Chamber Encourages Swift, Meaningful Action on RFRA Law

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar encourages state legislators to act swiftly and thoughtfully regarding national reaction to the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA):

“Since late last week, we have urged state leaders that additional action is required. We communicated that a legislative fix must be significant and make it crystal clear that the law does not in any way open the door for discrimination of any kind toward any individual or group of individuals.

“Unfortunately, Indiana has taken a tremendous hit to our national identity as a welcoming and hospitable state. The business community is concerned about losing contracts and customers for a law that it did not support and did not want to see happen. Hoosier businesses want nothing more than to continue to serve their customers in the state, nationwide and beyond.”

Background: The Indiana Chamber testified in opposition to the RFRA law and believes that it’s unwarranted.

Brinegar: RFRA Law is Unnecessary, but Indiana Remains Open for Business

16891298Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar comments on SB 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration bill, becoming law today and the reaction to that:

“In our eyes, the law is entirely unnecessary. The reactions to it are not unexpected or unpredicted; passing the law was always going to bring the state unwanted attention.

“Yet we are optimistic that the public overall will continue to look to Indiana as a place to come to do business, attend a convention or enjoy a sporting event. Indiana has shown time and time again – whether it’s hosting the Super Bowl or working with companies to bring new jobs to the state – that it’s full of individuals and businesses who are truly welcoming and hospitable.

“Businesses are open for business and want to continue to serve customers in Indiana and throughout the country. That’s the message we are hearing from our members and want to communicate.”

Bad ‘Sunday Sales’ Bill: Hoosier Businesses and Consumers Line Up in Opposition

BOrganizations representing Hoosier consumers and businesses today announced strong opposition to House Bill 1624 (Sale of Alcoholic Beverages) citing concerns that the legislation as amended is anti-consumer and anti-business.

“This issue has always been about bringing greater convenience and choice to consumers,” said Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council. “Hoosiers believe that a product sold responsibly six days a week should be able to be sold on the seventh day. Instead of focusing on that, this amendment has turned this legislation into a debate about increasing restrictions on alcohol for consumers.”

The organizations stated that House Bill 1624 would negatively impact consumer choice and convenience regarding the ability to purchase alcohol at drug, grocery and convenience stores. Current language in the bill would place a mandatory ban on self-service shopping for distilled spirits at grocery and drug stores by requiring those stores to build a separate area to keep distilled spirits away from customers behind a counter. The Indiana Retail Council estimates that costs incurred by drug and grocery stores to retrofit each store to accommodate these new restrictions would exceed $100 million.

“The House took a bill intended to allow drug, convenience and grocery stores to sell alcohol on Sunday, the second-busiest shopping day of the week and modified it significantly – to shield package liquor stores from competition,” said Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “Hoosiers wanted more convenience but instead, the Indiana House of Representatives is on the verge of making their shopping less convenient every day of the week.”

The original version of HB 1624 allowed for carryout sales of alcohol at retail stores on Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and repealed an existing restriction which limits liquor stores ability to sell commodities. The repeal of the commodity restriction would enable liquor stores to sell nearly any product that a grocery store is able to sell, therefore better leveling the field of competition among retailers.

The current version of that bill places restrictions on the ability of consumers to purchase alcohol at drug and grocery stores by requiring that all distilled spirits be placed in a segregated area within the store in order to regulate the purchase. The amendment contains additional restrictions including limits on where beer and wine can be displayed in drug, grocery and convenience stores and new barriers on the “checkout process” at drug, grocery and convenience stores.

House Bill 1624 places no additional restrictions on package liquor stores.

“Everybody loses but liquor stores. Customers should decide who wins and loses in the marketplace – not the House of Representatives,” said Brinegar. “It’s time to go back to the drawing board for a new bill that would be truly pro-consumer and pro-business and not simply cater to the package stores interests once again.”

An amendment offered by State Rep. Jud McMillin would have removed the requirement on grocery and drug stores to retrofit their stores and place spirits away from customer behind a counter was defeated last week 47-45.

