Earlier today the Indiana House and Senate each convened for their “Organization Day” sessions – held each year two weeks after “election day” (even though we don’t have an election each year). The day is used to elect leadership (no significant changes to caucus leadership this year), establish rules and deadlines for Session (for example, rules were altered last year to reflect physical distancing needs, potential quarantine situations, etc. – this year, all will run the same as pre-pandemic times), and begin the process of introducing bills. And, what would the day be without speech-making as House and Senate GOP and Democrat caucus leaders share their priorities for the upcoming year?
The Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, January 4th for the regular session with committee hearings and full consideration of bills. They are statutorily required to end their work during the upcoming “short session” (non-budget year) by midnight on March 14th. Leaders have indicated they want to “be done early” setting expectations to finish their work at least one week before the deadline. House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) also left the door open for the possibility of a one-day session in December to pass legislation that would cover some of the provisions needed for Governor Holcomb to end the public health emergency.
Kicking off the day was Attorney General Rokita speaking to ~100 people outside re: vaccine mandates, the public health emergency, and his “parental bill of rights.” At least one legislator (Curt Nisly-R) was spotted in the crowd. Nisly also filed a resolution today seeking to end the public health emergency – the resolution was sent to the Rules Committee.
Two new Senators were sworn into service today. Rodney Pol, Jr. (D-Chesterton) replaced Karen Tallian (D-Portage) and Kevin Boehnlein (R-Greenville) replaced Ron Grooms (R-Jeffersonville) after Tallian and Grooms resigned after the redistricting process was completed this fall. Fun fact: now-Senator Boehnlein interned for me during the 1996 Legislative Session. The House also welcomed new State Rep. J. Michael Davisson (R-Salem) to his first session day after he was caucused in to the seat formerly held by his father Steve Davisson, who died from cancer in September.
Today’s activity followed the IN Chamber’s annual Legislative Preview event on Monday where the Chamber revealed their 2022 Legislative Priorities and leaders from each of the four caucuses shared their priorities and answered questions from the business community about issues. Based on remarks made Monday and Tuesday, the issues of greatest interest include:
- Business Personal Property (BPP) taxes: State revenues continue to come in well above forecast giving some legislators the desire to cut taxes in some way. BPP is often considered the “last bad business tax” in Indiana. Speaker Huston expressed his strong support for changes to the BPP tax, likely through an elimination or a phase down/out of the 30% floor (BPP that is still operational never fully depreciates – the lowest assessed value will always be at least 30% regardless of age, condition, etc.). Recognizing that the BPP tax provides revenue to local governments, not the state, the Speaker noted this “can’t be done on the backs of local government” and would require some sort of replacement funding. Senate Majority Floor Leader Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) noted that his caucus is going to be more cautious on the issue; still unsure that the increased state revenues will continue after the pandemic money is gone, but would likely be OK with a concerted effort to replace local government revenue.
- Vaccine Mandates: IN Chamber President Kevin Brinegar opened a question on vaccines stating “businesses feel squeezed between federal mandates requiring them to vaccinate employees and some states enacting laws prohibiting employers from requiring employees to get vaccinated. The business community believes it should be left to each individual business to decide what is best for employees, customers, etc.” We anticipate legislation to be filed in Indiana prohibiting employers from making such requirements, but it was good to hear both House and Senate GOP leaders respond that they “do not want to tell employers what to do” while cautioning against employers showing a “lack of consideration for employees seeking exemptions.”
- Statewide renewable siting standards: utility-focused legislators, utility companies, the Farm Bureau, etc. have spent the past several months considering what could be done differently than what was proposed in bill that failed to pass last Session to set statewide rules regarding renewable energy production. We expect to see a bill again this year, though the details are still unclear.
- Childcare and workforce implications: there was agreement that the cost of childcare (a year of infant care can be more than a year of state college tuition) is hampering some Hoosier’s abilities to return to work with an increased awareness of the need for more safe, high-quality, affordable childcare and the legislature is considering the role they can play in this work.
- Population Growth: during his remarks on the House floor, Speaker Huston observed that we “outpaced all of our neighboring states in growth this Census, but still did not grow to meet the level of opportunity we have.” He shared his excitement for the READI program and the need to help ALL Hoosier communities grow.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) brought up cannabis on both Monday and Tuesday. He believes that “changes are coming” to the federal classification of cannabis and that Indiana should proactively plan to address the substance rather than wait until the federal changes come through. You have likely seen the news today about a bill filed by SC Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace to decriminalize marijuana.
And, finally, after a 12-year stint as Commissioner for Higher Education, former state Senator Teresa Lubbers announced that she would resign from the position next March after the completion of the 2022 session. Originally appointed by Governor Mitch Daniels, she served through the Pence and so far into the Holcomb administrations.
COVID BY THE NUMBERS:
While we would all prefer to not consider COVID in our daily actions, increasing case numbers, positivity rates, and hospitalizations over the last two weeks (after declines for nearly two months) are here to remind us that COVID is not yet done with us and our communities. Once again, I encourage you to consult with your medical providers and get vaccinated and/or get a booster as advised.
- Today, the State reported 2,830 new positive cases (1,058,379 total), 42 new deaths (16,577 total), 5,264 new individuals tested (4,445,106total), and 27,597 new tests administered (1,993,175 total). There are an additional 570 probable Covid-19 deaths (symptoms & exam consistent w/Covid-19, but no positive test received). All of this is on the ISDH dashboard at www.coronavirus.in.gov.
- The positivity rate for ALL tests administered is 8.5% from the beginning of testing and 9.1% for the 7-days ending on 11/09. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 23.7% since the beginning of testing and is 17.6% for the 7 days ending 11/09 (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) will be updated tomorrow. The current map has all of SW IN 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 11/09 are: Gibson 5.7%, Posey 10.7%, Vanderburgh 9.2%, Warrick 10.9%, and Spencer 8%. 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 11/15, 3,402,650 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. This is 52.4% of Hoosiers over the age of 5 fully vaccinated. SW IN remains above average with 55.8% of residents 5+ in Gibson, Posey, Vanderburgh & Warrick fully vaccinated. More than 80% of Hoosiers over the age of 60 and more than 60% aged 45-59 are fully vaccinated
- There are 500+ testing sites across the state. You are encouraged to get tested if you have any symptoms or have had contact with someone who has tested positive.
You can see any of the Governor’s Executive Orders here.