A Big Jump in the Minimum Wage: Will It Help or Hurt Low-Skilled Workers?

Reason.TV’s Nick Gillespie sat down with George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux to discuss raising the minimum wage and its impact on not just businesses, but workers.

Some states and cities have moved to increase their minimum wage to $15, and results have yet to be determined. Boudreaux is adamantly against the increase, however, and expects many workers will lose not only their jobs, but opportunities to gain skills to move up the economic ladder.

Telemedicine a Major Health Issue in 2016 Session

16358656House Bill 1263 (Telemedicine), authored by Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer (R-Indianapolis), was enthusiastically supported by the Indiana Chamber during the 2016 Indiana legislative session. Numerous organizations supported the concept and not one opposed; the Indiana State Medical Association remained neutral. The bill allows physicians, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses that have authority to prescribe drugs and optometrists to prescribe medicine to a patient via telemedicine services.

While everyone supported the concept, getting everyone to agree on the final version was a rocky process. Concerns ranged from existing patient/provider relationships, out of state providers, hospital relationships to standards of care and jurisdiction for medical malpractice. But by the end, the conference committee report had only one vote against in both houses.

Senate Bill 165 (Healthy Indiana Plan or HIP), authored by Sen. Patricia Miller (R-Indianapolis), is the Governor’s measure to repeal the former HIP plan and codify into statute the current HIP 2.0. The Pence administration believes that codifying the current plan strengthens its position with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for when the new 1115 Medicaid waiver is negotiated.

Opponents believe that codifying the existing plan leaves no room for flexibility. Chiropractic services under the HIP 2.0 plan were added in the House on second reading but removed in conference committee. The bill passed both houses, mostly along party lines with a few exceptions. The Chamber has been supportive of the core principles of HIP and HIP 2.0, offering an alternative to the Medicaid system by providing a power account (similar to an HSA) which encourages individual responsibility in a participant’s medical decisions.

 

Pseudoephedrine and Pharmacists

statehouse picEphedrine, pseudoephedrine and meth received a lot of discussion during session, especially when House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) came out in November and said that something needed to be done about the state’s meth problem. The Chamber supported HB 1157/SB 161, which included putting individuals with drug-related felonies on the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) and thus would trigger a stop-sale alert; both bills passed. The Chamber has historically been opposed to making ephedrine products prescription only because of the inconvenience to consumers that need these products and the impacts on businesses that supply them; HB 1390 in its original form would have done that.

During the last week of session, the Chamber provided a written letter to the General Assembly on the conference committee report for SB 80 that was voted on in the House. The letter stated that the conference committee language prohibited consumers from
accessing multi-ingredient, time-released allergy products, such as Claritan-D, Allegra-D, Zyrtec-D and Mucinex-D – the most effective products for consumers suffering from allergies. The multi-use products are less likely to be used in meth than the single-ingredient products referenced in the conference committee report. The letter also suggested how to fix the problem.

Representative Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn) was the House sponsor and although he did not make the changes necessary to fix the conference committee report of SB 80, he did agree that the House-passed third reading version of SB 80 should be concurred upon in the Senate.That essentially amounted to the same thing as the fix and addressed the concerns the Chamber had.

The Indiana Chamber joined CVS, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the Indiana Pharmacists Alliance, the Indiana Retail Council, Bayer and Johnson & Johnson in penning a letter to encourage the Senate to concur on the House-passed version of SB 80 because it allowed legitimate cold and allergy sufferers the medicine they need while dramatically reducing sales of pseudephedrine to meth cooks and those they hire to purchase the drugs. Senate Bill 80 allows individuals who have a relationship with a pharmacist to purchase ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products.

It also allows the pharmacist to sell lesser amounts of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products if there is no relationship. The House version was what ultimately became law.

Lawsuit Lending Legislation Made Big Leap in 2016 Session

10044552The most unbelievable surprise of the 2016 Indiana legislative session ended up being the bill to address the practice known as “lawsuit lending.” At the beginning and throughout much of the session, it was believed by all parties that this would be the year to reach an agreement on the issue. But as both sides began to define terms, it was clear that we weren’t really any closer than in years past.