In the original and amended versions of the bill, liquor store owners continue to retain the monopoly on selling cold beer. The current version of HB 1624 will extend the liquor store monopoly to include self-service of liquor (the ability for a customer walk down an aisle to select products for purchase on their own before making a purchase at the register).

Indiana is the only state that allows alcohol sales on Sunday by the drink at bars, restaurants, sporting events and concerts yet prohibits the safer option of carryout sales for consumption at home. Indiana’s neighboring states all permit Sunday sales (IL, KY, MI, and OH).

Under current law, retailers are currently permitted to sell carryout alcohol from 7 a.m.-3 a.m. the following day (prevailing local time) Monday-Saturday. The bill does not change current laws allowing microbreweries and farm wineries to sell carryout alcohol on Sunday.

Common Construction Wage Repeal Now in the Mix at the Statehouse

statehouse picIt was a welcome surprise last week when the Indiana Chamber learned that the Common Construction Wage Bill (HB 1019) was going to receive a committee hearing. The Chamber testified it was in strong favor of repealing the CCW statute, noting this has been the organization’s position for many decades.

The Chamber told the committee that CCW prevents open and fair bidding competition for public construction projects. It establishes a government-sanctioned advantage for one set of contractors and workers over all others. It requires taxpayers to pay significantly above market wages, and therefore excessive taxes, on public construction projects. And it requires the setting of a government-mandated price to be paid for construction labor that is excessive and completely unnecessary; we don’t set minimum prices to be paid on other forms of labor, construction materials or equipment.

At the core of the issue for the Chamber: CCW costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in excess and unnecessary tax burdens. Chamber members – over 80% of which are small businesses – and the rest of the business community pay over half of the excess taxes caused by CCW. The remainder is paid by farmers and residential property owners, including elderly homeowners on fixed incomes.

In testimony, Chamber President Kevin Brinegar relayed the unfortunate situation that occurred nearly a decade ago when three massive public construction projects were going on in Indianapolis at the same time: Lucas Oil Stadium, the new Indianapolis Airport and the expansion of the Indiana Convention Center.

The wage committees on those projects chose union scale. And they further chose union-only project labor agreements which effectively excluded the non-union contractors from participating. At the height of the construction of those projects, there was not enough union labor to work on all three simultaneously. And rather than go to skilled, trained Hoosiers who didn’t happen to hold a union card to fill those needs, they went to union halls in Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. That meant literally thousands of out-of-state workers – approximately 4,000 – came to work on our projects funded by our tax dollars instead of using qualified Indiana workers. The wages paid to those individuals went back to Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky to be used in their economies, not in ours. The Chamber views this as unfair and inappropriate.

Brinegar also told the group he served on approximately 40 wage-setting committees during his 12 years on the Noblesville School Board. In a property tax-capped environment, cash-strapped local units of government, like schools, cannot afford to pay inflated costs for their construction projects.

The Chamber closed its argument by calling CCW an unnecessary and wasteful interference by government into the free enterprise system and a relic of the 1930s – a costly one that is far past time to be repealed.

Many others testified in favor of the repeal. The Anderson Economic Group said it had conducted a study in Illinois and Michigan on how much CCW added to overall costs. The Fort Wayne City Council president testified to the many projects that will be coming to Fort Wayne that could save millions of dollars if CCW is repealed. He further testified that the CCW committee process is predetermined. The former mayor of Terre Haute added that cities have been beaten up over the property tax caps; repeal of CCW would alleviate some of that problem. The Associated Builders and Contractors stated that government should not be in the business of mandating wages.

House Bill 1019 is expected to receive a final floor debate on Monday. Organized labor is mounting stiff opposition to the measure in an effort, much like in the fight over right-to-work, to protect a special, government-created privilege at the expense of taxpayers and the free market. The Chamber will be diligently working with like-minded organizations to secure passage of HB 1019.

Call to Action: Please send a brief message to your state representative in support of HB 1019 and repealing the common construction wage law. It’s quick and easy via our grassroots program!

