The Indiana Legislature convened today for their Organization Day. This Session Day is always two weeks after Election Day to swear in new legislators, elect their leadership (House Speaker & Senate President Pro Tem), and pass the rules that will govern how they operate. Tradition also has a speech from the House Speaker and both leaders in the Senate about what they anticipate.
Here are things that are set:
- They will return to Session on Monday, January 4th
- Todd Huston (R-Fishers) is the House Speaker and Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) is the House Minority Leader. Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) continues as the Senate President Pro Tempore and Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) starts a new tenure as Senate Minority Leader. Senator Taylor is the first person of color to lead an Indiana Legislative Caucus.
- Rules have been amended to allow for more electronic transactions (filing of bills and amendments which were always done in person), increasing the notice time for several actions, and to allow the Legislature to recess for more than 3 days at a time, which might be needed if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in the Senate.
House Democrats attempted to amend the rules to require “face coverings” when conducting House business and provide penalties for those who don’t. The rule was defeated on party lines as Republicans argued that none of the other safety precautions implemented due to COVID are in the rules. Many of these changes were enacted by the Legislative Personnel Committee (eg: spacing of members on floor and committees) and Republicans argue there is still time to consider such things on the first day of Session if needed. It appears that all Senators were wearing face coverings and all but two House Members were (Curt Nisly and freshman John Jacob). Representatives Nisly and Jacob also introduced a Resolution that would have terminated the public health emergency declared by the Governor. The Resolution was not “called for consideration” during today’s Session.
Today and at yesterday’s IN Chamber’s Legislative Preview, we have heard from the Legislative leaders about their priorities for the upcoming Session. Many legislators and other state leaders are focusing on policies and budget items that will “get Hoosiers back to work” and “help the Indiana economy grow out of the recovery.” Some highlights include:
- Passing the biennial budget that allocates funds for two years beginning July 1, 2020. This is one of the two constitutional requirements for the Session and will be a more difficult task given the constraints created by the COVID-19 economy. The other requirement is drawing new district lines for Indiana’s Congressional representatives; it is customary that they draw the state legislative district lines at the same time, but that could be put off for another year if needed.
- GOP leaders have indicated their first priority is passing Liability Protections to provide coverage for businesses, K-12 schools, Colleges & Universities, nonprofits, and hospitals. The details of this bill will definitely be a balancing act to protect organizations that are taking precautions vs. those acting irresponsibly.
- Protecting K-12 education funding, though no one was willing to make any commitments about funding levels until they have better details on the state’s projected income.
- Investing in broadband, esp. after seeing the increased need highlighted by the pandemic for Hoosiers to work and learn from home.
- Other subjects mentioned include healthcare and energy costs and addressing the continued social unrest (body cameras for police officers were the only detail shared)
Many of these line up with the IN Chamber’s 2021 priorities, which also include:
- Raising the state’s cigarette tax as a way to reduce smoking rates
- Establishing a work share program
- Increasing incentives for attracting remote workers to Indiana
The Southwest Indiana Chamber is finalizing our 2021 public policy initiatives. You have until the end of business this Friday to participate in the Chamber’s Public Policy survey to provide input on issues important to your business. We anticipate that we’ll see the first “bill lists” released soon – these are bills filed for consideration once Session starts. When those are released, I’ll begin building your 2021 Bill Track.