Indiana Legislative Update – Throwing Down the Gauntlet

On Wednesday, in what has become his regularly scheduled news conference, Governor Holcomb announced his plans to veto HB1123 that will likely soon pass through the final steps of the legislative process legislation soon to be passed by the General Assembly designed to curb a Governor’s emergency powers. The State of Indiana has persisted under the guiding hand of the Governor and in a state of emergency for 13 months now, “I understand lawmaker’s concerns, but the Constitution does not allow them to call a special session,” said Holcomb. “V.E.T.O.,” proclaimed the Governor, “I can’t spell it out any clearer.” Lawmakers have anticipated the Governor’s challenge of the bill, working to finish the bill early to allow for the seven days Holcomb has to act on the bill once it reaches his desk and before they adjourn.

In the midst of conflict, Lawmakers found consensus and passed good news for millions of Hoosiers who struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, amending SB383 to conform to federal law and not impose Indiana income tax on unemployment benefits up to $10,200.  Rep Hal Slager (R-Schererville) urged support for the amendment, “We don’t want to be in a position where people are getting a concession from the federal government and we are taking that back.  Further, I ask that this be called the Delaney Amendment since it is what he presented in Ways and Means.”  Much to the delight of the assistant minority caucus chair, Rep Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) joked, “I am grateful there are people on both sides who wanted to have this discussion. I may keep filing amendments in light of this!”  According to the Department of Workforce Development Commissioner, from March 2020 to February 2021, 18.4 million weekly unemployment forms were filed. 

As a reminder – next Tuesday, April 6th the Indiana mask mandate becomes a mask advisory. Capacity limits and business restrictions will become local decisions and everyone age 16+ is now eligible for the vaccine. However, with six days before the mandate ends, an additional 12 counties moved from “blue” into “yellow” on the statewide map showing increased spread of the virus, with 37 of 92 counties in yellow showing moderate spread of COVID-19; and 53 in blue showing minimal spread of the virus. “We cannot throw caution to the wind and behave as if the pandemic is over,” urged ISDH State Health Commissioner Kris Box, MD.

We are coming quickly to a wrap up of the 2021 legislative session, with next week being the deadline for committee reports to be adopted, and conference committees heating up with short notice for hearings. There are now more than 20 bills listed on the Governor’s Bill Watch Page and the list will grow exponentially over the next few weeks. This week he signed one bill from E-REP’s priority list: SB2 – Funding for Virtual Instruction in Public Schools. Here are other highlights on bills we are watching for you.

