The Indiana General Assembly is fully into the “2nd half” of the 2022 legislative session as the House considers Senate bills while the Senate considers House bills. At the midway point, 265 of the introduced 584 House and Senate bills filed will continue their arduous journey toward final passage. There’s a lot of work left to do in the second half of session for the top priorities of both chambers, and it appears several hot-button topics are heating up.
A backdrop for the entire session is Indiana’s record-setting $5 billion in reserves encouraging the House to pass the largest tax cut in our state’s history. An action normally unheard of outside of a budget year. House Bill 1002 would deliver direct relief by reducing the individual income tax from 3.23 to 3% (a rate not seen since 1986), eliminating a tax on Hoosiers’ utility bills called the Utility Receipts Tax, and lowering Indiana’s business personal property taxes. But Senate Republicans and Democrats alike are questioning the House tax cuts. Less than four weeks remain for legislators to reconcile their differences on a final plan. HB1002 bill author, the retiring House Ways and Means Chair Tim “Doc” Brown (R-Crawfordsville), was one of retiring several lawmakers honored this week in Joint Resolutions. Responding to his colleagues who shared their fond memories of serving with him, Rep Brown shared, “September 12, 2018, was a changing day in my life [he survived a horrific motorcycle crash]. I want to thank everyone who prayed for my health and recovery. I want to thank you for making a miracle happen,” he said. “The State of Indiana has changed a lot during my time here. And I have hope that you will lead Indiana to greater things in the future.”
The 2nd half always starts slowly and this was no exception. However, it didn’t take long to heat up when the Senate Education Committee took up HB1041 on Wednesday. Some refer to the bill that would ban transgender girls from participating in high school sports as Indiana’s RFRA 2.0. Committee Chair Sen Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond) laid down rules at the beginning of the hearing after last month’s rather raucous House hearing on the bill that would ban transgender girls from participating in high school sports, initially announcing “no recording” (2+ hours he changed the decision after being warned it was a potential violation of Indiana’s Open Door laws) and mentioning the plain clothes officers present. “We are all passionate about children. They are a gift to us all,” began Sen Stacey Donato (R-Logansport), Senate sponsor for the bill, “If you testify, thank you in advance for your passionate remarks. Make no mistake, we are all passionate about the safety and wellbeing of our children…Please speak with respect, humility and dignity.”
Nearly 3 hours of testimony began with the Indiana Academy of Pediatrics opposing the. Later, the Attorney General’s office spoke in support, doubling down in fact, advocating that college athletics be amended back into the bill asserting that it is consistent with Title IX and federal law, “Prior to Title IX only 1 in 27 girls were involved in sports. Now nearly half participate,” said Corrin Young, a policy director for the AG’s office, who was peppered with questions, “What about our daughters who are trans girls?” asked Sen Fady Qaddoura. Young maintained her ground simply stating, “I am advocating for equal rights for women.” An ACLU advocate followed up, claiming the bill jeopardizes the mental health of transgender athletes, and calling the bill “a solution in search of a problem” citing IHSAA’s lone report of a transgender athlete asking to play girls’ sports in Indiana – resolved by the school district – and promising, “The ACLU will fight this bill every step of the way.” Listeners were cautioned by a rabbi, “’Never again’ means not just never again for the Jewish people. It means never again for any race or color, age or gender, sex or religious practice.” The hearing that looked as if it could end with a bang, closed with sincere thanks to the crowd, which was the best result anyone could have hoped for as a hot topic was discussed respectfully and without incident.
These bills have less than 2 weeks to move through committee (before February 24th) and then pass the full House or Senate before March 1st. Here are the highlights from the action this week (bills are listed as they are in the Report: numerically in order of High, Medium, Low priority):
- HB1094 is “an important building block bill to encourage students to participate in work-based learning,” said Rep Jake Teshka (R-South Bend). The first part of the bill attempts to address employer hesitancy regarding liability insurance costs for hiring someone enrolled in a CTE program. The second part defines a youth apprenticeship. Stakeholders spoke in support, calling work-based learning “essential to both education and the future of our economy.” The bill was held for further consideration next week.
