Indiana Legislative Update: Short Week Reveals More Philosophical Differences

With the deadline for bills to pass out of Committee looming next week, Legislators spent most of the short week in more than 30 committee hearings considering more than 150 bills. This was in addition to the more than 75 bills considered on the House and Senate floors. The two biggest floor debates were on HB 1001 (Administrative Authority and Covid-19 immunizations) and HB1002 (Various Tax Matters) as both bills had their final hearings and votes from the entire House.

First up was HB1001 on Monday where Rep Matt Lehman (R-Berne) began saying “this bill has nothing to do with the vaccine itself. It comes to us through months of uncertainty. We, in Indiana, are going where the science takes us. Uncertainty leads to problems and in hearings we heard the voices of Hoosiers who pleaded with us saying, ‘I stayed on the line and kept at my job through this pandemic, I stood at bedsides and held the hand of those in their hospital beds and now I am about to be terminated. In this bill we have tried hard to find that fine line. We are a state that says that you are the employer, and you have rights. But it is also our job to protect the Hoosier worker.” As we’ve shared, the bill ensures the continuation of SNAP benefits, allows for continuation of community vaccination sites, provides for temporary licensing – all to enable the ending of the statewide emergency orders from Gov. Holcomb. It also allows for four covid vaccine exemptions made by an employees working for a business that may require vaccines and prevents any adverse employment action against an employee who requests an exemption. Rep Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis) strongly opposed the bill that would allow employers to mandate vaccines, but also included the broad exemptions. “Liars, hypocrites and chickens can sign a piece of paper saying they have a religious exemption, and their employer must accept it,” railed Delaney, claiming the covid vaccine has been politicized. Ranking minority leader Rep Phil GiaQuinta (D-Ft Wayne) weighed in, “I’ve heard 14 hours of testimony – and not a single person testified in support of this bill. If we want to keep our businesses open, they must have a workforce that is healthy enough to work. Immunization through vaccination is not important is the message this bill gives. The way out of this pandemic is through vaccination. If you are with me, vote no!” said GiaQuinta. The bill passed 57-35 and goes to the Senate where the fate is uncertain.

On Thursday, the House took up debate on HB1002 authored by retiring House Ways and Means Chair Rep Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville). The bill cuts individual income tax from 3.23% to 3.0%, repeals the utility receipts and utility services taxes, eliminates the 30% minimum floor on new business personal property (BPP), creates a state income tax credit for that BPP currently taxed, makes Indiana standard a single direct tax (eliminated double direct sales tax), and a few other minor changes. Several lawmakers questioned the perceived priorities of the bill, “This is about what we value most. It will save your average Joe $120. For businesses, the value is much different – hundreds of millions of dollars. Who is the symbol of Indiana? Scrooge McDuck?” said Rep Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis). Rep Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) reasoned with his colleagues calling for “investing” the money and fixing problems in the Hoosier State, “Do tax cuts really work as an economic stimulus?” he argued, ‘We have a problem with value, not price. Being a low cost of living location is not a winning strategy. We must improve value. You can support tax cuts for the wealthiest, or use the revenue to help working families.  It’s that simple.” Republican lawmakers reacted differently, “I wish you all could have been in Ways and Means Committee.  I was giddy by the end of testimony.  People work really hard from all areas of life.  This starts giving them their money back,” said Rep Jack Jordan (R-Bremen), Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) responded to his colleagues across the aisle, “I love this body because on most issues we agree. On some we just have a philosophical disagreement. If you think Government spending will attract people to Indiana, I will show you Illinois.” The bill passed the House 68-25 and moves to the Senate where GOP leaders have been less enthusiastic about significant tax cuts in a non-budget year.

While you’ll see more than 75 of the more than 850 bills filed by lawmakers on your Report, there are many others of interest to us not included because they are less likely to move. By the end of next week, any bill not having been passed by a Committee will be considered dead and removed from your list. Here are the highlights from the action this week:

  • Legislators are taking one step toward addressing the nursing shortage that everyone knows is happening with HB1003. “This is about the present and future workforce in Indiana,” said bill author Ethan Manning (R- Logansport). The bill increases the flexibility for collegiate nursing programs to add students, use more part-time faculty, and calibrate clinical/simulation time based on availability/student needs. Some initial concerns about an impact on the quality of education were overcome as legislators with medical backgrounds addressed the concerns and expressed their support for the bill. It passed the House 91-2 and moves to the Senate.  
  • The House passed HB1063 this week, a bill requiring “De Novo” judicial review of state agency actions. Supporters argue that administrative agencies occasionally get “out of control” and the bill will put Hoosiers on equal footing with the agencies when decisions are appealed in the courts. “This is a great bill,” said Rep Young. “It will change the way the courts review agencies.  The agencies can not be judge, jury and executioner.”  Opponents expressed concern that the bill could empower “activist judges” and displaces the balance of power among the branches of government. Supporters ultimately prevailed as the bill passed the House 74-17 and moves to the Senate for consideration. 
  • HB1093 is a comprehensive education bill with 2 components of particular interest to us. It works to alleviate teacher shortages by treating out-of-state applications the same as in-state applications and makes improvements to the Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC) with a goal of establishing child development standards and leveraging state and federal funds to support PreK education. The bill also imposes null grades for schools for 2021 and 2022 due to HB1514 dashboard and it makes changes to the early learning advisory committee.  The bill passed the House 91-0. 
  • After thorough debate about the size of the increase, the House Employment, Labor & Pensions Committee passed HB1153 on party line 9-4 vote to grant an increase in worker’s compensation benefits for all injuries (short and long term) by 2% per year for 4 years. Rep Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) proposed multiple amendments to the bill to increase the benefits further with instead an 8% increase for four years, and then 8% for three years; then 6% for four years, and finally 6% for three years, “The question is whether we will do a little more for Hoosier workers,” asked Rep Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville). The amendments failed with the bill author agreeing to continue to work with him and other Democrats to determine if a larger increase could be justified as the bill moves through the remaining legislative process. The bill also includes ambulatory surgery centers in the service costs that are capped at no greater than 200% of the Medicare payment. The bill passed out of House Employment Committee 9-4.  
  • A bill to establish the mechanisms for regulating the underground storage of CO2, HB1209, passed House Natural Resources Committee 10-2 this week and due to the fiscal impact of the bill must make a stop next in House Ways & Means Committee this Monday before going to the full House.  
  • HB1221 sets the stage for further development of electric vehicles (EV’s) and charging stations has passed House Utilities Committee and is ready for final approval by the full House. The bill allows private companies to establish charging stations (and where the energy will come from), allows IURC to approve pilot programs for “public use” EV’s, and permits utilities to recover costs associated with their own construction of EV infrastructure. An amendment to the bill clarifies that companies with self-generation can use that power for EV charging stations on their premises.  
  • Chair Rep Doug Miller (R-Elkhart) presented HB1242 to the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee on Wednesday to improve the collection and dissemination of information from state agencies. HB1242 requires that the department of administration determine the technological upgrade and other expenditures required to collect and compile information regarding purchases made by state agencies from: minority business enterprises, nonprofit agencies for individuals with disabilities, veteran owned small businesses, and women business enterprises. The bill was amended to remove reporting requirements and leaves quantity purchase agreements in place and passed unanimously 11-0. 
  • HB1306 creates a housing task force to review issues related to housing and housing shortages in Indiana and report back no later than November 1, 2022. “The task force is a surgically focused task force” designed to look specifically at workforce/affordable housing. Bill author, Rep Doug Miller (R-Elkhart) pointed to US Senator Todd Young’s (R-Indiana) “Yes, in my back yard Act” which cut burdensome regulations to community development processes. Miller noted, “Sometimes when you think you have all the answers, your colleagues might not agree with you – sometimes the best move forward is to propose a task force, collaborate and come back better informed for another bite at the apple. I believe in the American Dream and opportunity for every Hoosier to be a homeowner. I ask for your support.” The bill passed 11-0.   
  • HB1368 increases the requirements on those collecting Unemployment Insurance (UI) regarding searching for work and establishes other requirements for those that offer work to individuals collecting UI benefits. Committee members raised concerns about union workers who may often have a delay in between jobs and whether the administration of the UI system could accommodate these requirements when they seem to be overloaded with current tasks. The bill was held for further consideration and potential amendment.  
  • Citing Salesforce and Paypal as examples, HB1409 would prohibit Indiana state and local governments from entering into contracts for supplies or services with any company that “discriminates against a firearm entity” according to bill author Rep. Jake Teshka (R-South Bend). The committee did not vote on the bill after hearing quite a bit of testimony from people both opposing and supporting the bill. The committee is scheduled to meet again on Monday and does not have HB1409 on the agenda at this time, but it could be added. The bill would need to pass committee by end of day Tuesday to remain alive according to House rules.  
  • The Senate gave final approval to SB1 on Thursday moving Hoosier taxpayers one step closer to refunds of ~$125 this spring. The bill to use more than $500M in excess rainy day funds from the last fiscal year passed 46-1 and will move to the House for their consideration.  
  • Adding another “tool to the toolbox,” SB4 creates an option for local governments to establish funds designed to attract remote workers, keep college students in Indiana, and take other steps to help grow Indiana’s workforce/population. The Senate Tax & Fiscal Committee passed the bill with unanimous support 12-0 earlier this week.  
  • SB88 would require that any “rebates” for prescription drugs provided for as part of the employers health insurance plan would be calculated at the point of sale and that at least 85% of the rebate must go to the insured individual. Testimony in committee noted that the overall costs for insuring the individual are spread across every employee participating in the plan, but the benefits of the rebate would go only to the individual vs. Also being shared across all participants. This could result in increases to overall insurance costs for employers and to employee-paid premiums. The Senate Health & Provider Services Committee passed the bill 7-4 on Thursday.  