  • It is the second bite at the apple for Governor Holcomb and lawmakers to address the issue of pregnancy accommodations in Indiana.  Last year, the Senate gutted the pregnancy accommodation bill before ultimately killing it. This year, lawmakers chose to advance Sen Karen Engleman’s (R-Georgetown) HB1309, a pregnant worker bill without mandates to make accommodations – it only prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who has requested an accommodation and requires that employers respond to requests in a “timely manner.” They are not obliged to agree to said requests.  In Senate Pensions Committee this week Sen Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg) called the legislation “well-intended” but claimed, “there’s nothing in this bill that can’t already happen.”  Following considerable testimony by stakeholders calling for solid, tangible guidelines, not only for employees, but for employers, Sen Perfect responded, “I agree with you, this isn’t it.”  In spite of misgivings, the bill passed out of Committee 6-4 and moves to the Senate floor for further consideration. 
  • HB1449 is the House comprehensive broadband bill. Among several provisions, it prioritizes funding to ensure health clinics and K-12 schools and students have broadband access. It establishes a reverse auction system for individuals and businesses to request a bid for service and opportunity for state subsidy. The bill modifies the Next Level Grant program to serve unserved addresses and prohibits state grants where federal grants have already been awarded. It requires the Office of Community & Rural Affairs (OCRA) to establish and publish specific goals and submit to state board of account audits annually. The bill passed the Senate 50-0 and is awaiting a decision from the House about whether to concur or dissent from Senate amendments.
  • Lawmakers flexed their muscles in passing Sen Chris Garten’s (R-Charlestown) amended SB5 which prohibits local health officials from implementing more stringent restrictions than the state during an emergency order without the approval of local elected officials.  Further, the bill requires approval of local health board’s appointment of health officers.  By contrast, during last week’s announcement, Governor Holcomb said, “As always, local govt may impose more stringent guidelines, whether that is a bank branch lobby, factory floor, or county courthouse, they retain the authority to make decisions about restrictions for their operations and should be afforded respect, compliance and understanding of all who visit them.”  The bill passed out of Rules Committee 7-3. 
  • The Senate voted to Concur with the House changes to SB214 on Thursday 48-0. The bill that establishes Payment In Lieu of Taxes options for local governments and low-income housing moves to the Governor.
  • The House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee heard and amended the trio of Senate bills dealing with Broadband – SB352, SB359 and SB377. These bills complement HB1449 updating procedures for OCRA regarding the administration of the Next Level Broadband grants, establishing a “dig once” program within INDOT to create broadband corridors, and creating the 21st Century Connected county designation for counties with broadband connectivity for at least 90% of the county’s residents before January 1, 2026. All 3 bills passed out of Committee on Monday and are moving through the process on the House floor.
  • The bill extending the life of and expanding the area covered by the Evansville Professional Sports and Convention Development Area (SB384) will be headed to the Governor’s desk after the Senate voted to Concur with the House amendments on Thursday.
  • Democrats and Republicans worked together to craft a creative new way to reduce rates for utility customers – a pilot program to do something called cost securitization.  “SB386 deals with a very current issue – stranded assets.  Stranded assets are things like coal fired plants that are no longer being used, but have mortgages and rate payers are still paying for them,” said Rep Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso).  Rep Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) initially voiced some concerns over the mechanics of IURC’s role in the program, but conceded this was a pilot program and ultimately lent bipartisan support for the bill, “Securitization can help rate payers.  All utilities have interest rates in the range of 7-9%.  With securitization, rate payers will pay 2% instead.”  The bill passed with unanimous support in the House 92-0 on Monday and the Senate voted 48-0 on Thursday to Concur with the changes made in the House. The bill will move to the Governor’s desk.
  • HB1002 was original the House bill granting broad-based civil immunity related to COVID issues, but after SB1 was passed and signed by the Governor, 1002 was no longer needed for that purpose. The Senate Judiciary Committee has amended the bill to focus only on immunity for actions of healthcare providers and to prohibit class action suits against governmental entities, including higher education institutions (whether they are public or private). After multiple Committee hearings and several different amendments, the bill passed out of Committee Wednesday and moves to the Senate floor next week.
  • Sen Michael Bohacek (R-Michigan City) presented the Enterprise Zone Renewals bill, “HB1025 simply provides that an enterprise zone may be renewed for an additional five year period if the locals reauthorize the tax deduction, also allowing a new administration to allow some to expire and look at new areas to focus on.”  The bill passed Tax & Fiscal Committee unanimously, 13-0, on Tuesday.
  • Rep Gregory Steuerwald (R-Avon) presented HB1127 to the House, requesting final concurrence, “In the House we amended Rep Wendy McNamara’s (R-Evansville) bill into 1127, and the Senate removed it.” The bill removes a provision in statute that terminates a delinquent child or incarcerated person from Medicaid participation following a two-year suspension due to certain adjudications or incarceration.  It further adds competency restoration services to the list of treatment and wraparound recovery services made available to persons in the criminal justice system. The McNamara language removed would have created the long term recovery group for Southwest Indiana. The House concurred with the Senate amendments 93-0, sending the bill to the Governor.
