Indiana Legislative Update – Roller Coaster Ride Is Mostly Finished

Lawmakers returned to wrap up the final days of this “regular” 2021 legislative session on the heels of a mass shooting at an Indianapolis FedEx facility. Sen Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis), who lost a brother-in-law due to gun violence, made an emotional appeal to his colleagues, “This weekend people lost their loved ones. They were someone’s mom, someone’s dad, someone’s daughter, someone’s sibling, someone’s friend. Today I will not speak to politics. I will not speak about what republicans or democrats have done or failed to do. I am not going to go through the script of thoughts and prayers. I am not going to go through second amendment conversations. I am not going to talk about what we should have done better because we are still mourning. I appeal to your conscience. I appeal to the God that we worship and pray to at the beginning of every session – that we work with one another and we get things done that protect life in the State of Indiana.” Sen Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis), however, did lobby for action, “I call upon the leadership to take up the issue of how we can stop this from happening again. I do this with respect, pointing no blame at anyone, giving no persecution of any person in this body….no matter what we do or what we say, who we leave the blame on with this situation, its real simple: This young man did not break the law of the State of Indiana to purchase those firearms, and that should concern us all.” During the final days of Session, lawmakers did not take up any action to change gun laws.

The roller coaster of emotions continued Tuesday, when an exuberant Governor Holcomb, flanked by Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, Senate Pro Tem Rodrick Bray (R-Martinsville) and House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers), unveiled the $37.4B two-year State Budget, which includes a whopping $1.9B in new K-12 education dollars, pays down more than $1B in state debt, and $500M for a new “Regional Cities” program (READI Grants). “This is quite a special update – extraordinary really…We have had several recent economic indicators that point to Indiana’s vibrancy and to Indiana’s engine of growth that has put us in this pole position and enabled the State of Indiana to make key investments in our future. We are living in a rare time. You will see that reflected in this budget. This budget truly is transformational. It is transformational in the investments we will make in people, first and foremost. We are going to be able to invest in some mega infrastructure projects. We are going to invest collectively in our local communities. We’ve got the dough to pay for big projects.  Our locals should love it. It will help our state, which already occupies high ground, to accelerate away from 2020 at a faster pace,” said Holcomb.

Thursday afternoon, the House and Senate passed this biennial budget with more votes in support than most of us can remember in the modern era. The House took action first with 14 members speaking mostly in favor highlighting various aspects of the budget, including education, broadband, trails, addressing health disparities, home health care, hazard pay bonuses for police and Dept. of Corrections workers. Several Democrats thanked Republicans for embracing many of the priorities they have advocated for over the past several years and also noted the role federal stimulus dollars played in the availability of funds. Just before the vote was called, Speaker Huston noted, “This is our time. This is our time to make sure all of Indiana grows.” The budget passed the House 96-2 with the only 2 no votes coming from conservative Republican Reps John Jacob (R-Indianapolis) and Curt Nisly (R-Goshen).

Just after the House vote, the Senate began debate on the bill with 13 members taking to the mic to speak. Many covered the same points made in the House with predominantly high praise for the budget. The only dissenting votes in the Senate ultimately came from three Democrats – Senators Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis), Tim Lanane (D-Anderson), and Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis); each expressing disappointment in the level of funding going to support non-traditional K-12 Education through vouchers (now available to families with $145,000 income) and the establishment of Educational Savings Accounts for Special Education Students. As Sen Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) closed on the bill, he repeated a question he has asked frequently “If you get what you want, do you care what the other person gets?” He ended by quoting (did not sing) the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need” and asking his fellow Senators to support the budget. The bill passed 46-3.

Normally Legislators would have adjourned “sine die” today – meaning without a date set for return, they did not do that. We know they will return to work later this summer or fall to draw new district boundaries for Indiana’s congressional seats and for the state House and Senate. I’ll do a final report soon after the Governor has taken action on all of the bills sent to him and will be in touch with other governmental news as it is relevant.  In the meantime, keep an eye on the Governor’s Bill Watch page for his signature or veto on key legislation. Here are the highlights of bills that had their final legislative action over the last week.

