Indiana Legislative Update – Longer Session Days Mean The End Is Near

The House and Senate worked into the evening early this week as we saw the deadline for bills to pass the 2nd house on Tuesday. The Senate spent 3+ hours debating amendments and their final version of the HB1001, the budget bill, before passing it on nearly party lines. It is anticipated that next Wednesday, April 21 will be the last day of Session, so the days between now and then will be for Concurrence Motions on changes made in the 2nd house and for Conference Committees to work through differences in bills. Legislators will also be fighting to revive language from bills that have already died in bills still alive.

News broke Tuesday morning that the mega covid vaccination clinic at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, will not be administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to FDA and CDC investigations of side effects with clots. Indiana has administered 125,650 doses of the one-dose shot. By comparison, 3,278,300 doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been dispensed in Indiana. Last week European regulators put a hold on the vaccine due to clots that seem to occur in younger people. Officials still assure the U.S. public the benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risks for most individuals. 

On Monday, Southwest Indiana lawmaker Sen Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) presented Senate Resolution #39 supporting the Second Amendment in response to recent executive orders regarding the right to keep and bear arms from President Biden.  The resolution comes on the heels of HB1369, the “lawful carry” bill which would have repealed the requirement to obtain a license to carry a gun, co-authored by 21 Senators, dying in Senate Committee last week.  Sen Tomes rallied his colleagues, “A storm is coming our way,” and recited a quote by the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Jay, “Every member of the state ought to diligently study and read the constitution of his country.  By knowing their rights, they will sooner perceive when they are violated and be the better prepared to defend and assert them.”  The resolution caused concern for some, with Sen Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) calling the resolution “not only wrong, but dangerous.”  Senator Tomes replied, “I obey the Constitution.  Not the laws, the Constitution.  That is where I hold firm.”  The resolution passed in the Senate 40-10. 

There are 45 bills that have reached the Governor’s Desk. He has not signed any additional bills we are watching for you in the past week. One of the bills we have been tracking for you is HB1381, Commercial Wind and Solar Standards and Siting, which died this week after Sen Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) presented the bill for final reading saying, “HB1381 is an attempt to try to get uniform citing standards adopted in the state. It was like working a hostage negotiation with a schizophrenic person…where you give them everything they want and ask for, and they shoot the person at the end of the ordeal anyway. There’s nothing to be afraid of in this bill.  To everyone who opposed the bill, who said wait and bring something back better next year, I challenge anyone to do it and I doubt it will happen. I withdraw the call.” This killed the bill and likely means that even the subject matter will not likely find a home in another bill.

As for the bills that are still alive and had significant action this week:

  • “Indiana is beginning to recognize our need to begin to make changes addressing our healthcare and specifically the disparities in health in Indiana.  I am excited to see Indiana begin to make an investment in our healthcare – and with that sustained commitment, see our ranking in the nation increase.”  Rep Ann Vermilion’s (R-Marion) HB1007, the State Health Improvement Plan and Grant Program, which appropriates $50M in funding from the state budget, passed third reading 46-2.
  • HB1009 provides that beginning January 1, 2022, for the purposes of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, incomes earned by individuals in the household participating in or pursuing a post-secondary degree, workforce certificate, or apprenticeship may not disqualify the household from receiving benefits.  The bill received bipartisan support and passed 49-0. 
  • HB1449, a comprehensive broadband bill, moves to the Governor’s office, after the House concurred with the Senate amendments on Monday with a vote of 92-2. The bill makes some changes to the Next Level Broadband grant program including prioritizing funding for K-12 students and healthcare clinics. It also establishes a “reverse auction” program for those without broadband access to seek state support in getting a provider to serve them and also use grant dollars to offset the cost of the service. The bill sets grant maximums, puts guardrails around grant opportunities, and establishes deadlines designed to push quicker decisions and actions.
  • Sen Erin Houchin called SB352 for Concurrence Motion vote in the Senate, “There are some minor changes to our Next Generation grant program so dollars are going first where they need them most, and provides clarity on access to the broadband corridor for INDOT and our broadband providers.” The legislation creates a “dig once” program and hopes to bring relief to those without access to affordable high-speed internet across the state.  The Motion to Concur passed 49-0.
  • Another significant broadband bill, SB377, passed the House on Monday 89-2. The bills work together to provide comprehensive update to the Next Level Broadband grants program – It is hoped that the programmatic changes along with increased federal and state funding will increase the speed of broadband deployment through the region and increase the number of SW IN Hoosiers with access.
  • The much-criticized Overweight Truck Permits bill by Rep Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Hills), HB1190, was heard Tuesday, with the Senate’s oldest member, Sen Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond) weighing in, “We are about to spend millions of dollars on our roads and bridges, and then we are going to put bigger trucks on them to damage the roads. I am asking you to use common sense. The bigger they are, the harder they are to control.  I am asking you to vote against this bill.”  Sen Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) also opposed the bill, “Jim, I’m with going with you on this one.” (referring to Sen Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) a former teamster, and 33-year trucking veteran), “I’m not trying to fight against the good folks who want this bill passed. I’m just telling you; things do happen. There are failures and now you’re dealing with 40,000 more pounds.”  A fellow teamster, Sen Michael Bohacek (R-Michigan City), grew combative and sharply interrogated Sen Tomes, and then quickly turned his attention on Sen Taylor.  After several uncomfortable moments, with a deftly conciliatory pivot, Sen Taylor broke the tension, “I will have to defer to your expertise.  I don’t know how to drive a big, big truck, but I do have an F-150 out there in the parking lot.”  The bill passed 30-19 and the House has filed a Motion to Dissent.
  • The 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force that started its work in 2019 will continue for another two years after the reauthorization approved in HB1220. The House voted to Concur with the Senate amendments Monday with a vote of 55-24. The newest version of the Task Force differs from the original with fewer legislative members appointed by the minority party, which is what led to most of the votes against the Concurrence Motion. In addition to legislators, the Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor/Designee, the IN Public Finance Director/Designee, and three appointees from the governor each with specified experience with respect to energy. Assuming the Governor signs the bill into law, the Task Force will begin meeting again this summer in the Interim.
  • Sen Michael Crider (R-Greenfield) presented HB1225, the Opioid Treatment Program bill for final reading in the Senate, “You may hear this extension of a week goes too far.  I do try to depend on the information from the folks that work in these areas on a routine basis.  This is a tool that they feel is valuable to them, so this bill provides that opportunity.”  The bill passed 31-17. The bill was not amended in the Senate, so it will go to the Governor’s office next.
  • Sen Stacey Donato (R-Logansport) presented Rep Ed Clere’s (R-New Albany) School Efficiency Bill, “Today I bring you HB1266 which would create a reporting structure that would allow us to take a look at how schools operate and see where and how money can be better used.”  The bill passed 32-17.
  • HB1348 presented by Sen Buchanan sets a uniform assessment approach for solar farms. It empowers local govt to use an income capitalization method and allows a June 30 grandfather date and sets a 2% cap for a property tax assessment.  The bill passed 41-7. Rep. Soliday has filed a motion to dissent from the changes made in the Senate.
  • HB1396 is a comprehensive alcohol policy update bill that addresses everything from the type of container alcohol can be sold in to creating new destination entertainment opportunities to designating a “grab and go” opportunity in Banker’s Life Stadium to providing continued opportunities for “carry out” services that started during the pandemic. The bill passed the Senate 42-5 and a Dissent Motion has been filed to send the bill to Conference Committee.
