On Tuesday, in his State of the State Address, Governor Eric Holcomb boasted Indiana has never been stronger. Unemployment numbers have dropped to a 19-year low at 3.2% and he discussed taking on some of Indiana’s biggest challenges – the opioid epidemic, infant mortality, workforce training – with reportedly strong results. While low teacher pay remains a big issue, Holcomb recommended lawmakers wait until the 2021 budget session to allocate $250 million from the state’s $2.3 billion cash reserves toward the pre-1996 Teacher Retirement Fund (TRF), which will free-up $50 million annually that can be used to boost teacher pay. This would be in addition to the $150 million the state contributed to the TRF in 2019; that contribution freed up $65 million annually. Still, teacher unions and Democrat lawmakers believe action does not need to wait and would like to see action this year. In spite of Democrats calling for a shift in the budget to address teacher pay and other concerns, Republicans remain steadfast stating that budget changes should be made in budget years.
Governor Holcomb highlighted other high priority issues for the current legislative session, calling on lawmakers to pass a “hands-free” device driving law, raise the legal age for the use of tobacco products to age 21, address “surprise billings” for medical costs by prohibiting Hoosiers for being charged out-of-network prices for services received at in-network facilities, and urged passage of legislation to speed up the time for adoptions. You can read his full address here.
Another significant milestone was celebrated this week celebrating the Centennial of the date the Indiana General Assembly ratified the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States allowing women to vote – passed 100 years ago on January 16, 1920. At that time, Hoosier lawmakers – all men – heeded the Secretary of State at the time, who urged a favorable vote saying, “You have been called together in a special session today in what will be a historic meeting of our state.” On Thursday, Rep. Sharon Negele (R-Attica), led the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Celebration on the House floor: “The tireless work of these women are the reason we can be heard today and the reason my female colleagues and I can stand before you today. Without them and their incredible perseverance the ideas and the beliefs of our mothers, our sisters, our daughters and grandmothers would be silenced. There are very few moments in history that have had the same last impact and I am humbled to be a small part of this pivotal milestone in the history of our Great State and Nation.”
The rest of the week, Legislators spent their time in Committee hearings and reviewing the hundreds of bills just starting the process to ultimate passage. At this point, we have seen approximately 900 total bills filed with about half coming from the 50 Senators and the other half from the 100 House members. We will likely still see more bills next week, though in this short Legislative Session, any bills not already progressing on the path to passage will have a very difficult time meeting the deadline to be passed by a Committee.
We are tracking a significant number of bills for the Chamber and several of them were heard in Committee this week. Here are notes on the bills of more significant priority:
• As Legislators honed in on reducing health care costs, they clearly see the “surprise bill” issue as a key to addressing the overall problem. On Wednesday, both HB1004 and SB3 were heard in two different Committees. They are similar bills designed to ensure that patients are not charged “out-of-network” costs except for coinsurance, deductible, out of pocket maximum, when they make a “good faith” effort and seek services at a facility designated by their provider as “in-network”. The surprise costs generally come from individual providers (i.e.: lab work, radiology, anesthesiology, etc.) who have not negotiated with the network. The bill does NOT address ERISA (self-insured) plans, but many believe this bill will have the impact of driving more providers into networks, which should have the side benefit of reducing costs for all patients and payers. Both Committees took extensive testimony supporting, opposing, and/or suggesting “small changes” with an agreed goal of “protecting patients without abandoning free market principles.” Committee Chairs held both bills for amendments to be developed and considered before being considered in Committee again.
• SB1006, was amended this week to make the sale of products containing Vitamin E acetate a Class B infraction which carries a possible $1,000 fine. Vitamin E acetate is used as a thickening agent in vaping products and has been implicated in deaths around the Country. However, Senator Austin (D) Anderson, disagreed, “For people who don’t care about breaking the law, a $1,000 fine is nothing. We need to hit them where it hurts. We need to send a strong message to retailers and have a strong penalty.” Her amendment proposing the sales be bumped to a Class A infraction with an accompanying $10,000 fine was voted down 40-57. Her subsequent amendment to suspend retail licenses for repeat retail offenders for 6 months was, after considerable discussion, withdrawn.
• House Courts and Criminal Code heard HB1094 on Wednesday. This is an “update” bill that cleans up some old language and creates new definitions to keep state language up-to-date with federal language and with those working in the industry of addiction treatment and recovery. The bill passed out of Committee 11-0 and will be ready for the full House to consider next week.
