Churchill, “A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Tonight, I will report on what we are doing for our economy, our people and our communities.” He shared plans to further Indiana’s historic growth and a path out of the pandemic. The speech highlighted Indiana’s economy, education, workforce, and development, health and wellness, community development, and good government service and celebrated the strong economy with 3% unemployment – the lowest in 21 years – and a $3.9B budget surplus at the end of fiscal year 2021. The Governor credited years of strong Republican leadership producing nine balanced budgets since 2005 (required by the state constitution) and at the same time reducing debt by 24%.

The Governor noted investments made in infrastructure and education and pointed to the focus his administration has on making progress in Hoosier health and wellness. He pointed to some grim facts about Hoosier health – Indiana ranks 46th in obesity, 46th in smoking, and 40th in childhood immunization – with a promise to double down in addressing the issues of addiction and mental health needs in our communities. The Indiana Public Health Commission will submit a report this summer with recommendations for next year’s budget to strengthen Indiana’s public health system “one person at a time.” Turning to COVID-19, he talked about the more than 19,000 Hoosiers who have been lost and thanked the 3.5M Hoosiers who are vaccinated, crediting them for being “the reason our hospital network hasn’t collapsed.” This was followed by a heartfelt plea to Hoosiers who have not been vaccinated, “I encourage – I plead – I even beg you to speak to your doctor. I say this, even if you have disagreed with every position I have taken, I just want us both to be around to continue to have those disagreements.” 

He closed with optimism, “Despite our challenges, this is a time of unprecedented Indiana growth, connections, momentum and opportunity for all Hoosiers. This is our time to build an even stronger Indiana, not just for today, but for decades to come. And that, my friends, is what we’re doing.” You can watch the 40-minute video here.

The Governor’s speech was followed Wednesday with the annual State of Judiciary address from Chief Justice Loretta Rush. She shared the mic with Justice Steven David, the longest serving member of the Supreme Court who stated, “Indiana is a national leader in problem solving courts,” and urged the audience, “Please attend a problem-solving court graduation.  You must experience it to appreciate it.  Watch the very police officer who arrested the person for drug use stand with that individual, and they hug each other in tears of triumph.”

The biggest debate on the legislative floor this week was over HB1077 – repealing the requirement to obtain a license to carry a handgun in Indiana (“Constitutional Carry”). After rejecting amendments on Monday that would have allowed prosecution of adults who fail to safely store their firearm from minors and make the dangerous discharge of a firearm without legal justification a level 6 felony due to a “lack of germaneness,” the bill was fully approved by the House on Tuesday with a 64-29 vote. Several observers pointed out that this action was 11 days after Indianapolis suffered it’s deadliest year in history with 271 homicides – a fact used to both support and oppose the change in handgun regulation.

The deadline to file bills has passed, though it is possible that not all filed bills have yet been made public. In the more than 850 bills filed by lawmakers, MANY are of interest based on our priorities, but I have not included many that I think are less likely to move in order to keep the report somewhat manageable. If/when those bills get scheduled for a Committee hearing, they will be added. Here are the highlights from the action this week:

  • After several days of deliberation in caucus, HB1001 was back on the House floor Thursday to consider the 29 amendments filed. Thankfully, only a handful were called down for consideration and only two were adopted. As you recall, HB 1001 is designed to protect ~$369M in federal funds related to the pandemic by putting language in statute that has only existed in the Governor’s emergency orders. The bill also applies several regulations to any employers that require COVID-19 vaccination for their employees. One successful amendment removed the penalties proposed for employers through the Unemployment Insurance program and the other prohibited any “bid specifications, agreements or contracts…that would eliminate employee rights to decline immunizations.” The bill faces a final vote on the House floor next week and then an uncertain future in the Indiana Senate esp. considering the Supreme Court ruling limiting the federal government’s ability to require vaccinations outside of the healthcare system.
  • HB1002 is a significant revision to Indiana’s tax system designed to “decrease that which is being taken, being taxed and give Hoosiers back more money,” said Rep Dan Leonard (R-Huntington). The bill has 7 major points: phase down the income tax from 3.23% to 3.0% by 2026; repeal the utility receipts tax and utility service tax; eliminate the 30% minimum floor tax on business personal property; create a state income tax credit for business personal property tax; make the Indiana standard of a double direct sales tax exemption a single direct tax; simplify the eligibility process for taxpayers to qualify for an automatic taxpayer refund; and repeal a provision in the most recent budget transferring any excess reserves above 42.5 billion to the pre-1996 Teachers Retiring Fund. Several business organizations spoke in support of the bill with Bill Waltz from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce saying, “I am not going to curb my enthusiasm on this bill…these are all subjects that are really known to be out-of-whack. These are not always deciding factors on a business locating in Indiana, but they are check marks on the wrong side of the ledger.” Local government leaders have expressed concern about the impact on local budgets and potential shifts to other property taxpayers. Those debates will continue over the next few weeks as the bill passed out of Ways and Means Committee 15-7.
  • An amended HB1034 means the bill provides that a lien resulting from an agreement between a commission and taxpayer in place prior to a TIF being authorized takes priority over any existing or subsequent mortgage, other lien, or other encumbrance on the property. It passed Committee unanimously and moves to the full House
  • Legislators are attempting to “put individuals on equal footing” with administrative agencies via HB1063, a bill that requires De Novo (“start anew”) judicial review of agency actions. Observers recognize there are as many pros as there are concerns to the bill and will continue to work through those after the bill passed out of House Judiciary Committee 10-0 this week.
  • An amended HB1094 emerged from House Education Committee 11-2 on Monday and passed the full House on Thursday with a unanimous 88-0 vote. Overall, the bill hopes to address employer hesitancy to participate in youth apprenticeships by reducing potential liability through agreements with the IN Dept. Of Education and a 3rd party to take on the liability, insurance, etc. The bill also defines “youth apprenticeship program” as a vehicle for the state to consider different levels of funding for different types of insurance in future years.  
  • After a 2nd hearing and an amendment, HB1100 has passed out of committee 9-2. The bill adds emergency authorizations issued by the Governor to other Administrative Agency authorizations that are limited to 180 days at maximum length. While some believe this is what is currently being considered by the IN Supreme Court in the lawsuit between the Governor and the Legislature, the Legislature would like to establish this limitation. The bill also changes the requirements for other agency rulemaking. The House will consider the bill next week.  
  • HB1134 is one of several bills introduced with a goal of increasing transparency in K-12 schools. The original bill mirrored language in SB167, which received national attention (including on the “Late Show” with Stephen Colbert) after controversial remarks made my Sen Scott Baldwin (R-Fishers) in Senate Education Committee last week. SB167 has been withdrawn from further consideration, and HB1134 will now be the bill for this language going forward. House Education Committee members listened to more than five hours of testimony on HB 1134 over two committee hearings from parents – some seeking more input and some with concerns about the limits the bill will place on curriculum – and teachers – mostly concerned about increased burden and a potential for “censorship” – and a host of lobbyists representing all sides of the issue. The bill passed out of committee on a 9-4 party-line vote and will be considered by the full House next week.
  • The House Employment, Labor & Pensions Committee heard HB1153, which will increase worker’s compensation benefits for all injuries (short and long term) by 2% per year for 4 years. The bill also includes ambulatory surgery centers in the service costs that are capped at no greater than 200% of the Medicare payment. Legislators from both parties agreed that an increase in benefits is overdue and are still working on whether 2% is the right increase amount. The bill will be held until next week to continue those discussions.  
  • Rep J.D. Prescott (R-Union City) drew the ire of House Elections Committee members with his presentation of HB1182 requiring school board candidates to designate their political affiliation when filing for school board positions, “we need to be transparent where our school board members stand on partisan viewpoints and where they stand. This gives information to the voters what kind of moral character or beliefs those candidates have as a whole.” More than 20 speakers – all opposed to the bill – shared their concerns with legislators expressing concern that the requirement would turn some away from running for office and would bring more partisan divide and pressures of political affiliation to school boards. The bill was held in committee for further discussion.
