Indiana Legislative Update – Moving Forward

Amid the hoopla of the NCAA tournaments in Indianapolis, on the one-year anniversary of the “stay at home” order, Governor Eric Holcomb delivered a statewide address Tuesday speaking to Hoosiers about moving forward in our fight against COVID-19. “Today we are in a different and better place,” said Holcomb. Beginning March 31st, ALL Hoosiers aged 16 and over will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  This was made possible by Indiana’s “best-in-the-nation” vaccine rollout as well as increases in allotments of the vaccine from the federal government.  On April 6, statewide restrictions and capacity limits on bars, restaurants and entertainment venues will end and the statewide mask mandate will expire with a mask advisory in its place.  As has always been the case, local governments and businesses may impose more strict guidelines and Holcomb encouraged Hoosiers to continue wearing masks.  Indiana State GOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer weighed in on the changes, “Hoosiers are getting closer to normalcy.  Diligence is still required, but the upcoming expirations of the statewide mask mandate, business restrictions, and capacity limits are welcome signs and give us hope that the spring and summer will be seasons of recovery and rejuvenation for Indiana.”  

In an effort to increase the number of vaccinated Hoosiers, the Indiana State Department of Health has partnered with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to schedule a mass vaccination clinic of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccination on several weekends in April. Hoosiers aged 18 and older are eligible and advanced registration is required by calling 211 or at https://ourshot.in.gov.

If wetlands bills interest you, the controversial SB389 does not disappoint, as bill author Sen Chris Garten (R-Charlestown) alleged a scandal through a “workaround of HEA1082 to enrich former IDEM and DNR employees to the tune of $1.8M in 2018, $7.3M in 2019, and $25.8M in 2020,” at the end of discussion in House Environmental Committee.  HEA1082 is Indiana’s state wetlands law originally passed in 2016, vetoed by then Governor Mike Pence, and the veto overridden by the General Assembly in 2017.  Lawmakers point to HEA1082 which provides that Indiana law must be “no more stringent” than federal requirements.  So far, SB389 passed out of the Senate by a vote of 29-19 where it faced bipartisan opposition.  Chairman Doug Gutwein (R-Francesville) held the bill for further consideration before it returns to Committee next week.

In other news, Indiana “did something monumental today that will benefit our state’s legacy,” said Sen Karen Tallian (R-Ogden Dunes).  SB368 addresses criminal reform issues and would automatically expunge certain juvenile offenses, prevents minors from being held in adult prisons and establishes procedures to determine juvenile competency. The bill passed out of House Courts and Criminal Code Committee with broad bipartisan support, passing unanimously, 11-0.

Keep an eye on the Governor’s Bill Watch Page to see when a bill hits his desk to trigger the deadline for his action. With the earlier deadlines, there are less than 2 full weeks for Committee hearings – here are the highlights for this week.

