The 121st General Assembly finished five days early this year with first term Senate President Pro Tempore Rodrick Bray (R-Martinsville) announcing at 10:26 p.m. on April 24th for the Senate, and retiring Representative David Frizzell (R-Indianapolis) announcing sine die for the House shortly thereafter at 11:10 p.m. Sine Die is Latin for “without a day” – meaning they have adjourned without a day set for reconvening. The rooms cheered as they closed up shop after a challenging legislative session with issues addressed such as bias crimes, a contentious gaming bill, and the State biennial budget. The primary task of the slightly longer 2019 session is to approve the budget. At the close of session, first term Senate Appropriations Chair Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) shared heartfelt comments about his first time of leading the Senate through budget negotiations, “I want to thank everyone in this body for your willingness to work with me, for your patience. It’s not easy going home every night after saying no all day. So many come to me with good projects and good ideas, and I want to help people every day, and it’s very hard to say no. But unfortunately, I learned with this job, that is a common word I have to use now days. “ He continued, “My eyes are going bad and I am going grey, but I have to say I have really enjoyed working with all of you…We all made sacrifices to push funding to K-12. In the end, I think the big winner here is the kids.” Lawmakers approved the state’s $34.6 billion budget late Wednesday 67-31 in the House, and 41-8 in the Senate, sending the bill to Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature days ahead of the legislative deadline, and a day before 80,000-gun enthusiasts arrive in Indianapolis for the annual National Rifle Association convention.
Highlights of the budget include a 2.5% increase for K-12 each year, with more than $760 million in new funding for schools, while keeping the Governor’s promise to use $140M to bail out teacher pension obligations generating savings that could be used for increasing teacher pay, as well as increasing funding for school safety and teacher appreciation grants. Republicans boasted a balanced budget and leaving a $2B surplus, while Democrats said the budget failed Hoosiers for what they called “missed opportunities.” Minority Caucus Chair, Senator Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) railed against the budget, “Who made all these cuts? I have lost all my ability to say I know how this process works anymore. We pay taxes. We expect things.” Senator J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) echoed the frustration, “Indiana keeps making the news, but not for the right reasons.” The Republican supermajority remained steadfast behind leadership. Senator Randy Head (R-Logansport) responded in support of the Budget team, but attempted some conciliatory language, “It seemed to me we were faced with a series of bad choices – all arguments compelling – we worked with what is possible and we did what was best for most people in the State of Indiana, and I thank you for your hard work.” Senator Bray summed up the problem, “There is always more need than there are dollars.”
On the House side, long time Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) stayed on message regarding the budget stating, “Republicans met all 10 of the goals they outlined at the start of the session in January, including passing a balanced budget, and providing additional funding to K-12. The budget also boosted funding to the Indiana Department of Child Services by $502 million over two years. I am very pleased with result of this session,” Bosma said. “Five days before the statutory deadline, so we completed our business under time and under budget.”
All passed bills now have several procedural steps on the way to the Governor’s office. Once they reach his desk, he has 7 days to either sign or veto the bill. After 7 days, the bill becomes law without his signature. I will provide another comprehensive update in a few weeks after all bills have been acted on. In the meantime, the Governor’s Bill Watch page provides an up-to-date resource to track activity.
As always, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Southwest Indiana delegation who worked continuously to protect the interests of our region while also working on individual legislation. If you see any of them around the community – Senators Becker, Tomes and Messmer and Representatives Hostettler, McNamara, Hatfield, Sullivan and Bacon – please share your thanks for their service.
Here are your highlights for the final days of Session:
- The Conference Committee Report for Representative Holli Sullivan’s (R-Evansville) HB1002, the Career and Technical Education and Governor’s workforce cabinet bill, passed both the House and Senate on Tuesday. “This bill aligns education and workforce to achieve shared goals, promotes early and continuing career exploration, and encourages work-based learning between schools and employers. We are going to continue to fund our career and navigation grants that we’ve talked about all session. SB420 was amended into 1002,” said Sullivan. Representative Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) rose in opposition to the bill stating, “This is like the 5th or 6th year for us to recalibrate – we try to do something every year with workforce development and training – and everything under the sun – it’s time for us to not every year press another reset button to try to go somewhere we don’t know where we are going. I am going to vote against this – this isn’t a good piece of legislation.” In the Senate, Minority Floor Leader Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) protested the bill, saying, “I don’t know how this Christmas tree of a bill happened,” and called the bill a “lawyer’s nightmare.” In spite of protests by the minority, the CCR was adopted by the Senate 39 yeas, 9 nays; and 64 yeas, 30 nays in the House.
- Representative Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) presented the CCR for HB1628, the Prekindergarten pilot program bill, “This is the easiest Report I’ve ever had. The only change is to correct a technical error made in a Senate amendment – FSSA must have a list by the end of this year and the draft was 2020. We are just making a change from December 2020 to December 2019.” The CCR was adopted on Tuesday 78-11 in the House and 40-8 in the Senate. This year’s iteration of the PreK bill will expand the state funded preschool program to all 92 counties in the State of Indiana; including allowing more children to be served in Vanderburgh County. The State currently has $15M in unspent fund allocated for the program.
- The omnibus Gaming Bill, HB 1015, took extensive negotiations that lasted into the final hours of Session. Of particular significance to our community, the final version of the bill does allow for a new casino to be established in Terre Haute, which will draw customers from Tropicana – meaning less revenue to the City of Evansville. A strong community effort secured payments that will come to the City from the operator of the Terre Haute casino for the first three years of their operation to help offset those losses. This is an issue the State and community will be paying attention to for many years.
- Your Chamber worked with economic development colleagues throughout Session to improve development and incentive opportunities included in both SB 563 and SB 565. Several of the improvements we fought for will enable greater use of redevelopment tax credits, secure greater funding sources for our Certified Technology Park, and protect our Regional Development Authority, plus some other tweaks to incentives that individual companies are able to take advantage of.
- Unfortunately, no consensus could be found between the House and Senate with regard to HB1444, or the “e-cigarette vaping liquid tax bill,” which failed to advance by the conclusion of the 2019 legislative session. The original bill would have set a 4-cents-per-milliliter vaping liquid tax. The tax was meant to discourage vaping, especially among teenagers, but lawmakers couldn’t agree on how much the tax should be. The Senate had proposed a tax of 20% to be in line with the tax imposed on cigarettes. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams – former Indiana Health Commissioner – has called vaping among teens an epidemic.
- Representative Mike Speedy (R-Indianapolis) introduced the CCR for SB233, the taxpayer friendly business personal property tax exemption bill, which was adopted in the House 68-25, and passed out of the Senate 39-9 despite concerns voiced by Representative Porter, “There were several things Indiana Cities and Towns and AIM [Cities and Towns] objected to about this bill. I had some extensive discussion with bill author, Senator Freeman, and others – and I asked about how this bill will affect counties. This will cost Marion County 300K, and Vanderburgh 200K. I think the move for an exemption from 20K to 40K for small business when in 2017 the federal government gave breaks to small business is unnecessary. This bill strangles local government. I urge you to oppose this bill.”
- Tuesday, May 7th – Indiana Municipal (City residents only) Election – Primary Election Day