  • As the state continues to set records for revenue, Hoosier taxpayers are set to receive more than $500M in refunds due to the last fiscal year ending with greater than a 12% surplus in state rainy day funds. SB1 makes the tax refunds available to even more Hoosiers by removing the provision that a taxpayer must have adjusted gross income tax liability to qualify for an “automatic taxpayer refund.” Each Hoosier filing a tax return for 2021 will automatically receive a refund of ~$125 in May of this year. The bill passed 13-0 and will be considered by the full Senate next week.  
  • Senate Health Committee heard SB3 Wednesday morning. This is the “clean” bill that would put codify several of the actions authorized by the Governor’s Emergency Orders re: Medicare payments, SNAP benefits, vaccine distribution to those under age 11, and medical licensing without the language in HB1001 that increases the cost and administrative burdens on employers that may have vaccination requirements. Sally Rideout spoke on behalf of EREP and several other Chambers of Commerce in committee to support the bill and thank the Senate for moving this bill forward. The bill passed 10-0 with all Committee members asking to become Co-Authors of the bill.
  • Senate Health & Provider Services took testimony on two bills this week designed to increase the opportunities for healthcare providers from outside of Indiana to practice in Indiana more quickly. SB5 would create reciprocity processes for many healthcare providers – not just physicians, nurses, PTs, etc., but many. The bill also clarifies what a provisional license is. SB251 will add Indiana to the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact to enable physicians to move within states in the compact. Both bills passed 10-0 and move to the full Senate.  
  • SB13 establishes the select commission on passenger rail commission under INDOT to focus on how federal dollars are allocated, provide expertise to lawmakers, and advocate for the consideration or passenger rail in Indiana. With $200B in federal funding available for passenger rail in the next 7 years, the Commission would hope to make Indiana “shovel ready” for that funding when the timing is right. The bill passed committee 5-3 with the opposing senators expressing concerns about creating bureaucracies to lobby for continued funding.   
  • SB74 changes several definitions when the state is considering “preferences” in public works and purchasing. New definitions include a “small business” is any business with less than 100 employees and less than $4M in annual sales and that a “manufacturing company” is one who processes raw materials into a finished good. The bill further requires that state agencies track and report preferences given and report this data regarding the cost of business preferences to the state budget agency. The bill received bipartisan support and passed 9-0. 
  • SB147 adds underground pumped storage hydropower to the current list of 21 clean energy resources in Indiana putting the technology on the same footing as wind, solar, etc. The bill includes the use of abandoned coal mines, quarries, or other suitable sites, which is “very exciting” for those on the energy policy development task force as a positive use for the decommissioned coal mines in the state. When asked if “PSH actually more reliable than wind and solar,” by Sen Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), Peter Schubert, expert from Richard Lugar Center for Renewable Energy replied, “Absolutely.”  The bill passed 9-0. 
  • Senate Tax & Fiscal Committee considered SB150 and SB378 this week. Both bills are designed to reduce business personal property taxes. SB150 increases the acquisition cost for Business Personal Property (BPP) tax exemption from $80,000 to $250,000. SB 378 does this in addition to providing a tax holiday for BPP placed into service in 2023 and would reduce the BPP depreciation floor from the current 30% to 25% over a 2-year period. While both bills provide some immediate relief to small businesses, there was significant concern expressed by legislators and others regarding the cost shift to homeowners and other businesses and reduction of funds to local governments and schools. Both bills were held for further discussion and potential amendment.  
  • SB157 deals primarily with the disposition of low-value remnant real estate from INDOT. Important to SW IN, the bill also extends the sunset date for Public Private Partnership (P3) authorizations from June 30, 2023, to June 30, 2031. Bridgelink expressed support for this section of the bill as “critical to the project” as it ensures that large construction projects (often done via P3) can continue without fear of sunset in 2 years and allows tolling to be considered on the future I-69 Ohio River bridge. The bill passed 6-1 out of committee with Sen Erin Houchin (R-Salem) voting no, pending the answer to a question about the potential for INDOT to apply tolls to new lanes of I-65.   
  • SB184 is a simple bill that removes the requirement that a school corporation affected by a residential TIF project must approve the project before it moves forward. Bill author, Sen. Holdman noted the immense need for increased housing in the state and pointed to this as a small barrier that could be eliminated. The bill passed Committee on Wednesday with a 7-2 vote.  
  • Senator Walker presented SB245 in Appropriations Committee Thursday morning. The bill will establish the framework for a statewide “bid fund” to support sports and tourism events. Currently, private fundraising is the main source of funding for these events, but we are losing some events to other states that have publicly funded sources to alleviate the costs of organizing these events. At least 25% of the funds would be used outside of Marion Co/Indianapolis and the Evansville Sports Corp has expressed support for the bill. There is no funding included in the bill but establishes the framework to be ready for funding in next year’s budget session. The Committee held the bill to consider again next week along with an amendment.  
  • SB272 is a product of the wastewater taskforce established last year. Calling the bill a “very holistic blueprint to deal with wastewater and drinking water in our state” by Sen Eric Koch (R-Bedford), it provides new conditions for funding to include submission of an asset management plan and life cycle costs and creates a wastewater extension program at Purdue where Hoosiers can go for assistance with their asset management plans, address workforce shortages in the wastewater industry, and provides greater transparency and public accountability.  Stakeholders unanimously supported the bill, with Koch giving a shout out to Citizen’s Action Coalition, “I appreciate the occasions we find common ground together and this is one of them.”  The bill passed out of Senate Utilities 10-0.   

