Federal Front: Congressman Messer Launches American Worker Task Force

Congressman Luke Messer (IN-06), chair of the Republican Policy Committee, announced the launch of the Task Force for the American Worker – an effort to examine challenges facing modern-day working Americans. The task force will hold a series of hearings to examine workforce issues, including stagnant wages and a slow economic recovery, manufacturing, higher education costs, the opioid abuse epidemic, health care, retirement security and trade. The task force will seek to find solutions that help address each of these challenges.

“For generations, the American dream has meant that every American who works hard can find success. But in recent years, frozen paychecks, a tough job market and rising living costs make the American Dream too often seem out of reach,” Messer said. “During the 2016 election, Republicans promised a renewed focus on addressing these challenges and improving the lives of everyday working people. This task force is about making those promises a reality.”

The task force’s first hearing will be held Tuesday, April 25, with the goal of helping set a policy agenda for the modern American worker. Among those asked to testify is LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo.

Also, this week started a two-week recess for the Senate and House of Representatives, which means most of our delegation is back in the state for the Easter and Passover holidays. Be on the lookout for them in your hometowns!

Road Funding Set for Conference Committee Showdown

The Chamber was pleased to see the Senate pass a long-term road funding bill (34-13). During the floor vote, the Chamber lobbying team worked to get additional votes for what might have been a much closer margin. Five Republican senators voted against the Chamber on HB 1002: John Crane (Avon), Mike Delph (Carmel), Aaron Freeman (Indianapolis), Jean Leising (Oldenburg) and Andy Zay (Huntington). One Democrat, David Niezgodski (South Bend), voted with the Chamber.

There are differences between the House and Senate proposals, however:

  • House version raises just over $1.1 billion per year; the Senate about $672 million a year.
  • House version converts all sales tax collected (well over $300 million) on fuel sales to road funding; the Senate does not.
  • House version has $15 annual registration fee for regular automobiles and $150 for electric cars; the Senate adds $75 fee for hybrids (the Chamber supports this addition).
  • House version has a 10-cent fuel tax increase for both gasoline and diesel fuel, with annual increase based on index from 2019-2024. The Senate phases in the fuel taxes: five cents per year for two years; diesel tax is three cents a year for two years. Both are indexed at no more than one cent a year per gallon from 2019-2014.
  • House version requires the Indiana Department of Transportation to seek a federal tolling waiver; the Senate says it may seek the same waiver but with the approval of the Governor.
  • Senate version contains a $5 per new tire sale use fee in addition to the current 25-cent fee; the House does not.
  • Senate version increases registration fees for trucks in lieu of additional diesel taxes.
  • Senate version adds a 10-cent per gallon aviation fuel excise tax, with revenue from that going to the airport development grant fund.

The “swim lanes” of the bill are now clearly defined. Work will continue during the next two weeks by the Chamber and our coalition partners to reconcile the differences between the two versions. We believe Indiana will finally end up with a long-term sustainable transportation infrastructure funding bill, one of our Indiana Vision 2025 goals.

Call to Action: Please contact your legislators to encourage them to support HB 1002. Let them know today that long-term funding is important to you and your company!

Driving Force: Rep. Dan Leonard Named 2016 Government Leader of the Year

Old habits die hard. And that’s a good thing – for Hoosier businesses and their employees – when linked to Dan Leonard’s propensity to serve others.

He fondly recalls time spent as a child at his parent’s country grocery store. Leonard started ringing up customers as soon as he was tall enough (aided by a trusty bar stool) to reach the cash register.

“I remember the first day we had a $100 day in the grocery store. It was a big deal!” he says with a laugh.

Those early memories sparked a penchant for building relationships and a passion for making a difference – whatever the scale.

Leonard owns South Side Furniture of Huntington, a business he purchased from his father in 1978. Elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 2002, he serves Huntington County, and portions of Wells and Allen counties. He’s a member of the House Ways and Means Committee (and local government finance subcommittee chair), Judiciary Committee and is the speaker of the House’s appointee to the Native American Indian Affairs Commission…

Read the full story in BizVoice.

dan-leonard

How Will the 2016 Elections Impact Labor and Employment Policy?

UWe’re all still recalibrating after last Tuesday’s election results. While the citizenry ponders what this means for the country and the issues dear to us, the impact on labor and employment policy is a top consideration for business-focused organizations like ours.