Lawsuit lending or civil proceeding advance payment transactions, as described in HB 1127, is the practice where a third party finance company loans money to a plaintiff in anticipation of a favorable settlement in a lawsuit. The finance companies justify a high interest rate because if the plaintiff does not win the suit, there is no requirement to repay the amount financed/loaned.

The Chamber has always maintained that this practice has an adverse impact upon the settlement/litigation process. As has been the case previously, Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne) was the author in the House and Sen. Randy Head (R-Logansport) was the author in the Senate. The Chamber and coalition members have supported Rep. Lehman’s position and the lawsuit lending industry has supported Sen. Head’s.

Representative Lehman took a different approach this year and attempted to place the transactions under the Uniform Consumer Credit Code (UCCC). Because of the way that interest rates and deferral interest rates are calculated for banks under the UCCC, there was some confusion as to how these transactions would operate for lawsuit lending purposes. To keep a long story short: The industry wanted a $500 document fee on all transactions, 36% interest rate cap and a 36% deferral fee. Due to how their product is financed, it effectually produced an interest rate of 72% – which was totally unacceptable to the Chamber, the Indiana Manufacturers Association, the Insurance Institute of Indiana and other business interests. During conference committee time, Rep. Lehman made several proposals to find common ground.

The night before the last day of session, the Chamber met with Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) to discuss our concerns. He thought a deal might still be struck. Early the final day, a conference committee report was presented and the legal finance industry was opposed to it. By 10:30 a.m., all parties agreed that the bill was dead and we would be back next year to fight even stronger. As a result, most of the coalition members had returned to their respective offices for the day. A little after 11 a.m., the local contract lobbyist for the American Legal Finance Association approached the Chamber to see if there could be a tweaking of the fees if the interest rates were kept lower. Around 12:30 p.m., Rep. Lehman asked the coalition if all of us could live with a 36% interest rate, a 7% service fee, a $250 document fee for loans under $5,000 and a $500 document fee for loans in excess of $5,000. The kicker was that Lehman said that it would be calculated based upon APR (Annual Percentage Rate).

Immediately the Chamber and others said take the deal. Without the APR the deal would have been OK at best, but with APR this was a game-changer. The rest of the afternoon and evening we worked ferociously to get the Senate Democrats to get Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) to sign the conference committee report and get the bill passed. The final HB 1127 passed the Senate 40-10 and was in the last batch of bills to be voted on in the House, passing by a margin of 63-32.

The Chamber wants to thank Jon Zarich, representing State Farm, and Michael Niland and Logan Harrison of the Insurance Institute for their amazing efforts. Their partnership with the Chamber helped make the passage of lawsuit lending possible after six long years.

Positive Developments on Pro-Teacher/Pro-Student Measures in 2016

26256966There were some notable strong successes on pro-teacher/pro-student issues during the 2016 Indiana legislative session. The Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship (HB 1002) allows the Commission for Higher Education to award college scholarships for up to 200 of the best and brightest future teachers. These students must have graduated in the top 20% of their class and received the top 20th percentile scores on the SAT/ACT exams. Upon graduation, scholarship recipients have the requirement to teach in Indiana for five consecutive years.

While the administration set up the program in HB 1002, the Legislature appropriated $10 million in HB 1001. The Chamber advocated for this program to assist with the potential teacher shortages moving forward. We believe that this legislation is a great first step in recruiting strong teachers into the field as well as helping to raise the profession. Strong teachers lead to strong students, which will eventually lead to strong and talented employees.

Also in the good bucket column is HB 1005, which also sought to assist in the teacher shortage issue by providing career pathways and mentorship opportunities for teachers in Indiana schools. The Chamber stressed that mentorship opportunities can help teachers during their beginning years and have significant application for other professions as well. Mentorship is a key tool in attracting and retaining strong employees in the workforce and it is something that the Chamber thinks could and should be utilized to help with teacher
shortages in specific areas such as STEM and special education.