- HB1003 allows nursing programs to make significant changes that resulted in vigorous debate in Senate Health committee Wednesday. It allows two-year nursing programs to substitute clinical hours with simulation hours and have as few as zero fulltime faculty, something stakeholders insist “jeopardizes the integrity of nursing in Indiana.” Currently the state limits how quickly programs may increase enrollment – and those limitations will be relaxed for programs producing high pass rates. Chairman Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso) repeatedly maintained the changes are optional and programs may continue their current practices, however, programs such as Ivy Tech are free to take advantage of the new measures which reduce the requirement of full-time faculty from 51% to 0. Stakeholders voiced concerns regarding the competency of nursing students who obtained their clinical experience through simulation, “Simulation was to be a tool. It can never replace clinical hours. It is not the same as a human being. Students need to see, smell, and hear everything – which they cannot with simulation,” said Carol Poag, a USI doctorate nurse, “Nursing is a profession, not a trade school. Please do not devalue my profession by lowering your standards.” In the end, committee members voiced their concerns, but in light of the current nursing shortage, conceded their votes 10-0.
- Rep Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) began, “This is an iterative bill. What we are trying to do is respond to the IURC with policy regarding electric vehicles. Rather than hunt ducks in the dark, let’s do what we know we can do and come back next year,” said Rep Soliday. What was sold as merely a “belt and suspenders” amendment to HB1221 was passed by consent in Senate Utilities today, and passed out of Committee 12-0 despite some stakeholders expressing concern, “Why are we expanding monopoly reach into pricing of EV charging? We should be inviting price competition to drive down cost to consumers,” said Kerwin Olson of Citizens Action Coalition. The other issue of contention was the restriction on businesses that want to have a charging station for electric vehicles not being permitted to supply electricity themselves but are required to “honor the footprint of the utility that services your area.” The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
- HB1242 is “a transparency bill that looks at what information needs to be collected for the State of Indiana to be more responsible with taxpayer dollars. The State has been paying higher costs for products,” reported Rep Doug Miller (R-Elkhart). “IDOA says they don’t have systems in place to get the data we need to make decisions. We will work with them to start tracking information so we can make better decisions on how they spend the people’s money.” The Committee also heard from Bosma Enterprises about nonprofits who experienced increased costs related to their affiliation with the Ability Indiana Program to drop from the defunct program. “It makes sense to give entities in the pilot program a way out,” said Miller. Senate Commerce Chairman Sen Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg) was incredulous, “We pass pilot programs to see if they will work and you are saying that it did not. A state entity that created medical gloves during high demand saw their sales go down and you believe that it was due to this pilot program?” The bill was held, with the Chair encouraging the resolution of this issue without legislation.
- The House Ways & Means Committee passed SB1 with a 22-0 vote this week. The bill removes a provision that requires taxpayers to have adjusted gross income tax liability to qualify for an automatic taxpayer refund planned for this spring. The bill leverages more than $500M in excess rainy-day funds from the last fiscal year to provide $125 checks to Hoosiers across the state.
- SB2, the pandemic-related virtual instruction and tuition support bill, was amended in Committee this week to include language from HB1252 that will provide students who are not proficient on ILEARN a grant for tutoring. Rep Behning explained that the grant was to the parent, not the school. The pilot program intends to target 3rd graders who have failed IREAD 3. Various stakeholders testified in support of the bill including the ISTA, Indiana School Boards Association, Indiana Coalition for Public Education and American Federation of Teachers. While concerns were voiced as to additional guardrails being added to ensure proper use of funds, the bill passed out of committee 12-1. The bill was then reassigned to Ways and Means.
