Recent News from Washington

  • Per last Thursday’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indiana has been selected for a $10.9 million federal grant to fight the state’s opioid abuse epidemic. Senator Donnelly talked about this needed boost during a visit to Granger. Read the story. Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05) also weighed in: “… Indiana is getting the resources it desperately needs to reduce overdose deaths; help Hoosiers get treatment for substance abuse and stay in recovery; and reduce the over-prescription of opioids.” Read Brooks’ full statement.
  • Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03) believes Congress should exert influence by authorizing military force against ISIS. He said, “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s recent use of chemical weapons against his own people is a grim reminder of the deep challenges that continue to exist in Syria and the surrounding region.” Read his op-ed.
  • Congressman André Carson (IN-07), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was on CNN last Wednesday talking about the situations with North Korea and Syria. Of North Korea, he said our country’s “tough talk has to get tougher”. Watch the over six-minute interview.

BizVoice Earns SPJ Honors

Congrats to our communications team /BizVoice writers who earned three honors at the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists Awards Friday – a second place and two third place finishes:

Donnelly Talks Policy to Chamber Group

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly discussed a wide variety of issues with members of the Indiana Chamber’s Executive Committee during an hour-long visit last week. Among his comments on the issues before Congress:

  • Opioid crisis: Senators are working on a federal law that would limit painkiller prescriptions to one week (hopefully reducing addictive outcomes)
  • Transportation infrastructure: There will be a big bill and he believes it will pass as long as it gets paid for
  • Tax reform: Stuck for now because money to pay for it was going to come from the failed health care overhaul
  • Health care bill: Legislation can’t be passed that would result in fewer people having insurance coverage. Democrats, Donnelly noted, have ideas that should be considered

Other topics of conversion: immigration, trade agreements and global threats (Donnelly is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee).

Health Care Takes Federal Spotlight

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, there have been calls from the Republican Party to repeal the federal health care law. There were many votes in the House to try to accomplish that goal, but efforts stalled after that. The results of the November election, however, have put the issue on the fast track.

This week, the American Health Care Act was introduced in the House of Representatives; it’s a House Republican leadership-led plan that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and is said to contain patient-centered reforms that drive down costs and expand access to care. More information can be found online.

The legislation has received mixed reactions from both sides of the aisle in the Indiana delegation. And overall, more mixed reaction – especially more from Republicans – has been prevalent in the Senate.

Representatives Larry Bucshon (IN-08) and Susan Brooks (IN-05) participated in the 27-hour hearing by the Energy and Commerce Committee on the new legislation. This markup phase lasted from Wednesday morning to Thursday afternoon before it was finally approved for advancement 31-23. During and since that marathon, Bucshon and Brooks have taken to social media to offer their support for the American Health Care Act. Here
are two updates they provided:

Brooks subsequently also stated: “The goals of the American Health Care Act are to provide states with more flexibility, lower health care costs for families and offer people more options when it comes to their health care decisions. Our plan protects coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, allows kids to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26, continues to protect seniors from the high costs of prescription drugs caused by the Medicare Part D donut hole and bans lifetime caps to ensure that people will never have a limit imposed on their care.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Banks (IN-03) offered: “While the replacement plan contains positive reforms like a permanent repeal of the medical device tax and repeal of the individual mandate, I have concerns about several aspects of the bill. These include the overall cost of the plan, the length of time it takes to repeal many Obamacare taxes, the possible creation of a new entitlement program and whether essential pro-life protections will be maintained. I will carefully study this legislation and evaluate how these concerns are addressed as this bill moves through the legislative process.”

Banks further stated that he supported two amendments to the replacement bill supported by the Republican Study Committee (of which he is a member) that he thinks would improve the underlying bill: one would freeze new enrollment in Medicaid expansion at the end of this year; the other would institute work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults on Medicaid.

On the Senate side, Indiana Republican Todd Young took to Twitter to give his quick thoughts on the new proposal: “Americans will have weeks to see what’s in the GOP health care plan before the Senate votes on it. (We) will not repeat mistakes of 2009. Feedback from both D’s & R’s alike will be welcome. We need input from all sides to fix the Obamacare mess.”