We also supported language in the bill providing supplemental pay for teachers that take on leadership roles in their schools. Another teacher incentive contained in HB 1005 was the creation of a Dual Credit Teacher Stipend Matching Grant Program for eligible educators who teach dual credit courses and are in the process of obtaining or have finished their master’s degree in that subject area. No appropriation was made this year (likely next year during the budget process).

During conference committee time, Chamber-supported language from SB 334 was added into HB 1005 that would allow for a second application period for voucher students. This way if a student were to change schools during the year, it would ensure that the money truly followed the child – specifically during the second semester. Under previous law, should a student change to a different voucher school (for any reason, including parent’s job relocation, divorce, dropout, expulsion or simply to provide a better educational opportunity or fit for that child), they lose that voucher for the remainder of the school year. By contrast, if a traditional public school student were to transfer to a different traditional public school, the money follows the child for the second semester. The Chamber strongly advocated that no child should be treated any differently based on their school choice.

Opponents argued feebly that the bill was an expansion of the voucher program, but the Chamber stressed that it was merely providing students with fair access to funding for their education and did not change any eligibility requirements. Should a child need to transfer schools – for whatever reason – they should have a right to be educated and have funding follow them appropriately. Language from SB 334 regarding background checks and student safety was also added to the bill calling for a child protection index check requirement to the current system of background checks for new employees of school systems.

Specifically, the language requires that the Department of Child Services must notify a school employer if a potential employee has ever been the subject of a substantiated report of child abuse or neglect, and states that confidentiality agreements between teachers and employers moving forward can no longer protect a former employee regarding any substantiated report of child abuse or neglect.

Start the 10-Digit Dialing Now!

The bad (or more accurately slightly inconvenient) news is that those in the 317 area code are soon going to have to dial three more numbers. The very good news is that consumers are not required to change their existing numbers.

To ease the inconvenience, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor urge callers to start their 10-digit dialing practices now. The new process will become mandatory on September 17 of this year.

The new 463 area code will be implemented in an overlay with the existing 317 area code. A similar 812/930 overlay took place in Southern Indiana last year. The change is necessitated by the projected exhaustion of 317 number combinations later this year.

This IURC/OUCC release has all the details.

Protect Your Identity this Tax Season

Mask

It’s tax season! As you prepare to file your taxes, remember to store your personal information such as W-2 forms, bank account summaries and other tax-related documents in secure locations. This time of year, identity thieves are especially prominent and out to steal real taxpayer identities and file fraudulent tax returns to request and steal the victims’ refunds.

Since its inception in 2014, the Indiana Department of Revenue’s Identity Protection Program has identified and stopped more than $100 million in fraudulent refund attempts and helped thousands of legitimate taxpayers realize their identities have been stolen. This year, the department again will be implementing the Identity Protection Program to protect Hoosier taxpayer identities and refunds. This program will look similar to the security measures implemented last year, including the Identity Confirmation Quiz, a two-minute quiz asking some taxpayers to confirm their identities.

Those selected to complete the Identity Confirmation Quiz will receive a letter from the department. The Identity Confirmation Quiz is taken on a secure web site or over the phone and contains four short questions, which only the person asked to complete the quiz would be able to answer.

Through the Identity Protection Program, the department aims to protect taxpayers’ identities and potential refunds and the state of Indiana from potential refund fraud.

For more information about the Identity Protection Program and tips for protecting your tax refund and identity, visit the department’s Stop ID Theft web site.

The Drop on Indiana Water Issues in the 2016 Legislative Session

34886804Indiana’s water quantity issue received significant attention in the 2016 Indiana legislative session as Sen. Charbonneau continues to champion calculated steps toward a credible water policy for the state. His mantra has been “data before decisions” and the legislation this year reflects that refrain, which the Indiana Chamber strongly supports.

Senate Bill 347 (Water Resources) is Charbonneau’s 2016 flagship for the water issue. The bill does three things: 1) directs the Indiana Finance Authority (IFA) to conduct a “water loss” audit of all water utilities; 2) says the IFA will conduct a quality control assessment of well locations; and 3) instructs the IFA to study, analyze and report to the LSA by November 1, 2016, on the infrastructure needs of Indiana’s water utilities. This bill adds to the growing library of data that will guide the state’s water policy.