“Testify!” Here’s What the Chamber Testified On at the Statehouse Last Week

statehouse picOn behalf of the business community, the Indiana Chamber’s lobbying team testified on a variety of bills last week, including:

HB 1262 – Return and Complete Grant: The Chamber testified in support; the bill would provide opportunities and incentives for students who previously left college to make an easier transition back into school and then into the workforce.

HB 1319 – Acquisition of Distressed Utilities: The Chamber testified in support of a fair, reasonable and effective development of our Indiana water infrastructure. This bill has the potential to do
just that and incentivize new investment, especially in rural Indiana.

HB 1624 – Sale of Alcoholic Beverages: The Chamber testified in
support of Sunday sales but had to oppose the amended bill because
of the onerous regulations and unacceptable costs it now places on liquor store competitors, aka retailers.

SB 1 – State Board Governance: The Chamber testified in support of this bill, which seeks to allow the State Board of Education to elect its own chair in order to have a more effective body. However, we believe the Governor, as the executive branch leader, should be allowed to control the appointment process for State Board members.

SB 177 – Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Costs: The Chamber testified in support, pointing out that this bill allows the water and wastewater utility to make the necessary improvements in a strategic manner, plus the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has approval authority to keep the costs in check.

SB 306 – Limited Liability Arising From Trespassing: The Chamber testified in support, believing that property owners should not owe duty to trespassers (as outlined in this bill).

SB 348 – Advanced Technology Vehicles: The Chamber testified in support because hybrid, electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles currently get a “free ride” as they do not pay fuel taxes that support the state’s roads and highway infrastructure.

SB 373 – Funding of Lawsuits: The Chamber testified in opposition, noting that the preferred regulation of the “lawsuit lending” industry would be with a cap on interest rates and the measures that were presented in the House version (HB 1340).

SB 394 – Reporting of Government Malfeasance: The Chamber testified in support, appreciating the efforts of the bill to help persuade local government employees to speak up without fear of repercussion if they have reason to suspect official misconduct.

SB 416 – Employee’s Right to Scheduled Employment: The Chamber testified in opposition, voicing concerns over the difficulty this bill would place on employers and their ability to be flexible in scheduling employees for work.

SB 436 – State and Local Taxation: The Chamber testified in support of the personal property tax exemption for small businesses but voiced displeasure over the 30% depreciation floor provision being removed and the proposed assessment methods (support in part/oppose in part).

SB 479 – Evaluation of Solid Waste Management Districts (SWMDs): The Chamber testified in support, stating that the overall mission, funding and accountability of the SWMDs should be carefully reconsidered.

SB 568 – Religious Freedom Restoration Act: The Chamber testified in opposition, focusing mainly on the concern that this would place employers in the position of having to determine the legitimacy of religious belief claims and expose those employers to unwarranted legal action.

SR 8 – Guidance for Chemical Facilities for Requirements Under the Environmental Stewardship Program: The Chamber testified in support, citing that recognition provided by the state’s Environmental Stewardship Program should promote a more aggressive safe-handling program for chemicals.

Gov. Pence Still Blocking Job-Saving Work Share Plan

For the third year in a row, the Pence administration has refused to support the creation of an innovative, cost-neutral program to reduce job layoffs and loss of benefits – a vital issue for Hoosier workers and their families.

Obtaining approval for the implementation of a work share program for Indiana is one of the Indiana Chamber’s top priorities for the 2015 legislative session. It’s that important.

Work share would allow a company to reduce the hours of a group of employees to avoid a full layoff of some of those employees. Employers retain a skilled workforce; employees are compensated for their reduced working hours, receive partial unemployment compensation to help offset the reduction in hours and retain their benefits.

It’s voluntary. It saves jobs – nearly 500,000 in 21 states over the past five years. It doesn’t increase unemployment trust fund costs. It is an important economic development tool as it enables companies to retain skilled workers and allows the employees to remain at work enhancing their skills and experience.

Hopefully, the need for such a program will be minimal. However, business cycles and economic downturns are a reality. When they do happen, work share will be a very important tool for Indiana to have in place.

