Short Session Starts With a Flurry of Activity

The Governor and General Assembly have continually heard from Hoosier employers on the need for a skilled workforce – and better aligning state programs with job demand. The good news is bills are being introduced to address those concerns. While only a handful of measures have been released to date, we are seeing legislation related to training tax credits and grants, as well as efforts to streamline current workforce programs. We anticipate a comprehensive workforce bill (1002) will be introduced in the House later next week.

The Governor’s computer science bill (SB 172) requires all public schools to offer a one-semester elective computer science course at least once each school year to high school students. We expect a hearing on this measure in the next two weeks. Both this and the workforce efforts are 2018 Indiana Chamber legislative priorities.

Senate Bill 257 has been introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) to serve as the beginning of discussions on clarifying the exempt status of computer software sold as a service (SaaS) – a Chamber priority. Holdman is also authoring another major piece of tax legislation, SB 242, which contains a variety of tax matters. The House bills are coming in too, with a good number already filed addressing local tax issues.

Speaking of local matters, the Chamber is very pleased to see that the House Republican agenda includes a bill that will make township government more effective and efficient by the merging of townships (approximately 300) where less than 1,200 people reside. Such local government reform has been a longstanding Chamber goal.

In addition to SB 257, other technology-related bills include Rep. Ed Soliday’s (R-Valparaiso) autonomous vehicle (AV) proposal to position Indiana to safely test and implement AV technology with automobiles. The bill also will address truck platooning, which uses GPS and WiFi technology to allow trucks to more closely follow each other for greater efficiency, on Indiana roads.

Rural broadband, high-speed internet and small cell wireless structures technology all will be topics for the Legislature to debate. Certified technology parks also will be discussed with the idea to have an additional capture of sales and income tax revenue for those complexes that perform well.

In health care, enabling employers to ask prospective employees if they are smokers not only heads the Chamber’s wish list but also appears to be gaining traction this go-round. Eliminating the special protections (currently in state statute) for smokers is found in SB 23 and will be guided by Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne). The bill has a pretty good chance of getting a hearing in the Senate – which would be a first. Previously, a measure was taken up in a joint hearing in the House.

Increasing the tobacco tax and raising the legal age for smokers to 21 are policies that likely will be included in a bill to be introduced by Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary). The Indiana Chamber is supportive of both.

Nine utility-related bills are on our radar screen at this point. They range from tweaks of last year’s big legislation (like SB 309, which addressed rising energy costs and a long-standing struggle between the investor-owned electric utilities and larger consumers of energy) to compulsory sewer connection, excavation for infrastructure, regulation of solar energy systems in homeowners’ associations and new water legislation. Separately, Sen. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) has a proposed ban on coal tar pavement sealer, which we oppose.

There are also a number of bills proposing changes to Indiana’s alcohol laws including: Sunday sales, cold beer sales by grocery and convenience stores, and increases in fees and penalties.

The Chamber will be providing more details on all of these bills as the session progresses.

For anyone who wants a refresher about how legislation becomes law, the Chamber has a handy guide free of charge. It includes a diagram of the bill process, a glossary of often-used terms and a look at where bills commonly get tripped up.

Additionally, the Chamber will be providing updates and issuing pertinent documents throughout the session at www.indianachamber.com/legislative.

Tech Talk: Moving Ahead on the Policy Front

2017 Tech Policy Summit

The discussions at the second Indiana Technology & Innovation Policy Summit last Friday were so plentiful and rich with content that three stages were utilized during the five-hour event. Seven sessions and a keynote address were part of the mix.

We’ll hit a few highlights below, but an overall takeaway: Our state has momentum, there is more work to do to continue that positive pace and one way for tech and innovation business leaders to get involved and help ensure success is communicating with your legislators. It’s a critical component.

In the words of the presenters:

  • Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness: Indiana can largely check the box on enhancing its tax and business climate; today is about the innovation climate and building bridges between traditional industries and technology companies. And he says the IoT lab coming to Fishers will send a powerful message about aggregating talent.
  • Software-as-a-Service: The legislative mission is to provide “certainty and predictability to the tech community” about SaaS and tax treatment. Three states (Washington, Tennessee and Pennsylvania) have put up red lights on software development by taxing SaaS. Indiana seeks to join a similar number with a green light encouraging investment. Christopher Day of DemandJump: “It’s not just about SaaS. What it’s about is growing our wealth as a state. It’s time to transition the Crossroads of America to the Nation’s Nucleus.” SaaS panel
  • Certified Technology Parks: Fifteen of 23 tech parks in the state have met the $5 million funding cap. The proposal is to allow those parks that meet certification requirements to be eligible for additional funds to continue to provide technical assistance to companies within the facilities.
  • Larry Gigerich, Ginovus, on expanding investment capital: Twenty states have tax credits that are transferable, sellable or bondable with eight or nine more set to consider such action. Indiana is missing from that equation, its 20% tax credit is no longer competitive against many other states and the state’s cap is “middle of the pack.” Although the Next Level Fund approved in 2017 will be helpful, Gigerich gives preference to a stronger tax credit system.
  • Autonomous vehicles (AV): State Rep. Ed Soliday presented extensive data. Again, Indiana is looking to join other states (21 with legislation, five with executive orders) with some form of policy. Indiana’s goals: ensure public safety and encourage innovation/AV research and development in our state. Soliday says much work needs to be done to convince the public about the benefits.
  • Data centers: Rich Carlton of Data Realty didn’t argue with the general assertion that data centers themselves don’t create large numbers of jobs, but cited the related development and job creation that has taken place in South Bend. Tax treatment is preventing Indiana from being a participant in the national data center boom. A $2 million data center building with an additional $23 million in equipment would be taxed at the first figure in many states, but at $25 million in Indiana. Carlton: “Do we want to have part of something or all of nothing?”

Jeff Brantley, Indiana Chamber vice president of political affairs, connected the dots on legislative victories resulting from both political and policy involvement from the business community.

Micah Vincent, director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, shared that we can expect to see the initial Next Level Fund investments in the first quarter of 2018. And he projected that the 2018 Indiana General Assembly may very well end up being the “workforce session.”

Check out the two-page summary of how the legislative positions of the Chamber’s Tech Policy Committee can impact the state’s economic future. Look for continued coverage of these important issues through various Chamber communications.