  • HB1418 was presented by Sen Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute), “This is the IEDC’s bill which focused on providing clarity surrounding the organization’s structure and the confidentiality of certain information.” The bill, which provides that records related to the negotiations conducted between the commission and an industrial, research or commercial prospect are exempt from public disclosure under the Access to Public Records Act at the discretion of the commission.  The bill passed 47-0.
  • Sen Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) offered the motion to concur for SB271, the annual IDEM agency bill, which removes the responsibility for IDEM to approve property tax exemptions for industrial waste control facility property and punts it to local assessors, also creates a new program to administer the permitting of coal ash ponds in Indiana instead of involving federal agencies.  Sen Karen Tallian (R-Ogden Dunes) objected to the change, “I was both surprised and disappointed when I saw the concurrence on this new part of the bill that talks about coal ash and how it was to be disposed of in Indiana.  I had a bill on how IDEM should dispose of coal ash, SB367, that was never heard in committee.  Indiana has 83 coal ash ponds – more than any other state.  Coal ash is a well-known toxic material.  We don’t want this runoff in our groundwater or drinking water or lakes and rivers.  Yes, in this bill we told IDEM to get on it.  But we gave them 18 months to do it.”  Sen Messmer returned with a succinct closing, “We trust IDEM to handle our other environmental issues and we can trust them with this.”  The Senate concurred with the House amendments 48-1 sending the bill to the Governor.
  • SB373 was heard on Monday for the second time with discussion and changes to a section of the bill regarding requirements that the IURC consider the costs for utilities’ depreciating coal plants as part of rate cases. “People were concerned that we may be building new facilities that could be securitized also. The current administration wants to be rid of all carbon by 2035 – so this amendment makes it clear that if the federal government acts and closes a plant, the IURC must take into consideration the impact on rate payers,” said Rep Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso).  The Carbon Credit and Sequestration pilot project bill passed the House on Tuesday 65-30.
  • Perhaps you’ve heard of the two friends debating over whether Proust or Faulkner was the greater writer.  The first took Proust’s part.  The second, Faulkner.  The argument was never resolved because the first had never read Faulkner, and the second had never read Proust.  SB389 amends the law regarding the permitting and compensatory mitigation for “wetland activity” for state regulated wetlands.  The discussion is an emotional one, and the debate seems fraught with misinformation.  Bill author Sen Chris Garten (R-Charlestown) called the motion to Concur and announced, “We have found middle ground.”  The bill, which Sen Susan Glick (R-Lagrange) points out has had 24 amendments received bipartisan opposition.  Sen Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) stated, “There are a few sacred things in life that you don’t mess with. We must protect the wetlands for our grandchildren. I admire the author of this bill tremendously, but this is one I just can’t do.” Sen Shelli Yoder (D-Bloomington) rose in further opposition to the bill, “This bill went from threatening 100% of our wetlands to threatening 98% of our wetlands.” Sen Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) called the bill, “one of the most hurtful bills of the entire session.” She was quick to remind her colleagues that over 90 organizations, specifically including Indiana Farm Bureau, had opposed the bill. In response, Sen Blake Doriot (R-Goshen) pulled up an email from a real-time conversation reportedly with Farm Bureau, that they did not oppose the bill. Sen Garten closed, reassuring the Senate that “Indiana is still in the top 8 most restrictive states for wetlands, yes, even with this amended bill.” The motion to concur passed 31-19 sending the bill to the Governor.
  • A wastewater task force has been established through SB348 to work over the interim this summer to review and establish a long-term plan for addressing wastewater needs in Indiana. The bill also establishes grant funds within the Indiana Finance Authority to support grants and loans to communities in the future as they work to address these needs.  The bill passed the House 86-2 and moves to the Senate to either Concur or Dissent with the changes made in the House.

Important Dates:

COVID-19 Information and Updates:

  • Since last week’s update, the state has reported 7,135 new positive cases (701,971 total), 72 new deaths (12,782 total), 20,478 new individuals tested (3,311,123 total), and 178,763 new tests administered (9,293,614 total). There are an additional 405 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 4.9% for the 7-days ending on 04/07. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 21.2% since the beginning of testing and is 13.2% for the 7 days ending 04/07 (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 and moves Posey and Spencer back down to blue (low community spread) with Warrick and Gibson staying in 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 04/07 are: Gibson 4.7%, Posey 4.4%, Vanderburgh 4.2%, Warrick 4.9%, and Spencer 2.9%. 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 04/14, 1,465,361 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and another 2,054,305 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the 2-dose vaccines. This means 27% of Hoosiers over the age of 16 fully vaccinated and SW IN continues leading the way with more than 35% 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