  • SB119 adds new farm equipment and agricultural improvements to the investments eligible for local tax abatement similar to manufacturing equipment. The bill was received by stakeholders with mixed reviews with the Indiana Association of Counties opposing the bill and Farm Bureau praising the “uniformity” in assessments the bill will bring to the ag sector.  The bill passed committee Tuesday 12-0 and will have a final vote in the Senate next week.  
  • SB157 has two INDOT-related components; one of which is very important to EREP and our work to build a new I-69 bridge across the Ohio. The bill also extends the sunset date for Public Private Partnership (P3) authorizations from June 30, 2023, to June 30, 2031 ensuring that large construction projects (often done via P3) can continue without fear of sunset in 2 years and that tolling remains an option for the future I-69 Ohio River bridge. The bill passed the Senate 47-0 on Tuesday.  
  • SB166 incentivizes private investment by Hoosiers in their communities with provisions for local, state and county governmental bodies to enter into public-private agreements specifically for construction of transportation and infrastructure projects. These projects would be exempt from property taxes. Chairman Sen Travis Holdman (R-Markle) expressed concern over a “lack of guardrails” in current language and asked if bill author Sen Kyle Walker (R-Lawrence) would consider creating a pilot program. “This is a sophisticated process that lends itself to larger scale projects of a certain dollar amount. I have no objection,” said Rep Walker. “This is about more tools to utilize P3 concepts around the State of Indiana.” The bill was held for further consideration. 
  • Senators supported SB176 in during its first committee hearing with an 8-0 vote as an attempt to get a better understanding of how much land is used for solar and wind production – and the value of that land. As renewable energy grows in popularity, some legislators are concerned the high-value farm land in Indiana will be overwhelmed by energy production and see this as an attempt to understand the impact.  
  • SB184 is a simple bill that removes the requirement that a school corporation affected by a residential TIF project must approve the project before it moves forward. Bill author, Sen. Holdman noted the immense need for increased housing in the state and pointed to this as a small barrier that could be eliminated. The bill passed Committee on Wednesday with a 7-2 vote.  
  • SB223 allows the IEDC to carry over unused venture capital tax credits into the following year if they are not fully used in a state fiscal year. After passing out of Committee, the bill was amended on the Senate floor to add veteran-owned businesses to the other minority-owned businesses eligible to receive a dedicated portion of the credits. The Senate will consider the bill for a final vote next week.  
  • After hearing public comment on the bill last week, the Appropriations Committee voted 13-0 to support SB245 to establish the statewide sports and tourism bid fund for communities to have access to state funds (to be added in the next budget session) to improve competitive bids to bring sports and tourism events to Indiana. The bill designates that at least 25% of the funds would be used outside of Marion County, and we are working with partners in other parts of the state to consider options to increase that minimum amount. The bill will be considered by the full Senate next week. 
  •  SB251 will add Indiana to the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact to enable physicians to move within states in the compact. The goal is to increase the availability of physicians throughout the state, esp. In rural areas farther from the major health networks. The bill passed the Senate 46-0.  
  • As legislators work to find ways to address affordably housing needs, SB 262 creates a state-issued tax credit for merit-based competition to build housing across the state over the next 5 years. Stakeholders supported the bill, with developers welcoming the tax credits in the face of increasing costs due to construction materials, labor shortages and land costs, the Indiana Chamber seeking housing for workforce, and agencies like AARP and Indiana Area Agencies on Aging selling the tax credits as a necessary component of the process to allow more Hoosiers to “age in place,” something they say will ultimately save the State of Indiana millions of dollars in the future, “currently 50% of 65 and older are housing cost burdened and by 2030 1/3 of Hoosier households will be 65 and older.” The bill passed the Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee on Tuesday 11-1 and will be ready for final approval early next week.  
  • As part of a long Senate Utilities Committee meeting Thursday morning, members heard a thorough briefing on the current state of nuclear power and the value that small modular nuclear reactors bring to the reliable energy conversation. SB 271 establishes the groundwork for the IURC and IDEM to establish rules for permitting these reactors in the future and making them part of the Indiana energy system. The bill passed Committee 8-2.  
  • SB343 recognizes Indiana’s role as the #1 producer of Recreational Vehicles and defines “agritourism” as something that can be promoted within the state. It is an overall “feel good” bill that passed committee 11-0  
  • SB361 is a comprehensive economic development bill designed to increase the IEDC’s flexibility in awarding business tax credits and in working with local government partners. Sally Rideout spoke in favor of the bill in committee Thursday noting some opportunities for further improvement in the Redevelopment Tax Credit language and the new concept of Innovation Development Districts (IDD). While the IDD’s would allow state government to play a bigger role in supporting large projects in partnership with local communities, the current language puts a little too much power in the hands of the state. We will continue to work with legislators and other supporters to find language that makes the final bill a win-win for everyone interested in growing investments in Indiana. The bill was held for potential amendment and is likely to have another hearing and a committee vote next week. 
  • SB366 is the result of an interim study committee tasked with reviewing the funding formula used to determine state support for higher ed institutions. The bill requires the Commission for Higher Education (CHE) to develop a long-range plan for higher ed in Indiana and use that plan to establish (by this fall) an outcomes-based funding formula (by this fall) for operating costs and metrics for capital costs. These would be evaluated each year to guide legislative decisions on budget-making for future years. The bill passed committee 13-0 and moves to the full Senate.  
  • Citing concerns about China’s stated plans to buy as much agricultural land as possible, Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) presented SB388 in committee Tuesday. The bill would prohibit foreign business entities from purchasing agricultural land in Indiana with a few exceptions. Several speakers expressed concern that, as written, the bill would also prohibit many companies currently operating ag businesses to expand their Indiana operations. The bill passed out of committee 8-1 with Sen. Messmer pledging to work to narrow it down and/or include exemptions included in recently-passed Iowa legislation before moving it to final passage.  
  • After significant debate about setting statewide standards for renewable energy siting last year (with no bill passing), SB 411 follows that conversation to establish an option within the IEDC for communities to be designated as “solar and/or wind energy ready.” By adopting standards set forth in the bill, a community would ultimately receive funding per kilowatt hour from the IEDC after renewable energy is up and running in the community. The bill received praise from local governments, fam bureau, business organizations, etc. And ultimately passed out of committee 7-1. 