In an interview with WANE-TV in Fort Wayne, his counterpart – Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelley – implored Congress to not rush to pass a new law, but instead to work on a bipartisan effort to install some commonsense measures in the existing health care law that would be more beneficial to Hoosiers. Watch the full video interview.

Hits and Misses: The Indiana Legislature Halftime Report

We are pleased that several of our top priorities are alive and in good shape at the midpoint – including long-term transportation funding, pre-K expansion and anti-smoking legislation. All of these tie directly to the Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan.

Long-term transportation funding – tolling around the corner?
This is the Chamber’s top priority in 2017. House Bill 1002 is the proposal to take care of the state’s transportation needs; the 20-year infrastructure plan addresses the erosion in funding that has taken place and the lost purchasing power from the enhancements in automotive technology and fuel efficiency.

We believe that the bill’s proposed gas tax increase is pretty solid. Senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who appears to be taking the lead on this bill in the Senate, may change things like dedicating all of the sales tax on gasoline to transportation needs and put a heavier emphasis on tolling, which would enable the state to undertake major projects like adding additional lane miles to Interstate 70 and Interstate 65 throughout Indiana. Overall, we are very encouraged by the commitment we have seen to date from the House, Senate and Governor. We also realize this will be a little tougher sell in the Senate and are prepared for a strong advocacy effort.

Tax threats avoided; overall outlook good
Everyone should be thrilled that two detrimental proposals – on mandatory combined reporting and sales tax on services – didn’t really get out of the gate. And that’s thanks to the good work of the Chamber’s Bill Waltz over the course of the summer. That means there are no big, threatening tax bills looming for us to worry about.

Instead, this session has brought some positive activity that will improve things procedurally within the Department of Revenue. Additionally, while not involving the Legislature, the Chamber has provided substantial input to the Department of Local Government Finance on a rule with respect to the so-called big box commercial/industrial property assessments. (That input was made possible thanks to a subgroup of the Chamber’s Tax Committee that analyzed the big box assessment issue; we are always grateful to our members for lending their expertise!)

On track: expansion of the state’s pre-K pilot for children from low-income families
Obviously, the expansion – to $16 million total in the Senate (including funds for a new online pre-K pilot); at $20 million in the House proposal – is not as significant as we would like, but we recognize this is still a very young program and are encouraged that what’s being debated is the level of increased funds, not the merit. We also appreciate all of the programmatic language that allows for potential expansion into all 92 counties (SB 276) and increases the income thresholds for eligible families (HB 1004). That said, we are going to continue to work to get as many dollars as possible directed to this. It’s vital for children to have that strong early education as a foundation.

Making the superintendent of public instruction an appointed position still can happen
We remain optimistic this longstanding Chamber goal will be realized this session. Yes, House Bill 1005 will have to be amended because it’s too similar to the one the Senate voted down last week. What happened there was, by all accounts, a blunder created by a perfect storm of factors – including little caucus discussion before the vote. But the good news is that the House bill is alive AND Senate leader David Long (R-Fort Wayne) has assigned it to the Senate Rules Committee that he chairs, so he’s going to go to work on it and will ultimately determine how much of it needs to be changed. We speculate that requiring Indiana residency – which is not currently in HB 1005 – could be one modification. It definitely will have to be different than the failed bill to pass the Senate Rules Committee.

Comprehensive smoking reform, now in HB 1001 and HB 1578, would send big message
We are hopeful that the increased tax on cigarettes ($1 per pack) and funding for a more robust smoking cessation program will stay in the budget bill (HB 1001). Likewise, that the repeal of the special civil rights privileges for smokers will survive on its own in HB 1578; this marks the first time that policy has been passed by either house, so we are making progress. Seeing these three elements cross the finish line would be a clear indication that the state is taking seriously the ever-increasing costs to employers of Hoosiers smoking – more than $6 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity on the job.

The provision raising the cigarette buying age from 18 to 21 is most likely not happening this session after its removal in the House Ways and Means Committee. That group felt there wasn’t enough definitive information or testimony.