  • An obviously pained Sen Michael Crider (R-Greenfield), Homeland Security and Transportation Committee Chair began, “Rep Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie) and I are getting slaughtered in both directions.  We, as a committee, are fairly divided on HB1190.  It feels like we are picking winners and losers, and that’s not where anyone wants to be.” Committee members were divided on how to move the bill, “Whether it’s steel or feathers, we’ve already opened the door for this,” said Sen Erin Houchin (R- Salem).  Sen Jim Tomes proposed the opposite approach, suggesting, “Because this is such an important issue, would it hurt if we took a summer to talk about this with actual facts and figures?”  After considerable discussion it was decided by the Chair that they would hold the bill another week.  “I am being as fair a Chairman as you’ve ever seen be fair, because I could kill the bill right now if I wanted to,” said a battle-weary Crider.
  • HB1197 specifies that effective July 1, 2021, the P-47 Thunderbolt known as the Hoosier Spirit II will be designated as the official state aircraft of Indiana. Current law designates the P-47 Thunderbolt as the official state aircraft of Indiana.  The P-47 Thunderbolts – also known as “Indiana Warbirds” – were produced in Evansville during WWII.  Rep Wendy McNamara’s (R-Evansville) nod to Evansville passed this week in the Senate 47-1 and returns to the House for a likely concurrence.   
  • HB1220 reauthorizes the 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force,” said Sen Ed Koch (R-Bedford). The previous task force sunset in December 2020. The new task force will study 11 topics including distributing energy resources, net metering, electric vehicles, opportunities in the minority communities and assets including building upon the pilot established in SB386.  The bill passed out of the Senate 49-0.
  • Rep Ethan Manning (R-Logansport) presented HB1381 in Senate Utilities, “This bill establishes default standards concerning the set of rules a company must follow when trying to invest  in commercial wind and solar in Indiana.  Prior to this bill there has been a patchwork of 92 ordinances and sets of rules for a company to follow when trying to invest in the state.”  An amendment to assess a one-time payment of $3000 per megawatt of capacity from the developer to the local government was proposed and accepted.  Following testimony by numerous stakeholders, the bill passed out of committee 9-2 and is scheduled for a hearing in Senate Tax & Fiscal Committee next Wednesday.   
  • HB1520 establishes metrics to ensure that utilities are providing Hoosiers reliable, adequate service.  After passing the House unanimously earlier this session, the bill passed the Senate 50-0 on Tuesday and will move to the Governor for his consideration.
  • Rep Shane Lindauer (R-Jasper) brought an amended SB3 before the House for final consideration, “SB3 deals with the issue of telehealth.  We passed a similar bill, HB1286 which passed 93-0.  The goal is to bring a wider range of care actions across the state that have been particularly useful during the lockdown.  There are a few major provisions – such as prohibiting Medicaid from specifying originating sites and distance sites for purposes of Medicaid reimbursement, telehealth may not be utilized for abortion services, specifies that a patient waives confidentiality of medical information concerning individuals in the vicinity when the patient is using telehealth, requires that telehealth records must be maintained under the same standard as in-person setting appointments, and that providers may not be forced to use specific technology applications to use telehealth.”  The bill passed 91-1. The Senate will soon consider whether to Concur or Dissent with the amendments made in the House.
  • Rep Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) presented SB54, “This bill came with a mandate and a waiver provision – that language came out in Ways and Means Committee and instead of a mandate, we’ve created a financial incentive.  With a 5% increase in FAFSA completion over the previous year, schools get an adjusted bump in funding based on their school complexity index, up to $500.”  Rep Vernon Smith praised the bill, “There are two things important in life – salvation and education.  Indiana is 34th in FAFSA completion nationwide.  This is an opportunity to move forward in Indiana.”  The bill passed 87-6 and returns to the Senate to see if they agree with the changes made in the House.
  • Rep Mike Aylesworth (R-Hebron) presented SB271, the IDEM agency bill.  The environmental bill provides that a property owner claiming an industrial waste control facility property tax exemption must provide a written statement attesting that the property claimed as exempt meets the requirement for the exemption, removes the requirement that IDEM approve said industrial pollution equipment and instead directs that duty to local assessors, amends the law to require IDEM publish a list online of 303-D impaired waters, and ensures Indiana’s control of the Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) permit process, and extends the deadline for IDEM’s adoption of new rules to increase fees from January 1, 2022 to January 1, 2023, citing COVID-19 as the need for the delay.  With barely a minor speed bump to slow passage of the bill, “These ash pond fees – They aren’t really paid by the utilities, but these are paid by the rate payers, correct?” asked Rep Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis). “I got hired as a civilian non-technical person who cares about the environment.  I was concerned with what IDEM was doing and their quality of work.  What I found out was that IDEM does a better review job of groundwater than the EPA.  IDEM’s team is outstanding.  We need to give them the tools they need, and this bill gives them the funds to do that,” said Rep Aylesworth in closing.  The bill passed out of Ways and Means 15-8, and moves to the House floor. 