COVID UPDATE

  • Another week of record-setting COVID cases in Indiana marks a new record 7-day positivity rate of 30.4%. Some regions of the state are seeing significant drops in cases – and hospitalizations – while others are still climbing. The number of available ICU beds across the state continues to hover around 200 total.
  • Statewide, 55.6% of Hoosiers aged 5+ are fully vaccinated (2 or more doses of Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J). The 4-county SW IN region has 167,696 (58.6%) out of 285,818 residents aged 5+ fully vaccinated. If you want to get vaccinated or boosted, you can make an appointment online
  • If you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed and want to get tested, find a test site here:  Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): COVID-19 Testing Information
  • Indiana has had more than 1,524,527 positive cases of COVID-19; 45,478 of these are “reinfections since 9/1/21.”
  • All of Indiana’s 92 92 counties are rated red (high risk spread with 15% or greater positivity rate & 100 or more new cases/100,000 residents).
  • The 7-day positivity rate as of 1/14 (lags by 7 days to include late-arriving test results) for all test results is 30.4% and the 7-day rate for unique individuals tested is 44.7%. SW IN Positivity rates are: Gibson 34.3%, Posey 36.2%, Vanderburgh 35% and Warrick 35.6%.
  • The state reported 95 new deaths on Friday 1/21 (35 from the previous 2 days). At this time 19,992 Hoosiers have died from COVID – more than the total population of nearby Spencer County. If you include presumptive deaths (clinically diagnosed as COVID by a physician, but no COVID-19 positive test), the total is 20,751.

IMPORTANT DATES (all times Eastern):

* Committee hearings can be scheduled with less than 24-hours notice, so this schedule changes quickly