COVID UPDATE

  • Indiana continued to set records this week in the number of cases and the 7-day positivity rate. Unfortunately, we added the number of COVID patients in the hospital to the list on Wednesday when more than 3,488 Hoosiers were hospitalized (previous high was 13 months prior on 12/3/2020). The number of available ICU beds across the state continues to hover around 200 total.
  • Statewide, 56.2% of Hoosiers aged 5+ are fully vaccinated (2 or more doses of Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J). The 4-county SW IN region has 166,955 (58.4%) out of 285,818 residents aged 5+ fully vaccinated (reduction of vaccinated total by 378 as some vaccinated in the region were determined to live in other counties). 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 1,410,021 positive cases of COVID-19; 31,179 of these are “reinfections since 9/1/21.”
  • Only 11 of Indiana’s 92 counties are rated orange (approaching high risk spread with 10% or greater positivity rate & 100-199 new cases/100,000 residents); all others are red (high risk spread with 15% or greater positivity rate & 100 or more new cases/100,000 residents). The nearest county not rated red is Jefferson County (across the river from Louisville).
  • The 7-day positivity rate as of 1/6 (lags by 7 days to include late-arriving test results) for all test results is 28.7% and the 7-day rate for unique individuals tested is 42.3%. SW IN Positivity rates are: Gibson 31.6%, Posey 30.8%, Vanderburgh 28.8% and Warrick 32.3%.
  • The state reported 75 new deaths on Thursday 1/13 (59 from the previous 3 days). At this time 19,393 Hoosiers have died from COVID – more than the total population of nearby Spencer County. If you include presumptive deaths (clinically diagnosed as COVID by a physician, but no COVID-19 positive test), the total is 20,123.

IMPORTANT DATES (all times Eastern):

* Committee hearings can be scheduled with less than 24-hours notice, so this schedule changes quickly