Indiana Legislative Update Fresh Start, Fast Pace

The 2020 Indiana legislative session started out with a bang, with Committee hearings on the first day of session. While some of it is absolutely predictable, this time of year can get chaotic. Governor Holcomb is quoted as saying, “It reminds me of the line in Animal House where they say, ‘Every Halloween the trees are littered with underwear, and every spring the toilets explode.” January brings legislators and lobbyists – and citizens – to the Statehouse, and what happens next is anyone’s guess.

The Indiana House and Senate convened Monday afternoon in Indianapolis to begin a session, which must end by March 14th, but is likely to end around March 10th. As predicted, a lot of bills have been filed on some timely key issues such as health care costs and education. Lawmakers return seven weeks after several thousand teachers attended a Statehouse rally, which closed nearly half of Indiana schools, calling for better pay and more respect from the Republican-dominated legislature.

The deadline to file bills has now passed; however, it will be the middle of next week before all of those bills are available for review by the public. Your bill track may continue to grow a bit next week. A few of the highlights from bills on your track that moved this week:
• HB1006, a bill to toughen retailer penalties regarding the sale of tobacco products, passed out of the Public Health Committee 12-1. The bill boosts fines against retailers for violating retail rules over the sale of tobacco products. Indiana ranks 3rd in the nation in usage of e-cigarettes, with a 287% increase since 2010. Statewide polls show 2/3 of Hoosiers support raising the smoking age to 21. Numerous physicians, agencies and associations provided testimony in unified support of the bill, calling the legislation “vital.” There was, however, debate over enforcement language in the bill. Nick Torres, from the American Lung Association, stated “Meaningful enforcement to hold tobacco retailers accountable for their underage sales sends a strong message that Indiana intends to keep tobacco away from kids.” He notes that 90% of kids in Indiana report it is “somewhat or very easy” to obtain tobacco products. Danielle Patterson, from the American Heart Association, however, supports the removal of penalties for youth, suggesting “Punishing kids with big tickets doesn’t reduce tobacco use, and can make it more attractive to teenagers. This also disproportionately falls on black and Hispanic youth, and unevenly punishes kids who are addicted to tobacco.”
• Senate Commerce & Technology Committee heard SB78. For years, the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) has administered the Shovel Ready Site Development program for the IN Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). SB78 formalizes and continues that agreement and creates a formal “Office” within OCRA to do the work.
• HB1007 is the bill GOP leaders are using to pay cash for several capital projects on Indiana higher ed campuses instead of issuing bonds to build them as was approved in the budget bill passed in 2019. Higher-than-anticipated receipts have created a larger surplus, which will be used to pay for the projects and is argued as a way to save money for the state down the road. The bill also addresses some budget items related to new sports wagering tax receipts. The spending portion of the bill, though, creates an opportunity for Democrat legislators to request multiple amendments that would propose to spend the budget surplus on other projects. For example, one amendment would have directed $291 million toward one-time teacher pay bonuses. As Democrats have questioned the chosen use of the funds and the speed that the bill is moving (it will be ready for passage by the full House next week before going to the Senate for consideration), Zach Jackson, the Governor’s budget director, battled back stating, “What would a Hoosier do with a windfall? Pay off their credit card balance or spend it? And then continue to spending that interest year after year? Most people would pay off their debt.”
• HB1027, a bill to abolish the office of township assessor effective January1, 2023, passed out of Committee this week with a vote of 7 to 5 (two Republicans voted against it). Efforts to eliminate offices have proven difficult to pass, so it will be interesting to watch this bill as it moves forward.

Important Dates:
• Tuesday, Jan 14th
o Senate Homeland Security and Transportation
 SB61 EMS Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact
o House Financial Institutions
 HB1049 Business Associations
• Wednesday, January 15th
o House Education
 HB1153 Governor’s Workforce Cabinet
o House Insurance
 HB1004 Out of Network Billing for Healthcare Services
• Wednesday, February 12th: SW IN Chamber Day at the Statehouse
** Committee Hearings can be called with just a one-day notice, so schedules change very quickly