  • HB1007 creates a new public program called “In It for Health” modeled after Indiana’s Safety Pin program. Indiana has long struggled with public health rankings, with rankings such as 41st in overall health and near last at 48th in funding public health per capita. The bill was met with skepticism, in particular by Sen Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville) who first asked, “Why do we think this will move the needle? We have spent billions on the war on poverty for decades to no avail. In what time frame are we looking for results?” After continued discussion Sen Boots, still unconvinced, weighed in saying, “Despite our best efforts, we still have one of the highest smoking rates in the nation.  This is creating yet another govt program and this is just millions of dollars down the rat hole.” In the end, the bill received unanimous support of the Committee (yes, even Sen Boots, who conceded on the second call for his vote) with Sen Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) speaking with heartfelt optimism, voice cracking repeatedly with emotion, “This is landmark legislation.  This is something we don’t see – something to really address the human condition in the State of Indiana.  We are in the bottom, something we should be ashamed of.  This bill shows we are finally putting the people of Indiana as a first priority.” 
  • HB1397 is designed to improve workforce training offerings and awareness of those opportunities. The bill passed 12-0 from Senate Education Committee and is recommitted to the Appropriations Committee due to the fiscal impact of the bill.
  • HB1449 was heard in Senate Appropriations this week. The bill subsidizes broadband in health clinics and for Indiana students for the next 4 years. It establishes a reverse auction system, modifies the Next Level Grant program to serve unserved addresses and prohibits state grants where federal grants have already been awarded. It requires the Office of Community & Rural Affairs (OCRA) to establish and publish specific goals and submit to state board of account audits annually. The amended bill passed out of committee 13-0.
  • Legislators are hopeful that SB214 will encourage development of more low income housing by allowing local governments to enter into an agreement with developers to establish a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) that will level-set the local taxes to be paid for a defined set of years instead of a usual property tax assessment that may fluctuate and increase more rapidly than can be economically justified by the development. The bill passed the House 94-0 on Tuesday.
  • The bill extending the life of Evansville’s Professional Sports and Convention Development Area (PSCDA) and adding the Doubletree Hotel to the Area, SB384, has passed the House 92-3. The bill was amended in the House, so will go to the Senate for a vote to concur with those amendments next week.
  • The Chamber has supported SB386, which will allow Vectren to “securitize” (bond) the existing capital value of the AB Brown power plant assets when it is decommissioned in 2023. The House Utilities Committee amended the bill early this week adding further consumer guardrails and specifications for how the savings created will be spent before passing the bill 13-0. On Thursday, the bill moved through 2nd Reading on the House floor and will be eligible for a final vote next week.
  • HB1101 provides daycare licensure exemptions during a disaster emergency,” said Sen Erin Houchin (R-Salem). During the early days of the pandemic, many programs were unable to provide childcare prior to an executive order passed by Governor Holcomb.  This bill allows programs to continue without the need for an executive order.  The Senate unanimously passed the amended bill 48-0.
  • Sen Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso) effusively praised HB1127 in his presentation of the bill to the Senate, “I can say without hesitation…that this may be the most significant piece of legislation we will pass this session. It does 3 things – removes language which requires termination of Medicaid coverage when someone has been in jail for 2 years so they won’t need to reapply for Medicaid; it allows recovery wraparound services for those individuals to ease their transition into recovery and out of incarceration; and finally, it requires the collection of demographic data by the division.” The Mental Health and Addiction Treatment bill, authored by Rep Gregory Steuerwald (R-Avon), passed unanimously 49-0. The House has filed a Motion to Concur with the Senate amendments and will vote on that next week.
  • HB1152 is the DWD agency bill to clarify provisions concerning the overpayment of unemployment benefits resulting from fraud or a failure to disclose wages. Some lawmakers are concerned about the expanded fraud penalties that some deem unreasonable and have a disproportionate impact on low wage workers, “During this past year’s emergency our State UI system was burdened and did a magnificent job of paying out more than $7B in funds to more than 800,000 people…There is a difference between fraud and mistakes,” said Sen Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes), “This is the agency bill brought by DWD. Organized predators were out there with organized scams and all we have here is one little problem about people who are “cheating the system” because they are underreporting their wages. We know that’s not even close to the biggest problem with the UI system.” The bill passed out of the Senate 39-10.
  • HB1220 reestablishes the 21st Energy Policy Development Task Force and received broad support in the Senate Utilities Committee Thursday, “I am pleased to see the diversity of witnesses today. I think here you have a coalition that you don’t often see together. I think that speaks a great deal of all the work you’ve put into the bill,” began Sen Eric Koch (R-Bedford) complimenting Rep Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso). Following the uniform praise of stakeholders, the entire Utilities committee signed onto the bill, which passed unanimously 11-0.
  • Before moving out of Senate Education Committee this week. HB1266 was amended to send the idea of establishing educational building and transportation authorities across K-12 school districts to an Interim Study Committee instead of allowing them to be created later this year. This change was made in response to concerns that the idea had not yet been considered thoroughly enough to understand the benefits and costs. The amended bill passed the Committee 9-3.
  • HB1520 is the Electric Utility Reliability Adequacy Metrics bill that House Utilities Chair Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) dubbed “the most important bill to come out of the task force.” The bill demands reliability for customers and encourages the use of renewables when possible without compromising reliability or afford. “It’s what happened in Texas, which is completely deregulated.  Texas didn’t plan,” warned Rep Soliday. The bill passed out of Committee 10-0.
  • HB1008 establishes a learning recovery grant program in response to the learning loss post-COVID-19. The bill will appropriate $150M from the state general fund for the 2021 state fiscal year to allow schools and other groups to apply for grants to cover the expense of programs to address the learning loss of students who have fallen behind academically. To be eligible for the grants, an entity must develop and submit a student learning plan. Virtual programs are not eligible for funding, “That is an important piece, as virtual is what got us here in the first place,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Sen Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen). In spite of the urgings of stakeholders such as the Indiana State Teachers Association, public schools will not receive priority for funds. “If we exclude groups like Boys and Girls Club, I fear we will miss out on an opportunity. Sometimes students learn in a different atmosphere other than what they are exposed to in a public school,” said Rep Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville). The bill received unanimous support and passed out of Committee 13-0.
  • Senate Health Committee heard HB1402, defining the Advisory Board that will oversee the All-Payer Claims Database (APCD) that was established in 2020. The APCD will ultimately be a repository for all healthcare claims in Indiana. The data will be accessible to consumers, state agencies, policy makers, etc. as a free online portal that compares cost and quality. More than 20 other states have established similar databases and they are seen as a tool to drive consumerism in healthcare purchases. The bill passed the Committee 11-0 and will move to the full Senate for consideration.
  • Two bills increasing patient access to healthcare professionals passed out of House Public Health Committee this week. SB36 makes permanent the changes implemented during the pandemic to expand mental health access for Hoosiers. Sen Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville), “SB36 deals with the interjurisdictional compact for the State of Indiana. It allows Hoosiers continued access to their preferred psychologist, expands mental health services for Indiana residents and more seamless access to their mental health providers. During the state of emergency, out-of-state providers were eligible to practice in Indiana. Additionally, we have a severe need, specifically for veterans – we have PTSD, suicide and telepsychology needs for veterans. This builds on telehealth legislation this year. We need this in Indiana.” Similarly, SB305 adds Indiana to the 29 states already part of the physical therapy licensure compact giving Hoosier PT’s the opportunity to practice in other compact states and PTs from other compact states to practice in Indiana. Sen Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) presented SB305 in Public Health committee, “Licensure compacts are nothing new to the General Assembly.  This bill expedites the process for people licensed to do physical therapy in another state to get to work for the citizens of Indiana.” Both bills passed Committee 11-0 and will provide increased value especially to a border area like SW Indiana.
  • SB143 builds off of a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) bill passed last year. “Some components of that bill were lost at the last minute last year, and a Supreme Court decision, Rutledge vs. State of Arkansas, that says PBM’s may be regulated at the state level bring us back to this issue,” said bill author, Sen Andy Zay (R- Huntington). The bill, which some stakeholders testify creates appropriate and necessary checks and balances for the PBM’s, and curbs PBM abuses and provides oversight, received extensive testimony. Several amendments were proposed, one of particular note was a new 2-year appropriation of $600K out of the general fund, ongoing, for a permanent 3-person staff at the Indiana Dept of Insurance tasked with handling complaint driven investigations of PBM’s. Discussion grew tense as Rep Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) objected to 3 Republican amendments being passed by consent, with amendments offered by the minority held, “This is troubling to me,” said Rep Porter. Chair Rep Martin Carbaugh (R-Ft Wayne) announced that due to the volume of amendments the bill would be held, “so we get the policy right.” Sen Andy Zay (R-Huntington) offered closing remarks, “We are looking at an industry of consolidation. We keep coming back to this issue and will keep coming back to this issue. Why aren’t the solutions coming from them? Why are we defining the goals? What we are attempting to do is create transparency and more disposable income for our constituents. When you create transparency, it gives the marketplace an opportunity to respond. We know regulation is nothing more than cost – are we the legislature making a difference? Or just adding costs? Or creating transparency? That is my hope. My goal is to encourage conversation and tighten up this bill going forward – and work together to make a difference for our constituents. When 3 members hold all the gold (CVS Caremark, OptumRx, and Express Scripts), it is incumbent upon them to bring some better answers and solutions instead of playing defense. Until then we will continue to regulate this industry,” said Sen Andy Zay (R-Huntington).