• Senate Health recommended passage of SB4 this week, 11-0, but not without controversy. An advisory group will be appointed and there is not expected to be a fiscal for the bill for at least another year. “The advisory group is extremely important – to have their input – we will get a lot of good ideas from all these people, but we don’t know what they are yet, so we don’t know what information they want to gather, what the cost to gather that information – and so we anticipate appropriations in 2021. Until we know what information we want, and how we are going to do it, we don’t know what it’s going to cost,” said Department of Insurance Commissioner Robertson. When probed for future cost, an approximation was made that the State of Colorado’s database costs $2.5 million annually to maintain. “There are some perplexing issues we need to be deal with, but I appreciate where we are at this point,” stated Committee Chair, Ed Charbonneau (R – Valparaiso). The bill has now been recommitted to Appropriations.
• On Tuesday, during floor debate on HB1007, Rep. Porter (D – Indianapolis), assailed the bill saying, “Some call this opportunity cost analysis. Opportunity lost is what I call it. Teacher funding and pre-K is what we need. We have food insecurity in Indiana. We need to help people stay out of jail and have a quality of life. We need to invest this money now in Hoosier families.” Rep. Huston responded with a bit of incredulity remarking, “We could support more programs and more spending. I’ve heard we should borrow because we can. That certainly worked out in neighboring states.” The bill passed out of the House 77-21. Later in the week after the bill started it’s movement in the Senate, two amendments to raise teacher pay were voted down by the Republican supermajority in Senate Appropriations Committee. The Governor’s bill adds provisions to the administration of sports wagering taxes and seeks to pay with cash for projects bonded in last year’s budget, including a building at the University of Southern Indiana. The governor pledged to move $250M in unexpected tax revenue to the Pension Stabilization Fund next year, but Democrats want that money now.
• House Environmental Committee passed HB1309 on Wednesday with a vote of 10-0. This is the annual “agency update” bill. It does 3 things, including: having future tax exemptions for pollution control devices determined by local assessors vs. IDEM; bringing water quality standards in line with federal standards, especially with regard to Great Lakes Basin membership; and removes requirement for IDEM to offer in-person option for wastewater treatment plant certification.
• While the House Environmental Committee heard HB1257 (Notice of Environmental Contamination) on Wednesday, Chair Wolkins noted that he likes Representative Hatfield’s (D – Evansville), HB1337 (Notification of water utilities & water treatment facilities) better and will be giving it a hearing and if something does pass out of Committee, he anticipates it will look more like HB1337. The Committee held the bill and will consider amendments to HB1257, and/or perhaps moving forward with HB1337 at a later meeting.
• HB1027, a bill to abolish all remaining Indiana township assessors passed 3rd reading by a vote of yeas 53, nays 44, and was referred to the Senate. Earlier in the week, amendments calling for referenda to put the question back to the voters failed on the House floor 38-59 in spite of a number of lawmakers, Republican and Democrat alike, agreeing with the sentiment of Representative Vernon Smith (D – Gary), “The People have spoken. I will try to do their will. If their position changes. I will change my vote.” Meanwhile other lawmakers complained “the whole county is paying for something that a single township voted for.” Representative Carolyn Jackson (D – Hammond), reported Lake County has 6 townships of which 5 have township assessors; eliminating the township assessor positions would result in $2.4M in savings. Supporters gave testimony that the move to county assessors results in a more streamlined process and more uniform assessments across the state.
• Representative Chuck Goodrich’s (R) Noblesville, HB1153, which is the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet bill, was heard in House Education Committee Thursday and held for further discussion next Tuesday, January 22nd. The bill creates a comprehensive strategic plan to ensure alignment of Indiana’s primary, secondary and postsecondary education systems with Indiana’s workforce training programs and employer needs on or before December 1, 2020.
- Tuesday, January 21st
- Wednesday, January 22nd
- House Education
- HB1153 Governor’s Workforce Cabinet
- House Education
- Thursday, January 23rd
- Senate Commerce and Technology
- SB272 Indiana Economic Development Corporation
- SB427 Provisional Occupational License
- Senate Commerce and Technology
- Wednesday, February 12th: SWIN Chamber Day at the Statehouse
** Committee Hearings can be called with just a one-day notice, so schedules change very quickly