- SB5 provides for reciprocity for healthcare workers in Indiana and was amended to include the six professions that were already in Indiana code for reciprocity. The bill requires IPL to make decisions within 30 days, so the six professions would be included. Similarly, provisional licensing for out of state applicants must be decided by the agency within 365 days so there is not a “cliff” at the end of their one-year provisional license. The issue of a “bottleneck” in the behavioral health providers space was addressed and outdated requirements were streamlined to facility the process to get practitioners into the state, “PLA is taking a long time in some of these cases. Besides providing for public health there is drain brain. This helps people come to our state and start working immediately,” said Sen Liz Brown (R-Ft Wayne). The bill passed 12-0
- SB119 deals with the taxation and abatement of farm property. “The cost of land and equipment have led to farming being very expensive,” said Sen Niemeyer R-Lowell), “Family farms are almost becoming nonexistent. We have to look at farming differently now because we have a lot of corporations buying up farmland. They deserve the same advantages of the manufacturing out there.” The bill emerged from Ways and Means Committee primarily along party lines with notable exception by Rep Dan Leonard (R-Huntington), “From a tax standpoint, I think this is a bad policy. I apologize for voting against the chair.” The bill passed out of committee 18-5.
- Sen Eric Koch (R-Bedford) introduced SB147, the bill which recognizes underground pumped storage hydropower as a new clean energy resource in Indiana and allowed Dr. Peter Schubert, Executive Director for the IUPUI-Lugar Center for Renewable Energy, to provide exhaustive testimony regarding the technology he believes represents a $100B market in the United States. Stakeholders praised the bill which is thought to “invite economic investment in coal country.” SB147 passed out of Utilities Committee 10-0, and it will be considered by the full House next week.
- SB157 allows small parcels of property to be disposed of after they are no longer needed by INDOT and extends INDOT’s ability to enter into P3 projects. The P3 statute is not changing other than extending the sunset date for P3 authorization to June 30, 2031. Concern was voiced by Rep Shane Lindauer (R-Jasper) regarding the impact of public comment on P3 projects and whether portions of an INDOT project could be changed in response to public comment. “P3 projects require public comment,” responded Rep Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso), “so this is a big statute.” Stakeholders from INDOT and I-69 Bridgelink both spoke in support of the bill. SB157 received unanimous support, passing 10-0.
- SB166 initially allowed governmental bodies in six counties with populations of 199,000 or more to enter public-private partnerships for certain transportation or infrastructure projects. The projects will be exempt from property taxes and local agencies would be permitted to leverage capital and investments. The bill is seen to be “critical to economic recovery in Indiana.” Discussion ensued over the population limitations in the bill and ultimately a Chairman’s amendment was passed removing all population parameters. The bill passed 11-0 out of House Roads and Transportation and was referred to Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.
- Stakeholders were united in their support for the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, SB251, which enables physicians to do business more easily within the states in the compact, “We are 2,000 physicians short. Every profession is short of providers,” said Sen Liz Brown (R-Ft Wayne). The bill joins 30 other states participating in the interstate medical licensure compact, “We are a hair late to the party,” said Rep Brad Barrett (R-Richmond). The bill passed 12-0.
- “SB264 is a deep dive into the internal rulemaking processes,” said Sen Chris Garten (R-Charlestown). A review conducted by an administrative rules review task force will take place and report provided to the Director of LSA by December 1. The task force will then be dismissed by December 31. Stakeholders spoke in support of the bill hopeful that the review will “cut down on red tape” and the task force will “take a look at the fees and fines” imposed on small businesses. The bill was held for further consideration.
- SB272 was heard in House Utilities this week. The bill, a result of the wastewater task force, is deemed by stakeholders to be “thoughtful and work product of collaboration.” It is distilled into 5 pillars: asset management, appropriate rates, regional collaboration, workforce training and technical support and oversight. The bill was held until the next meeting due to a proposed 10-page amendment from a committee member out due to a death in the family.