ISTEP, energy and technology updates
The Chamber is supporting legislation that will replace ISTEP with a shorter, more focused assessment. You can put all the debates and disagreements aside because this has to happen this session.

We are encouraged by the Senate’s passing of SB 309, an energy bill, which, among other things, addresses net metering for those investing in wind and solar energy; we believe the bill is consumer-friendly. Moreover, utilities have offered up some ideas and concessions that we think will help control electricity prices. The water infrastructure proposal (SB 416), while not funded, sets up the appropriate framework and keeps that needed policy moving along.

The budget bill (HB 1001) contains some pro-technology priorities, including the transferability and expansion of the venture capital tax credit. This would incentivize additional out-of-state investors without state tax liability to invest in promising early stage Indiana companies. Additionally, the open data measure (HB 1470) would allow public access, in an appropriate way, to the tremendous amount of data the state has collected. This is one of a couple of new initiatives coming from our Indiana Technology & Innovation Council policy committee. To see these efforts making progress right away, in their first session, is very encouraging.

A disappointment for the Indiana Chamber
There were several bills centered on litigation that couldn’t get out of committee. That’s because there are too many attorneys on both civil justice committees who are standing with trial lawyers, which essentially is blocking any sort of tort reform.

The Week in Federal Affairs

  • Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05) launched a new video series this year called, “What I’m Hearing.” In each episode, she discusses one issue based on concerns from her constituents. The most recent episode is focused on health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Brooks states that this coverage is a priority for her and for her colleagues in Congress.
  • Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman introduced
    legislation, H.R. 1121, Pre-Existing Conditions Protection Act, and Rep. Brooks is an original co-sponsor. This bill confirms guaranteed health care access, ensures a person cannot have benefits excluded from a plan due to pre-existing conditions and makes sure that people will not pay more for coverage based off of how healthy or sick they may be. This bill will be debated and discussed in the Health Subcommittee, of which she is a member, in coming weeks.
  • Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, along with local and federal officials, met with Governor Eric Holcomb in East Chicago to discuss the lead crisis after the Governor declared it a disaster emergency earlier this month.
  • Yesterday was confirmation hearing day for Indiana’s former Sen. Dan Coats, who is President Trump’s pick to be director of national intelligence. Coats will appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
  • Representatives Brooks and Larry Bucshon (IN-08) were recently in Japan to discuss economic opportunities and partnerships.
  • Congressman Andre Carson is hosting a Youth Opportunities Fair on March 6 for potential jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities at the Central Library in Indianapolis.

Smoking Reform Elements (Mostly) Move On

HB 1578, as recently amended, repeals employment protections for individuals who smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products, and passed the House Ways and Means Committee 19-4.

Committee Chairman Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) lowered the $1.50 cigarette tax increase in the bill to $1.00 and put it in the budget (HB 1001) along with funding for cessation. Additionally, the committee voted to remove the increase in smoking age from 18 to 21 from the bill and left in place only the repeal of the special treatment for smokers in the workplace. The Indiana Chamber and the Indiana Hospital Association testified in support of that provision.

The Chamber, along with other members of the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, has been lobbying House members for votes. The Chamber also has been working to secure a Senate sponsor for the bill.