  • HB1007, the State Health Improvement Plan and Grant Program, authored by Rep Ann Vermilion (R-Marion) hopes to address Indiana’s dismal health rankings by requiring the State Dept of Health, in consultation with FSSA to study and prepare a plan to improve the health of Hoosiers.  The House concurred with Senate amendments 86-2 last Thursday. 
  • The glowing bipartisan support for Rep Chuck Goodrich’s (R-Noblesville) HB1009 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program bill continued this week. The Bill increases the Earned Income Tax Credit from 9% to 10% and provides that for the purpose of TANF, income of up to $15,000 earned by individuals pursuing a postsecondary degree, workforce certificate or apprenticeship may not be considered in determining in the household’s eligibility for TANF benefits. The Conference Committee Report (CCR) passed nearly unanimously in both Houses (48-1 in the Senate and 88-1 in the House) with Sen Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) and Rep John Jacob (R-Indianapolis) as the only “no” votes.
  • Sen Chris Garten’s (R-Charlestown) controversial SB5 has been a source of endless conversation this session, and subjected to considerable scrutiny by the minority, this week being no exception as it took two attempts to get a signed CCR through Rules Committees and ultimately voted on the floor. The final CCR for the bill addresses the powers of the local health officer in a declared public health emergency and includes clarifying language regarding overriding a mayor’s veto, how to navigate open door laws during an emergency without customary notice, and an appeals process that could take up to 53 days. The CCR passed the Senate 37-12 and the House 65-29.
  • The two final broadband bills requiring action have now cleared their final hurdles. Sen Scott Baldwin’s (R-Noblesville) SB359 creating the “dig once” program in INDOT to manage the location, installation, and maintenance of broadband infrastructure was concurred on Tuesday with a vote of 45-0. One day earlier, Sen Andy Zay (R-Huntington) called a Motion to Concur for SB377, “This bill increases funding for broadband, establishes a portal which will raise the speed to 25.3, and expands availability of broadband connectivity all across Indiana.”  The concurrence motion passed unanimously 48-0.
  • The CCR for Rep Steve Davisson’s (R-Salem) HB1101 exempts from daycare licensure requirements from childcare programs during a state of emergency and allows these organizations to participate in the learning loss recovery programs established in HB1008. The bill will ensure greater flexibility for daycare options in the event of a future emergency while ensuring quality, safe care for Hoosier children. The CCR passed the House 82-0 and the Senate 49-0.
  • HB1164 is the seemingly innocuous “Various Utility Matters” piece which author Rep Ethan Manning (R-Logansport) assured lawmakers, “is in a much better place” as it regulates the placement of 5G wireless towers and other utility infrastructure. Rep Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) thinks otherwise, “The bill provides that these neighborhood guidelines must be followed unless not technically feasible or cost-efficient as determined by the applicant.  The bill goes on to forbid a local unit from requesting the applicant submit information to justify the applicants claim that something is not determined to be technically feasible or cost-efficient.  This is what lawyers call an illusionary provision.”  He went on, “Furthermore, this bill removes the normal bidding and notice requirements for a local unit to dispose of surplus property when a telecom carrier is involved.  When you step back and look at this bill as a whole, this is a giant gift to the wireless providers.  Is it too much of an inconvenience for the industry to deal with local govt and neighborhoods where they put things?  Or do we just pass a bill and set up a situation where they can just do whatever they want?”  Rep Manning responded, “The whole idea behind 1164 is to make the buildout of a physical infrastructure and broadband across the state easier.”  The Motion to Concur was adopted 56-35. 
  • Rep Jim Pressel’s (R-Rolling Hills) Overweight Truck Permits HB1190 has seen several evolutions throughout the Session. The final version allows up to 8500 new permits for trucks weighing 120,000 pounds with the 2.4 axle equivalents. It provides for civil penalties for trucks over the limit on an unapproved route and allows INDOT to suspend the program due to increased road damage or severity of accidents. The CCR barely passed each legislative body on Wednesday: 56-31 in the House and 27-22 in the Senate. Regardless of the margin of victory, the bill has passed and moves to the Governor.
  • HB1266 is Rep Ed Clere’s (R-New Albany) School Efficiency bill directs the Department of Education to issue a request for information to “get more money to the classroom and discover efficiencies.”  The bill hopes to explore potential opportunities to improve efficiency of noninstructional school services, “I think some folks may have been looking for a boogey man in this bill that simply doesn’t exist,” said Clere.  The House concurred with Senate amendments 63-18.