  • On second reading this week an attempt was made to amend SB336, the Business Property Tax Exemption bill which increases from $40K to $60K the acquisition costs threshold for the business personal property tax exemption, to “diversify our state revenue” by Rep Greg Porter (D-Gary).  Republicans were quick to quash the effort, “SB336 is for small business.  It lightens the burden on small business. If you support tax increases and putting burden on small business, this amendment is for you,” replied Rep Mike Speedy (R-Indianapolis).  Rep Porter shot back, “Here we go again,” repeating loudly, ‘THIS IS NOT A TAX INCREASE!” thrice and called for a roll call vote.  The amendment failed 23-66.  The bill then moved for a final vote on the House floor Thursday, where the debate was renewed, “When you take the burden off small business, you open the door to move more investment, more jobs, and our economy back in the right direction,” said Rep Mike Speedy (R-Indianapolis).  The bill passed 68-21. 
  • SB373 authored by Sen Susan Glick (R-Lagrange) amends the law concerning the Benjamin Harrison conservation trust program giving the program additional powers relating to the reduction of carbon footprints. However, upon referral to the House, it was discovered there are already carbon credit programs in place in the State and this bill seemed to merely burden the Ag Dept with a new program.  With that in mind, all language in the Senate version of the bill was stripped and replaced with an amendment to create a “working group,” said Rep Don Lehe, the House sponsor of the bill, “I’m not a fan of study committees – they may or may not get anything done. This is a working group.” The intent of the group is to create a “one-stop shop” program that is “common sense and bipartisan” for Hoosiers to demonstrate supply and demand for offset credits in Indiana. A second amendment followed that seemed to have no relation to the underlying bill. Details of a project said to be a “direct investment in the Harrison Trust and Indiana Clean Water program” promising a “significant reallocation of capital very soon” in Indiana – and a company tag line, “We make. We move. We grow,” was touted. The committee learned of a $110M venture fund which intends to take C02 and put it underground.  “SB373 is dealing with carbon sequestration.” The amendment provided release of liability to stakeholders of project. The more they heard, the more members voiced concern, “This is not a left or right issue – this is the basic premise of the American people that you have the right to seek compensation for damages.” And with that, in the middle of a string of individuals in line to give testimony, Natural Resources Chair Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville) called for a vote, “I don’t believe this is where we are going to land, but I am in favor of moving something forward.” The bill passed 8-5. At that time committee members broke out in protest, “I would just say for the record we should hear everyone before a vote,” said Rep Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend). ‘It is my prerogative,” countered the Chair.
  • HB1123 is the bill mentioned above that would allow the General Assembly to call itself into special session during a long-term statewide emergency declaration. The bill also establishes a legislative state of emergency advisory group to guide decisions on policy and any discretionary emergency funds the state receives. The bill recently passed the Senate 39-10 and is in Conference Committee after the House dissented from the Senate amendments. The proposed Conference Committee report makes technical changes to the bill and appears to be ready for adoption by the House and Senate early next week after the Senate Democrat Conferee (Taylor) was removed as a Conferee and replaced by Republican Senator Glick.
  • HB1238 establishes the northeast Indiana strategic development commission.  We had 4 changes to the bill on the Senate side that made the bill just a little bit better,” said Rep Dave Heine (R-New Haven).  HB1238 requires a yearly audit, a strategic plan submitted by October 1 every 5 years, and provides direction as to appointment of members of the commission, specifically prescribing they be bipartisan in nature.  The bill itself received bipartisan support with Rep Phil GiaQuinta (D-Ft Wayne) praising the effort and calling it, “Model legislation for other regions of the state.” The House concurred with the Senate amendments 89-2, sending the bill to the Governor.  
  • SB123 is the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Compact bill brought by Sen Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) to address the shortage of these professionals in Indiana.  Ten states must join to enact a compact.  Six states joined in 2020, two have already joined in 2021, with two more “close” – making it likely the Compact will “go live” by year-end.  In conjunction with telehealth, this interstate compact will help provide services to the many unserved and underserved areas in the Hoosier state.  The bill passed 11-0 from House Public Health Committee and has now been recommitted to House Ways and Means. 
  • Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that required PBMs to register for the first-time with the Indiana Department of Insurance, which sets up rules on licensure, reporting and business conduct. Now, lawmakers would further increase oversight to provide tighter regulation of pharmacy benefits managers (or PBMs), holding them accountable and giving more protection to consumers and pharmacists.  SB143 was subjected to a number of House amendments that some committee members complained, “I feel like we are just moving words around.”  In the end, the bill emerged successfully with a vote of 13-0 and the congratulations of the House Financial Institution and Insurance Chairman thanking members for their diligent work, and closing out the last meeting of the group for the session with a warm, “I love this can be a bipartisan committee.” The bill was recommitted to Ways and Means where it was amended to remove the fiscal impact and making a specific appropriation in the budget for the program and passed out of committee Wednesday to the House floor. 
  • SB175 has been added to your bill list as the language in HB1396 that created flexibility for alcohol sales in food halls along with other provisions that may be helpful to downtown development now and in the years to come.  The bill passed out of Committee 10-1 on Tuesday and has cleared 2nd reading on the House floor.   