Harold P. Coxson of the law firm Ogletree Deakins articulated some thoughts in a blog post just after election night:

What do last night’s election results mean for labor and employment policy? In the first place, it means that Republicans will control the White House and both the House and Senate.

For another, it means that President-elect Trump will select the candidate for the current vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as seats on the 12 federal circuit courts, only four of which remain under the control of judges appointed by Republican presidents.

It also means that President-elect Trump will fill the two vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board with two Republicans, thus switching majority control of the agency on his first days in office. The NLRB’s record of historic reversals of long-established labor law precedent in areas such as joint-employment, independent contractors, waivers of class and collective actions in arbitration agreements, “ambush” union elections and micro bargaining units will, over time, be reversed.

It means the appointment of other key policy positions throughout the federal labor agencies, including the Secretary of Labor, Solicitor of the U.S. Department of Labor, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, and Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. They, in turn, will be expected to roll back or recall many of the controversial labor and employment regulations, such as the recently issued Part 541 overtime regulation, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (government contractor “blacklisting”) executive order and implementing regulations, and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act’s revised “persuader activity” regulations.

The election results also represent an opportunity for Congress to promulgate regulations and pass legislation that would represent responsible immigration policy on a path to earned legalization of undocumented workers and that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

As a result of last night’s elections, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will likely remain with Sen. Alexander (R-TN) rather than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The House Education and the Workforce Committee will be chaired by Rep. Virginia Fox (R- NC) with Rep. Bobby Scott (D- VA) likely to remain as Ranking Democrat.

Whether the election results will bring about greater bipartisanship and less political acrimony and gridlock remains to be seen. However, with Republicans controlling the White House and Congress, those angry voters who complained that “nothing ever gets done in Washington” will expect better.

IBRG Election Report: The Power of Democracy and a Nation of Change

ibrgIndiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), the non-partisan political action program of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, scored a very successful general election; 57 of 59 IBRG-endorsed candidates facing opposition were victorious, including Republicans and Democrats. Twenty additional endorsed candidates did not face general election challenges.

Eleven new legislators won with IBRG endorsements. IBRG was significantly engaged in support of five top-target candidates in open seat races, as well as successfully defending six pro-economy incumbents seriously challenged with defeat.

In a stunning Indiana election, Republicans swept all statewide races by significant margins, led by a 20 percentage point victory by Donald Trump. Not only wasn’t the scale of these win margins predicted in polling, but once again the final outcome defied expectations just months – even weeks – ago of a coming “market correction” in the GOP’s state legislative super-majority seat counts.

In the General Assembly, Republicans seriously exceeded expectations again in a volatile election environment. In the House, Democrats were able to pick-off just one first-term incumbent Republican legislator in Lake County (after an unprecedented multi-race battle in northwest Indiana for weeks), with the result being a 70-30 GOP majority next year.

In the Senate, Republicans actually managed to expand their majority by another seat to a 41-9 majority. They did so by defending two very competitive open seat races in Indianapolis and by picking up an open seat in LaPorte, largely by default from Democrats.

Twelve new members were elected to the House and nine new members to the Senate. One additional Senate seat will become vacant with a resignation and be filled by a local caucus later this year. This turnover in new seats rivals the huge numbers out of the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.

It seems that every national election in recent times has been labeled “historic” (among many other adjectives) before and after the votes are cast. Without question, the 2016 elections fit that label, but it’s really more than that. A fundamental realignment of the American electorate is well underway, driven by major upheavals and demographic shifts in this nation.

Read the full report. The report includes election results, statistics, and information on key races and new legislators. It will be updated periodically as final tallies and additional analyses are added.

Sen. Donnelly’s Visit Highlights an Active Month for Our Congressional Affairs Committee

donnellyWhile the presidential election may be the talk of D.C. and the media, this is also a busy time of the year for federal policy conversations for the Indiana Chamber.

In mid-August alone, Sen. Joe Donnelly, Senate candidate Evan Bayh and state Sen. Jim Banks, the Republican candidate for congressional District 3, met with our congressional affairs committee members to discuss issues important to Indiana. And Congresswoman Susan Brooks (District 5) was the keynote speaker for our Indiana Conference on Energy Management, advocating for the need for both sustainable and affordable energy.

While we may never agree on all matters with our congressional members, their overall willingness to engage, listen and act – by and large – in the best interest of the Hoosier business community and residents is a longstanding hallmark of Indiana’s delegation. And we are very appreciative for that.