  • Rep Ed Soliday’s (R-Valparaiso) HB1348 requires the department of local government (DLGF) to determine a base rate value per acre for land upon which a renewable energy project is agreed to or contracted.  The DLGF will use the income capitalization method and will determine a maximum cap for property tax assessment based on the median price for utility assessments by region – south, central and northern Indiana.  The CCR passed the Senate 38-10 and the House 82-3.
  • Rep Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn) HB1396, the comprehensive alcohol policy bill, cleared the final legislative hurdles Tuesday and is headed to the Governor. Among the dozens of updates, the bill makes, the more broad-reaching provisions allow for carryout and delivery of alcohol from businesses that were able to start this practice during the pandemic, increasing options for “food hall” sales by farm wineries and microbreweries, and expanding the definition of an “entertainment complex” that can serve alcohol. The CCR passed the House 83-6 and the Senate 43-6.
  • HB1418 is the IEDC agency bill authored by Rep Sharon Negele (R-Attica) which provides clarity regarding what records related to negotiations conducted between the IEDC and a business prospect are exempt from public disclosure under the Access to Public Records Act.  The CCR for the bill passed the House 89-3 and the Senate 45-4.
  • Last week Sen Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) presented SB336, the Business Personal Property Exemption and remarked, “Welcome to the General Assembly!  It is a curve ball every week!” The most recent curve ball came as the positive state revenue forecast led to a CCR that will double the current business personal property tax exemption, taking it to $80,000 to “help the smallest of small businesses.” Debate on the floor pointed out that while the bill would save small businesses up to $18M in taxes, it would transfer a portion of that savings to residential property taxpayers and reduce local government revenue (estimated loss of $300,000 in Vanderburgh County due to property tax caps). In the end, the CCR passed the House 68-19 and the Senate 38-11 and goes to the Governor.
  • HB1123 is the Legislative Oversight of Fiscal and Emergency Matters bill offered by the General Assembly in response to the desire by the legislature to be able to independently convene an emergency session in the event of a state of emergency declared by the Governor.  There have been significant questions as to the constitutionality of certain terms contained in the bill, which led to a veto from Governor Holcomb. In turn, the veto was overridden by the House 59-26 and the Senate 36-8 last week. The act now becomes law short of any court action staying it.
  • The CCR for SB348, a bill establishing a wastewater task force, saw a last minute benefit from the federal funds coming to Indiana as legislators included the creation of the water infrastructure grant program as a source of grants, land, and other financial assistance to support improvements and expansions of water, wastewater, or storm water collection and treatment systems. This fund could be helpful to communities across our region as they work to improve infrastructure systems. The CCR passed the Senate 49-0 and the House 82-9.
  • And, finally, HB1405 was added to your report this week as the CCR for this broad insurance bill also includes language prohibiting local or state governments from creating or issuing “vaccine passports.” Private businesses can still require vaccinations if they want, but the government will play no role in identifying those who are/aren’t vaccinated. The bill also picked up language adding Indiana to the multi-state Physical Therapy Licensure Compact increasing flexibility in hiring of physical therapists across Indiana.

Important Dates:

COVID-19 Information and Updates:

  • Since last week’s update, the state has reported 9,816 new positive cases (711,787 total), 62 new deaths (12,844 total), 36,871 new individuals tested (3,347,994 total), and 260,359 new tests administered (9,553,973 total). There are an additional 408 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 9.0% from the beginning of testing and 5% for the 7-days ending on 04/15. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 21.3% since the beginning of testing and is 13.4% for the 7 days ending 04/15 (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 moves Vanderburgh County back down to blue (low community spread) with most of SW IN except for Gibson which remains 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 04/15 are: Gibson 5.2%, Posey 4.7%, Vanderburgh 4.4%, Warrick 2.9%, and Spencer 4.5%. 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 04/21 1,653,798 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and another 2,233,214 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the 2-dose vaccines. This means 30% of Hoosiers over the age of 16 fully vaccinated with SW IN continuing to lead the way with ~40% of our region over the age of 16 fully vaccinated. Statewide, 71% of Hoosiers over the age of 60 are partially or 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