Important Dates:

  • Monday, March 29th
    • House Rules and Legislative Procedures
      • SB5 Appeal of Local Health Enforcement Actions (Garten)
    • House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications
      • SB352 Broadband Development (Houchin)
      • SB359 Broadband Projects (Baldwin)
      • SB377 Broadband Development (Zay)
  • Tuesday, March 30th
    • House Financial Institutions and Insurance
      • SB143 Pharmacy Benefit Managers (Zay)
    • Senate Homeland Security and Transportation
      • HB1190 Overweight Truck Permits (Pressel)
    • Senate Tax and Fiscal
      • HB1025 Enterprise Zone Renewals (Pressel)
    • House Natural Resources
      • SB373 Carbon Credit Programs (Glick)
  • Wednesday, March 31st
    • Senate Pensions and Labor
      • HB1309 Pregnancy Accommodations (Engleman)
  • Thursday, April 1stI-69 Ohio River Crossing Virtual Public Meeting
  • Monday, April 5th
    • Senate Commerce and Technology
      • HB1418 Economic Development Issues (Negele)
  • Monday, April 12th – *Anticipated Deadline for Senate bills to pass the House (House has not formally changed their rules yet)
  • Tuesday, April 23th – Deadline for House bills to pass the Senate

COVID-19 Information and Updates:

  • Since last week’s update, the state has reported 4,751 new positive cases (680,998 total), 66 new deaths (12,576 total), 19,880 new individuals tested (3,224,517 total), and 123,445 new tests administered (8,715,517 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 9.3% from the beginning of testing and 3.4% for the 7-days ending on 03/18. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 21.1% since the beginning of testing and is 8.9% for the 7 days ending 03/18 (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 now has most of Southwest IN in blue (low community spread) except for Gibson and Spencer remaining 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 03/18 are: Gibson 5.5%, Posey 4.7%, Vanderburgh 3.1%, Warrick 4.8%, and Spencer 7.3%. 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 3/25, 1,018,521 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated for COVIC-19 and another 1,530,403 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the vaccine. This is 18.7% of Hoosiers over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated and SW IN is leading the way with more than 20% of our region. More than 62% of Hoosiers over the age of 70 are fully vaccinated. SW IN leads the way with nearly 20% of our regional population over the age of 16 fully vaccinated.  
  • 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