Senate Bill 257 (Distressed Water and Wastewater Utilities) promotes the purchase of distressed water utilities before they totally collapse. With over 500 water utilities in the state, this is a critical issue.

A cousin to SB 257 is SB 383 (System Integrity Adjustments).For many years, we have not adequately maintained our aging water and wastewater infrastructure. It is out of sight and out of mind. The cost is estimated at over $14 billion to restore this decaying system.

Senate Bill 383 provides that a water or wastewater utility may petition the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to recover approved charges. The Chamber supports a fair and equitable way to address this issue, for an inadequate water and sewer system will
negatively impact our economy.

House Bill 1300 (Environmental Management Matters) is IDEM’s annual catch-all bill with a variety of issues including: revising the term “land application”; revoking a temporary variance; clarifying when an antidegradation review is required; extending the vehicle mercury switch program; recycling issues and electronic devices reporting, and addressing rates and charges by regional water, sewage and solid waste districts. The Chamber supported HB 1300 as it clarifies and creates efficiencies within the administration.

House Bill 1299 (Voluntary Remediation Plan) was IDEM’s bill to give it more teeth to cull out those that are not adhering to its proposed work plan and timeline. The administration, however, pulled the bill as IDEM believes that it has enough power at this time to enforce the voluntary remediation plan (VRP) program. The Chamber believes that if a project is accepted into the VRP program that it should follow the approved plan within the identified timeline. The VRP program should not be a means to shield a site from litigation or cleanup.

Senate Bill 255 (Underground Storage Tanks) directs IDEM to conduct an actuarial study of the Excess Liability Trust Fund (ELF) that is to provide monies to clean up underground storage tanks.

The ELF realizes one penny for every gallon of pumped gasoline and diesel; the fund is now in excess of $100 million, with many millions in charges pending for cleanups. The actuarial study will identify how much money will be needed for registered tanks and the balance required to clean up “orphan” tanks that have no owners with a responsibility to remediate the site. The Chamber supported SB 255 as it promotes the restoration of sites, which potentially create a viable location for a business that will provide jobs and pay taxes.

The Chamber has long supported the use of waste products as a credible feedstock for another process. Senate Bill 256 (Legitimate Use of Solid Waste) conceptually promotes that model. If administered properly, it is a win/win as the producer of a waste saves the cost of treatment/disposal and the recipient of the material has a free or inexpensive feedstock – and valuable landfill space is not consumed.

Indiana Chamber Endorses Rep. Todd Young for U.S. Senate

young pic camera (2)The Indiana Chamber is endorsing Congressman Todd Young (R-IN, 9th District) in his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The announcement was made today at a press conference at Indiana Chamber headquarters in downtown Indianapolis.

“We believe Todd Young is the most qualified and most economic-minded individual running for the Senate seat,” said Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “He has repeatedly demonstrated sound fiscal policy and prudent decision-making on issues that are vital to jobs and economic growth.”

Brinegar further emphasized Young’s engagement with the business community and his focus on economic, fiscal and regulatory issues.

“After he was appointed to the Ways and Means Committee, the congressman sought substantial feedback on potential federal tax reforms and what would have the most impact on Hoosier companies and their employees. He listened to our members – through personal conversations and a survey – using their insights to help form his pro-economy agenda.”

The Indiana Chamber’s nonpartisan congressional action committee, comprised of volunteer business leaders from around the state, determined Young’s endorsement.

At both the state and federal levels, Indiana Chamber endorsements are driven by vote scores on pro-jobs, pro-economy issues. For state endorsements, the Indiana Chamber relies on its Legislative Vote Analysis report. Congressional endorsements are based on a combination of the U.S. Chamber’s own vote scores and an analysis of votes on Indiana Chamber federal policy positions.

Representatives of the U.S. Chamber, which also is supporting Young’s campaign, joined the Indiana Chamber for the press event.