Indiana Legislative Update Mixed Bag of Peace and Discord

The Indiana Department of Health announced Monday that Hoosiers age 65 and older were now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine with appointments available at https://ourshot.in.gov. While teachers and more recently restaurant and service workers, are seeking to be moved higher on the priority list, Indiana is continuing with an age-based approach in an effort to reduce hospitalizations, save lives and protect the most vulnerable populations first. Worth noting, Hoosiers aged 60 and older comprise 22.5% of the population, but have accounted for 64% of hospitalizations and approximately 93% of COVID deaths in Indiana.

In his weekly address, Governor Holcomb announced a new portal to supply Hoosiers with personal protective equipment. The Indiana Department of Health is tasked with the distribution of free KN95 masks to help protect critical infrastructure workers in the Hoosier state. To submit a request to receive some of the more than 3 million available masks and hand sanitizer, a request may be submitted via the order portal

Meanwhile lawmakers flexed their muscles as they worked to refine HB1123, a bill which limits the governor’s authority over businesses and churches. The significantly amended bill emerged from House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee 7-2 and addresses the ability of the part-time legislature to call itself back for a special session to provide input during a statewide emergency lasting more than 60 days.

As an example that government can still work very effectively, a police reform bill authored by Rep Greg Steuerwald (R-Avon), HB1006, and co-authored by more than 80 Republicans and Democrats, advanced to the Senate after passing the House unanimously on Tuesday.  The measure was inspired by the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus and received the “total support” of police organizations across the state, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police. It establishes a procedure to decertify officers who commit misconduct, imposes penalties on officers who turn off body cameras during a confrontation with the public, bans chokeholds and provides for mandatory de-escalation training for officers. The legislation calls for police accountability and criminal justice reform, following a tumultuous summer of protests across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

With less than 2 weeks left for bills to get a committee hearing in the house of origin, we continue to see lots of activity. Here are the highlights of what we’re watching.

  • SB1 provides civil tort immunity protections to business owners for damages arising from COVID-19 on their premises, except for acts or omissions that would constitute “gross negligence” or “willful and wanton misconduct.” It extends these protections to those businesses who manufactured COVID-19 protective products during the pandemic and prohibits class action law suits.  The bill passed out of House Judiciary 9-4 and goes to the House floor for consideration next week. The companion bill, HB1002, has passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.   
  • HB1004 passed the House Tuesday 93-3. It would establish grants of up to $10,000 per month up to a total of $50,000 for businesses impacted by the pandemic. Eligible recipients include small businesses with less than 100 employees, revenues of less than $10M in 2019, and can demonstrate average monthly gross revenue loss of at least 30% in 2020 vs. 2019. The IEDC may give preference to hospitality industry businesses wholly-owned by Indiana residents, though any impacted, eligible business may apply.
  • HB1007 is an attempt to improve public health through improved tracking and grants to address specific issues has passed the House and moves to the Senate.
  • HB1418 streamlines the IN Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) operations and provides clarity re: confidentiality of information between the IEDC and businesses they negotiate “deals” with. Only signed, agreed deals will be available for public viewing going forward, which allows IEDC to negotiate in good faith with prospective businesses. The bill passed House Commerce Committee 9-2.
  • In hopes of decreasing smoking and vaping, HB1434, would increase the taxes on cigarettes and E-Liquids. As the bill passed out of House Public Health Committee it directs the increased tax revenue to the state general fund to support the appropriations for Medicaid-Current Obligations. The bill goes to Ways & Means now and it’s clear that the tax increase and where the funds go could definitely change before a final decision is made near the end of the Legislative Session.
  • Both bills designed to provide full state funding to “brick and mortar” schools that went virtual during the pandemic have passed their house of origin – HB1003 passed the House last week and SB2 passed the Senate on Tuesday. The bills ensure that all students – regardless of how much virtual instruction they received – would be funded at 100% of the school funding formula. SB2 also includes required reporting from each school corporation about money saved or spent differently due to the pandemic and student learning loss.
  • SB5 establishes a process to appeal local health enforcement actions to the local County Commissioners (County Council in some communities). It has passed 2nd Reading as ready for a vote by the full Senate next week.
  • A bill to renew the Professional Sports Corporation & Development Authority through 2040 and expand it to include the Doubletree Hotel, SB384, passed the Senate Tax & Fiscal Affairs Committee this week. Jake German representing the City of Evansville spoke in glowing support of the bill, “This is a transformational bill for the City of Evansville.  The professional sports team in Evansville, The Evansville Thunderbolts, plays at the Ford Center. The Ford Center has a capacity of about 11,000 people and the Center is really one of the anchors of the downtown.” The bill  passed 13-0 and moves to the Senate floor.
  • The highly technical Cost Securitization for Electric Utility Assets bill, SB386, would establish a pilot program to allow Vectren to securitize the assets from the AB Brown plant when it is decommissioned in 2023. It was presented by Sen Eric Koch (R-Bedford), “We are here to learn whether there is a better way to recover costs – that’s securitization.  Securitization is the issuance of AAA bonds, issued through a statutory mechanism as proposed by this bill by an entity separate from the utility, and backed by a statutory framework. Bottom line: De-risking the payments lowers the rates.  Savings go to the rate payers. The proceeds of securitization go to energy projects in Indiana.” Some consumer groups expressed concerns about whether customers would actually see savings pushing lawmakers to probe the facts of the testimony with frustration, “To vote on this without knowing what the impact will be – we are a part-time legislature. Our rates are constantly going up and our incomes are not.  We seem to be willing to perhaps put our ratepayers at a disadvantage without really fully understanding.  You say this is a limited pilot. It feels like $250M to me,” said Senator Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis). The bill passed Committee 9-2 and goes to the full Senate next week.
  • A bill hoping to create more childcare options during states of emergency, HB1101, passed the House unanimously this week. It would waive certain licensing provisions to allow schools to enter into contracts with providers (often those already providing before/after care) to care for school-aged children during a declared disaster emergency while still ensuring quality care for the children.