- “SB361 gives the IEDC more options to attract larger companies with higher wage positions,” said Sen Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen). The bill, which includes a remote worker grant program, and is said to be a “work in progress, but necessary to compete with other states,” said Mishler. EREP spoke in support of the bill and in Committee with some concerns and ideas for improvement. Committee members asked a lot of questions and indicated plans for several changes before the bill might ultimately pass out of committee.
- Sen Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) introduced the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact bill, SB365, to the House Public Health Committee on Wednesday to add Indiana to the psychology interjurisdictional compact allowing greater cross-state practicing for psychologists and the use of tele-medicine. The psychology compact has prevailed in the past in committee, only to die in Ways and Means. Once again, the bill passed in committee unanimously 12-0.
- SB366 is a product of the recommendations of the 2021 Interim Study Committee on Fiscal Policy’s Higher Education Operating Funding Working Group. The bill codifies many of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education existing practices, but most importantly directly engages the legislature in higher education funding but requiring Budget Committee review of requests processes at various stages. The Ways & Means Committee passed the bill 20-0 sending it to the House for consideration.
- SB382 is a comprehensive update bill for the Dept. Of Revenue. One controversial portion of the bill is a reduction in the closed cartridge vaping systems taxes that were just established last year. Retailers argued in committee that the rate needed to be reduced to be competitive with surrounding states while health advocates noted that the tax was set to discourage people, esp. teens, from starting the habit. Ways & Means Committee held the bill for more consideration and potential amendment in a future meeting.
- COVID rates continue to drop dramatically in Indiana (down 60% from last week) with observers expecting cases to drop to pre-Delta wave levels by the end of February and we’re finally starting to see those same trends in Southwest Indiana as we have lagged behind the statewide growth and reductions. We still, though, have some of the highest positivity rates in the state (all over 24%) and even these dropping numbers still quite high compared to what we felt were “good” numbers in the summer of 2021.
- Statewide hospitalizations continue to fall finally below 2000 for the first time since November 27th. Fewer than 400 Hoosiers are in the ICU with COVID and the state now has more than 300 open ICU beds.
- Statewide, 56.3% of Hoosiers aged 5+ are fully vaccinated (2 or more doses of Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J). The 4-county SW IN region has 169,267 (59.2%) 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 1,664,353 positive cases of COVID-19; 63,390 of these are “reinfections since 9/1/21.”
- Only 4 of Indiana’s 92 counties have moved to the orange rating (moderately high spread) with the other 88 remaining rated red (high risk spread with 15% or greater positivity rate & 100 or more new cases/100,000 residents).
- The 7-day positivity rate as of 1/26 (lags by 7 days to include late-arriving test results) for all test results is 18.3% (down from 27.3% last Friday) and the 7-day rate for unique individuals tested is 3.2%. SW IN Positivity rates are: Gibson 31,1%, Posey 24.9%, Vanderburgh 24.2% and Warrick 28.6%.
- The state reported 108 new deaths on Friday 2/12 (half from the last week). At this time 21,299 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 22,147.
IMPORTANT DATES (all times Eastern):
- Monday, February 14
- Senate Family and Children Services
- HB1318 Child Care Provided by a School Corporation (Snow, C)
- Senate Agriculture and Rural Development
- SB388 Foreign Business Ownership of Agricultural Land (Messmer, M)
- Senate Family and Children Services
- Tuesday, February 15 – IN Chamber of Commerce Annual “Chamber Day”
- Wednesday, February 16
- Senate Pensions and Labor
- HB1153 Worker’s Compensation (Lehman, M)
- Senate Health & Provider Services
- HB1001 Administrative Authority; COVID-10 Immunizations
- Senate Pensions and Labor
- Tuesday, February 22 – Deadline for Senate bills to pass out of House Committee
- Thursday, February 24 – Deadline for House bills to pass out of Senate Committee
* Committee hearings can be scheduled with less than 24-hours notice, so this schedule changes quickly