Important Dates:

  • Monday, April 5th
    • Senate Commerce and Technology
      • HB1418 Economic Development Issues (Negele)
  • Tuesday, April 6th, 2021
    • Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy
      • HB1348 Assessment of Utility Grade Solar Projects (Soliday)
      • HB1381 Commercial Wind and Solar Standards and Siting (Soliday)
    • Senate Homeland Security and Transportation
      • HB1190 Overweight Truck Permits (Pressel)
  • Wednesday, April 7th, 2021
    • Senate Public Policy
      • HB1396 Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (Smaltz)
  • Thursday, April 8, 2021
    • Senate Utilities
      • HB1164 Various Utility Matters (Manning)
  • Tuesday, April 13th – Deadline for House bills to pass the Senate and deadline for Senate bills to pass the House
  • Wednesday, April 21st – Anticipated last day of the 2021 regular session

COVID-19 Information and Updates:

  • Since last week’s update, the state has reported 6,715 new positive cases (687,713 total), 66 new deaths (12,642 total), 38,001 new individuals tested (3,262,518 total), and 223,040 new tests administered (8,715,517 total). There are an additional 406 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 9.2% from the beginning of testing and 4% for the 7-days ending on 03/25. The positivity rate for unique individuals is 21.1% since the beginning of testing and is 10.2% for the 7 days ending 03/25 (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 now has most of Southwest IN in blue (low community spread) except for Dubois County joining Gibson and Spencer 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 03/25 are: Gibson 4.7%, Posey 5.2%, Vanderburgh 4.1%, Warrick 5.2%, and Spencer 5.6%. 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 3/31, 1,162,464 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and another 1,695,022 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the 2-dose vaccines. This is 21.4% of Hoosiers over the age of 16 fully vaccinated and SW IN is leading the way with more than 20% of our region. More than 65% of Hoosiers over the age of 70 are now fully vaccinated and more than 60% of Hoosiers over the age of 60 have received at least their first vaccine dose. SW IN leads the way with nearly 25% of our regional population over the age of 16 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