It made so much sense that Governor Pence actually voted for work share legislation when he was a member of Congress. In a position today as Governor to actually do something about it, he’s refusing to move forward.

Call Governor Pence’s office at (317) 232-4567 and send him a brief email message from our web site. Ask Governor Pence to reconsider his decision and to support work share. It will only take a moment to make the call and send the message, but it’s very important.

For more information:
• Tom Easterday, executive vice president of Suburu of Indiana Automotive and chairman of the board of the Indiana Chamber, explains more about work share in the video below.

Chamber Supports Regional Cities Initiative, I-69 Route in Southern Marion County

HB 1403 establishes the Indiana Regional City Fund to provide grants and loans to regional development authorities. Provides that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation administers the fund. Provides that a city or town that is eligible to become a second-class city may become a member of a regional development authority.

The Indiana Chamber testified in support of HB 1403, joining many others. The Indiana Chamber endorses regionalism and place-making economic development strategies that this legislation seeks to enable. Both have proven effective and both are in line with the Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan. How to fund the state portion of the regional cities initiative remains an open question and one which the Indiana Chamber is prepared to work with legislative leaders to find an answer.

The bill was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday. No vote taken; eligible for further committee action.

Furthermore, see the article on the Regional Cities Initiative in the January/February edition of BizVoice magazine.


HB 1036 removes the requirement that the General Assembly enact a statute authorizing the construction of I-69 in Perry Township (Marion County) before I-69 may be constructed in Perry Township.

The Indiana Chamber, along with many others, testified in support of HB 1036; no party testified in opposition to the bill. There is no valid reason that the current prohibition for I-69 in Perry Township, Marion County should exist in law. The Chamber’s position: The current prohibition should be repealed; all potential routes for the final section of I-69 should be objectively studied by the appropriate agencies of both the federal and state governments; and the route with the least environmental and best economic impact for the state should be chosen upon the merits, not upon any political clout or other considerations.

This bill was heard in the House Roads and Transportation Committee on Wednesday. No vote taken; eligible for further committee action.

Non-Union Teacher Contract Bargaining Requires Flexibility

Finding, retaining and empowering great teachers must be a top priority for Indiana schools. However, the state’s teacher bargaining law ties the hands of administrators and forces the union-bargained contract and all its controls on every teacher in a district, whether or not they choose to even join the union.

Senate Bill 302, authored by Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon), would allow school districts to negotiate employment contracts directly with individual teachers or groups of teachers that choose not to join their union, instead of being forced to negotiate exclusively within the bargaining agreement and impose those same contract provisions on all teachers.

Today, schools and districts cannot recruit superb educators and those with specific skills needed (e.g. STEM, foreign languages, etc.) and cannot be offered higher pay or other incentives. And in districts with teacher shortages, there is no room to negotiate a contract to hire a teacher that might be needed to fill an important gap. There is no flexibility – it’s the union’s contract or nothing, even in a right-to-work state like Indiana.

Teachers are professionals and should be treated like it. They have the right to be a union member and bargain collectively should they so choose, but they also should have the right to negotiate their own contracts. If we want better teachers in this state, we need to encourage and support excellence.

The bill would free teachers from a longstanding stranglehold on contracts, allow for excellence to be rewarded and recruited, and stop treating all teachers like interchangeable parts under the same contract terms regardless of skills, performance or a school’s needs.

Please take a moment to send a message to your state senator and the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee to ask for support of Senate Bill 302 to provide for more flexibility for school districts and teachers.

Legislative Testimony: Employment for Non-Union Teachers

The Indiana Chamber’s Caryl Auslander testified today in support of Senate Bill 302 – Employment Contracts for Non-Union Teachers, authored by Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon) and Sen. Jim Smith (R-Charlestown).

The Indiana Chamber has long supported similar legislation allowing employees to choose whether or not they want to join their union. And as such, those that choose NOT to join their respective union for whatever reason should have the opportunity to negotiate their contract outside of the collective bargaining agreement that was set forth by that union – just as any other employee in the state might be able to do.

We feel that this legislation empowers both the employer and the employee to negotiate a contract that works best for BOTH parties.