The Week in Federal Affairs

  • Obama regulation on coal industry is rolled back! On Thursday, President Trump repealed the Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule. The Indiana Chamber previously had signed on to a letter in support of this action. The letter stated that the Stream Protection Rule “is a one-size-fits-all federal mandate that interferes with the longstanding federal-state balance in overseeing mining operations. It will place massive amounts of coal reserves – and the affordable energy they provide – off limits.” Congressman Larry Bucshon (IN-08) also issued a statement at this welcome news.
  • On Thursday, Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young introduced fellow Hoosier Seema Verma to the Senate Finance Committee immediately before the hearing on her experience to become administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
  • Young met with the chief of naval operations, Admiral John Richardson, to discuss the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane and its critical support for our warfighters and national defense. During the meeting, Young urged Admiral Richardson to ensure that NSWC Crane is exempt from the hiring freeze so that it can continue its important work. Young’s meeting this week with Admiral Richardson follows his letter to Secretary of Defense Mattis on January 27.
  • Previously, Sen. Joe Donnelly met with Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer on the same subject.
  • Young was also among a group of legislators that met last Friday in Washington D.C. with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Young says the gathering involved a lot of discussion on global security and trade agreements, but his time with the prime minister was focused on economic issues. Read the Inside Indiana Business story, which also includes audio from Young.
  • Congressman Todd Rokita (IN-04) on Thursday re-introduced an important piece of legislation to protect the rights of workers. The Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act amends the National Labor Relations Act to allow employers to give merit-based bonuses, raises or other increases to an individual employee above the level set by the employee’s union contract. Per Rokita, a union contract should not be the ceiling on how much a good employee can earn and the RAISE Act would provide every worker with a chance to earn a bonus.
  • On Wednesday, the CEO of Aetna, one of the nation’s largest insurers echoed growing concerns that the Affordable Care Act is in a death spiral. According to a Politico report, Aetna’s CEO argued that, “More insurers will pull out of the government-run marketplaces in the coming weeks and many areas will have no insurers to provide Affordable Care Act coverage in 2018.” He went on to say, “It’s not going to get any better; it’s getting worse.”
  • On a related note, Rep. Bucshon recently introduced legislation to help stabilize the insurance markets by giving states the flexibility to meet the needs of their unique patient populations.
  • Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05) introduced a measure this week to help veterans get the most from the GI Bill.
  • A honor for Rep. Pete Visclosky (IN-01): He recently received the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award from Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer.

Learn About Alliance for a Healthier Indiana; Reducing State’s Smoking Rate First Up

The Alliance for a Healthier Indiana formed last year; it includes health care professionals, advocates, and community and business leaders from across the state who are committed to improving the health of citizens.

The Indiana Chamber is among the four founding organizations; the others are the Indiana Hospital Association, Indiana State Medical Association and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Indiana. The group’s chairman is Bryan Mills, CEO of Community Health Network.

The group came together to jointly pursue public policy measures in several critical areas of need. Indiana ranks at the bottom in many important health metrics including tobacco use, obesity, infant mortality and opioid abuse – and these are just a few critical examples. Our progress toward improvement is impeded by Indiana’s low public health spending per capita.

This contributes to higher health care spending, challenges for employers who want to provide health insurance, premature deaths, poor work and school attendance, and perpetuation of poverty. Our terrible health measures create a negative image for Indiana, making it more difficult to recruit new businesses and professionals looking for a healthy place to live, work and raise a family.

The Alliance will ultimately tackle public health issues such as obesity, infant mortality and opioid abuse. But the first priority is to substantially reduce tobacco usage, which is the leading cause of preventable death in Indiana. The severity of the problem was reinforced just this week during a presentation to the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee by Dr. Jerome Adams, Indiana’s state health commissioner. He emphatically said: “The number one issue that the Legislature could address is smoking.“

Chamber Submits List of Federal Rules That Need Repeal to VP-Elect Pence

The Indiana Chamber is championing the repeal of “the most egregious rules, regulations and executive orders that occurred in recent years.” These targets for the Trump administration were submitted to Vice President-elect Mike Pence this week, just ahead of the inauguration.

The list, per Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar, contains “issues we have repeatedly heard about from our member companies because they hinder their ability to prosper and provide more jobs for Hoosiers.”

These issues include increased EPA air quality standards leading to much higher energy bills with minimal environmental impact, the overtime rule that would jeopardize jobs and business growth, costly rules related to Obamacare, misguided workplace safety regulations and a fear that the FCC’s net neutrality position could stifle innovation.

“It was all too common for President Obama to circumvent Congress by issuing executive orders and to encourage federal agencies to overreach their authority and diminish economic growth,” Brinegar says.

“The Indiana Chamber is very hopeful this troubling pattern will change under President-elect Donald Trump, and we have encouraged his administration to take action to undo many of the detrimental measures enacted in this manner and to get our economy moving again.”

The 17 suggestions for repeal and their impacts are available at www.indianachamber.com/federal.

The Indiana Chamber also made the state’s congressional delegation aware of these priorities.