Indiana Legislative Update The General Assembly is in Full Swing

Lawmakers have more than 900 bills proposed this legislative session to consider. One lawmaker described the challenge, “Some of my friends are for this bill and some of my friends are against this bill, and I am for my friends. I have to support a few, and disappoint a few.” The deadline for bills to move out of Committee in the House is this coming Tuesday; the Senate deadline is Thursday.

As  HB1007, the bill to cash-fund capital improvements approved in the 2019 budget eliminating $21M in annual bond payments, passed the Senate (after passing the House last week) and heads to the Governor for his approval, Speaker-elect Todd Huston (R-Fishers) responded to complaints about the Republican majority blocking proposals for more money for teachers. “Just as a Hoosier family would not use a cash bonus to take on a higher mortgage, its unsustainable for state government to spend one time money on an ongoing program. Unfortunately, some of Indiana’s lawmakers are intent on casting Indiana’s fiscal discipline in a negative light, and only want to talk about where the money didn’t go.  Indiana’s turnaround over the last decade is simple: stick to a budget, don’t buy what you can’t afford, avoid debt, plan for a rainy day, and invest wisely.  Hoosiers live within their means every day and expect nothing less from their state government.” As the Senate considered the bill on final passage, Senator Lanane (D-Anderson) pointed out, “This is probably the most important bill we will consider this session. We have fast tracked this like we never do these bills. When we do that it cuts off public debate on the matter. It sends a message that this is sticky and we want to be done with it. This bill would have been better if we allowed more opportunity to hear from the public – 15,000 didn’t show up on Organization Day here at the Statehouse and say deal with debt – they said we have a teacher pay problem.” Senate President Pro Tem Mishler (R-Bremen) responded, “You mention a fast track.  We fast tracked because they are ready to start those projects. That’s why we are fast tracking this bill.  If you think that #RedForEd was about teacher pay, you are wrong. It is about the rules for education that we change every year. We are responding to two of those issues.” 

This week Governor Holcomb officially filed for re-election. “Indiana is on a roll, and we’re not taking our foot off the gas,” he said. There are currently two Democrat challengers, Dr. Woody Myers and Josh Owens, the first openly gay Indiana Governor candidate, reportedly gathering signatures to challenge the governor in November, and a potential Republican primary challenger, Brian Roth, in the wings.

For most, it felt like we were deep in the trenches battling bills and amendments coming from all sides. While there aren’t official records to track, Statehouse veterans are confident that Wednesday set records with 66 bills being considered in 16 different committees. Legislators, lobbyists, and media spent the day prioritizing issues and tag-teaming Committees to keep track of the most concerning issues. With the looming deadlines, your bill track will get shorter next week as bills that don’t meet the deadline will be declared “dead” for the year. Until then, we are tracking a significant number of bills for the Chamber and several of them had activity this week. Here are notes on the bills of more significant priority:

  • On Thursday, House Insurance passed HB1004 out of Committee unanimously 12-0. This bill, along with the Senate version, SB3 seeks to ensure that patients don’t receive “surprise billings” for “out-of-network” costs when they receive services at “in-network” facilities. Rep. Terri Austin (D-Anderson) called the bill “One for the courts,” and questioned the bill’s author, “I appreciate the idea here, but I don’t see this as a free market solution. This is going to stick some provider – the hospital or the docs with basically eating charges because they are not in the network – and that tips the scale  – forcing you into the network or it’s a crapshoot of whether you get paid. I don’t think this bill is finished and I think we need to come into some sort of resolution – it is our job to represent EVERYBODY. I know this is an agenda item, and it’s going to pass, but it’s not finished yet in my opinion.”
  • State Rep Cindy Kirchhofer’s (R-Beech Grove) HB1006 was approved 84-14 in the House and now heads to the Senate. The bill would boost penalties on retailers who sell tobacco or vaping products to anyone under age 21. Retailers could face stiff fines or risk the loss of their tobacco sales certificate. The bill also replaces the state’s three year permit with an annual license and limits where tobacco stores can operate. The Senate version of the bill, SB1 passed Third Reading on Thursday 38-9. Sen. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) voiced concerns about remaining violators, “Retailers violate tobacco laws 24/7,” and hopes that issue can be resolved. While acknowledging that the Federal government already “raised the smoking age,” and these bills are just about the regulation of sales, some lawmakers raised more basic concerns about the new tobacco purchase age. Rep. Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn) stated, “At 18, an individual can consent to medical care, go to war, sign a contract – perhaps we should address the age of majority in Indiana.”
  • The Senate Utilities Committee heard SB411, which would have allowed for investor owned utilities to lease any excess transmission capacity to broadband providers to increase capacity to unserved and underserved areas. The bill was amended to send the issue to interim study committee as there are many questions about fees, definitions of service, and who might “profit” from the fees paid.  The amended bill passed out of Committee unanimously and will move to the full House for consideration. If the bill ultimately passes, we won’t know for several months, though, whether it is approved for legislative study during the interim.
  • Senator Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) introduced SB46, which would have exempted schools, churches, and agricultural land from local stormwater fees. The Senate Local Government Committee considered the bill Thursday morning and heard from several different advocacy groups opposing the bill for the impact it would have on other rate payers, bonds that have been issued, and the effect these properties do have on managing storm water. Ultimately, the Committee held the bill and did not move it forward, in spite of promises by Senate Appropriations to hear the bill. While they can consider the bill again next week, it is unlikely that it will pass at this point due to the short time frame. 
  • SB356 sets the framework to help address food deserts in Indiana and establishes an office within the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA). It allows the creation of public private partnerships for working with food banks, rehabbing abandoned grocery stores, etc. to help provide more options for increasing access to fresh food for Hoosiers, particularly in underserved urban areas. There is no current appropriation for funding in the bill, but will be considered in future budgets. Bill author, Sen James Merritt (R-Indianapolis) hopes this piece of legislation will not only encourage lawmakers to think outside the box, but to “bust open the box.” Emily Bryant, Executive Director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, is “grateful” for the bill and reports there are 887,070 “food insecure” Hoosiers in the State of Indiana. The agency’s 11 food banks handed out 94.2M pounds of food across the State, 13M pounds of which were fresh produce, in 2018.  The bill received bipartisan support and passed out of Senate Appropriations 12-0.
  • The Senate Commerce & Development Committee heard SB272 on Thursday morning. This is the Indiana Economic Development (IEDC) “annual update” bill.  It makes several small changes to the administration and membership. This non-controversial bill had minimal Committee discussion and passed to the Senate floor for further consideration with a vote of 7-0.
  • HB1370, a bill to allow smaller, rural communities to come together to create a land bank, was heard in the House Local Government on Thursday. The bill is the outcome of a study done in 11 south central Indiana counties that identified 6 potential solutions to address distressed housing in the region. Allowing these communities to come together addresses 4 of the solutions by improving code enforcement, removing dilapidated housing, developing an inventory of available infill lots, and ultimately assemble multiple lots that could be used by developers or individuals who want to live in the downtown areas of these smaller communities. The bill passed 13-0 and will be considered by the House next week.
  • HB1309, an IDEM agency cleanup bill, which amends the law concerning the property tax exemption for industrial waste control facilities and turns duties over to county assessors was presented by Environmental Committee Chair Rep Dave Wolkins (R-Warsaw) on the House floor Thursday.  The bill eliminates the requirement that the department itself, at least once per year, administer a certification examination for operators of water treatment plants, water distribution systems, and wastewater treatment plants and requires instead that IDEM ensure the examination is administered at least once per year, but allows the examination be administered by independent third parties authorized by the commissioner of the department. The bill passed Third Reading in the House 91-1. 
  • House Utilities heard HB1414 on Thursday. Among other things, the bill prevents utilities from shutting down coal fired power plants without state permission. Sen Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) questioned individuals testifying in Committee and then directed his ire to the bill’s author, “I’m not hearing any of the companies making this transition coming to us asking for help. If there’s concern by the electrics that we need this bill, I’m not hearing it. This flies in the face of the free market principles that you say your party champions.” The bill passed out of Committee along party-lines with a vote of 9-4.
  • SB241 moved out of Senate Health this week 9-2. Bill author, Sen Liz Brown (R-Ft. Wayne) told the Committee, “The idea of this bill is to try to bring drug costs down. There are a lot of players involved and $2B in drugs in the market. SB241 brings transparency to this process – we will be licensing pharmacy benefit managers and this gives rule making authority to Insurance Commission. What will happen is insurance commissioner will be sure saving costs and prices are actually what they say they are. We cannot fix all the problems, but we can at least ensure that we have a more transparent process.”

Important Dates:

  • Monday, January 27th
    • Senate Family & Children Services
      • SB 342 Pregnancy and Childbirth Discrimination
    • House Public Health
      • HB1042 Pharmacy Benefit Managers
    • House Judiciary
      • HB1343 New Harmony and Wabash River Bridge Authority
  • Tuesday, January 28th
    • Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy
      • SB 262 Film & Media Production Rebate
      • SB 265 Certified Technology Parks
      • SB 309 Employee Misclassification
      • SB 369 Regional Transit Expansion
      • SB 385 Assessment of Business Personal Property Taxes
      • SB 448 Nonprofit Hospital Local Investment Requirement
  • Wednesday, January 29th
    • Senate Health and Provider Services
      • SB97 Insurance Drug Coverage
    • Senate Pension and Labor
      • SB409 Employment of Minors
    • Senate Public Policy
      • SB397 Tobacco, E-liquids, and CBD
  • Thursday, January 30th
    • Senate Commerce & Technology
      • SB427 Provisional Occupational License
  • 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