Important Dates:

  • Monday, February 8th
    • HB1190 Overweight Truck Permits
    • HB1392 Licensure of Military Spouses
  • Tuesday, February 9th
    • SB214 Housing Tax Credits
    • HB1519 Government Limitations on Hours of Operations
    • HB1055 Watershed Development Commissions
    • HB1007 State Health Improvement & Grant Program
    • HB1348 Assessment of Utility Grade Solar Projects
  • Wednesday, February 10th
    • HB1337 Area Planning Special Exceptions & Uses
    • HB1381 Commercial Wind & Solar Standards & Siting
    • SB143 Pharmacy Benefit Managers
    • HB1397 Technical Training & Workforce Development
    • HB1396 Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco
  • Thursday, February 11th
    • Senate Utilities
      • SB352 Broadband Development
      • SB377 Broadband Development
    • House Ways & Means
  • Tuesday, February 16th
    • Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy
      • SB213 Certified Technology Parks
      • SB215 Redevelopment Projects

COVID-19 Information and Updates:

  • Since last weeks’ update, the state has reported 12,546 new positive cases (635,171 total), 1731 new deaths (this includes 1481 deaths discovered during a year-end audit of 2020 deaths for 11,280 total), 48,836 new individuals tested (2,989,069 total), and 528584 new tests administered (7,181,084 total). There are an additional 406 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 10.6% from the beginning of testing and 7.2% for the 7-days ending on 01/29. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 21.2% since the beginning of testing and is 15.4% for the 7 days ending 01/29 (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 keep Vanderburgh and several nearby Counties in orange (moderate to high community spread), with just Gibson joining 3 other counties across Indiana in red (high community spread). A county must remain in the improved orange category for 2 weeks before restrictions are eased. 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 01/29 are: Gibson 13.2%, Posey 10.2%, Vanderburgh 8.4%, Warrick 9.7%, and Spencer 13.2%. 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 as of 2/6, 681,965 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the vaccine and another 205,712 (~3% of all Hoosiers) are considered “fully vaccinated” for COVID-19. The site also has county-level vaccination numbers and information re: age, gender, race, and nationality of those vaccinated.
  • 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