Donnelly, who is not up for re-election, shared his thoughts on a variety of issues during his nearly hour-long visit. For one, he contends the gridlock in Congress is overblown: “What you see on TV bears no reflection to what is reality.” He stressed that 80% of the time the group works together, but the 20% – which often features high profile issues – is what drives the media reports. And “time after time, the Indiana delegation works together.”

Whether that’s Brooks with Donnelly on the law to combat opioid abuse, signed by the President last month, or Indiana’s senior senator, Dan Coats, and Donnelly – joined by District 9 Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Young – leading the charge to suspend the medical device tax for two years. And these are just two of the many examples.

Incidentally, these are among the efforts that led to Donnelly being presented with the U.S. Chamber’s “Spirit of Enterprise” award at our office last week; the honor is for his continued commitment to job creation and economic growth.

2016 Primary Illustrates Rapidly Changing State, National Political Landscape

60498552To describe the 2016 primary elections in Indiana as anything less than dramatic and jarring seems an understatement. Two years ago, record low turnout tipped the balance to ideological sub-groups of motivated voters. This year, unprecedented turnout in both parties was the environment.

In the same election where Hoosier voters overwhelmingly chose “anti-establishment” leaders in Donald Trump (R) and Bernie Sanders (D) in their respective party primaries for president, Hoosier Republicans preferred by a 2-1 margin Todd Young over the conservative, Freedom Caucus poster-boy Marlin Stutzman. This seeming contradiction carried down into state legislative races.

A large majority of Hoosiers detest the federal government, distrust both political parties, and want someone or something to lash out at. With Republicans in charge of both houses of the General Assembly by strong quorum-proof majorities, if you’re looking for some political payback in Indiana, the Republicans are the ones calling the shots.

In the 2016 primary elections, only one Democrat incumbent legislator faced a primary election challenger. However, 14 Republican legislators faced primary election challengers. The 2016 primary elections – just like in 2014 – were about the Republicans.

Two years ago, candidates at the primary election faced a likewise frustrated and ideologically-driven electorate feeding tough challenges from the right. In 2014, the very low turnout election resulted in highly-energized subgroups of voters – those angry and motivated to vote against someone – to turnout to vote. This year, huge volumes of new GOP primary voters, motivated by the presidential race and “anti-establishment” anger, washed over races like tsunamis of discontent.

In state legislative races, incumbents and new candidates alike who distinguished themselves in both aggressive personal contact with voters, organized and efficient campaign operations and who positioned themselves solidly to the right or left with their party’s bases were generally successful. There were exceptions, but this continues to be the formula to win in primary elections.

A fundamental, foundational shift appears to be underway in the Hoosier electorate. This is not unique to Indiana, but the state does appear to continue to be on the cutting-edge of political conflict and change. A relatively “conservative” state in terms of culture and political attitudes, Indiana has not been a sleeper state in terms of policy and political conflict.

Back-to-back legislative battles over highly-charged social issues of abortion, LGBT civil rights protections, RFRA, and gay marriage aren’t the only policy battlegrounds. Infrastructure, tax cuts, education reforms, right to work, and more have been a focus.

There hasn’t been much “sleepy Indiana” to be found in policy debates or political activities in the state for some time. The ingredients of conflict in this political soup are a product of significant and often rapid changes in our culture, society, economy and workplaces. Our political system is where these competing priorities and often difficult personal and societal transformations are debated and competed over at the ballot box.

Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), the non-partisan political action program of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, was heavily engaged in the primary election cycle to help elect pro-jobs, pro-free enterprise candidates to the Indiana General Assembly. Unlike most other PAC programs, IBRG is not in the business of “picking the winners,” but being there to defend incumbents with strong voting records and to challenge those who do not.

IBRG continued its record of election successes with 18 of 22 endorsed primary election candidates winning.

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.

Paving the Way for Good Roads

PollQuestion

We’ve got a new poll question (top right) asking about a strategy to pay for long-term infrastructure funding. The current House Republican plan calls for a modest gasoline tax increase and higher cigarette taxes (that would go toward Medicaid spending, with sales tax funds currently used in that area shifting to transportation).

More details on the legislation: HB 1001

The most recent poll asked for your top legislative priority. Civil rights expansion (36%) topped the list, followed by increased transportation funding (28%) and education testing reform (16%).