Surprise Unanimous Vote on ‘Ban the Box’ Prohibition

Regarding SB 312 (Use of Criminal History in Hiring), the Indiana Chamber talked with committee members prior to the hearing to secure support, and numerous business organizations testified in favor of the bill.

The Indiana Chamber was represented by Chris Schrader, a member of our Labor and Employment Policy Committee. Schrader is also the director of government affairs for the Indiana State Council of SHRM. He commented that employment decisions should be made on the basis of qualification, not on factors with no bearing on the ability to perform job-related duties. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided comprehensive guidance to employers regarding consideration of criminal records in the selection process: (1) the nature or gravity of the offense or conduct; (2) the time elapsed since the conviction; and (3) the nature of the job sought or held. These points provide adequate protection to job seekers while at the same time permitting employers to safeguard both their interests as well as the public’s.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association, Employ Indy, the Indy Chamber, the National Federation of Independent Business, Indy Solutions, the Indiana Hospital Association, the Indiana Apartment Association and the Indiana Retail Council all supported the bill. Some of those testifying favored the first half of the bill which dealt simply with prohibiting “ban the box” (the box on an application asking about criminal history). Several testified in favor of the second half of the bill (amended into the measure on second reading in the Senate) regarding criminal information of an employee could not be introduced as evidence against an employer in certain circumstances (referred to as a limited immunity). There is some debate over the effectiveness of this part of the legislation; similar language has been used in Colorado.

Indianapolis City Councilman Vop Osili also testified; he was the author of the city of Indianapolis’ ordinance to “ban the box” in regard to vendors working with the city. He said that he didn’t like to see his legislation be “gutted” but given the potential positive impact of the limited immunity he could support what was being attempted despite it preempting the city’s ordinance.

Given the unanimous vote in committee, we anticipate that the bill will pass the House.

Small Cell Broadband Legislation Has Robust Committee Hearing

The Chamber supports SB 213 to help enhance community broadband capacity and speed with the implementation of small cell towers.

The technology is changing and to get to 5G and increased mobile broadband speeds, the small towers have to be located with coverage in mind. These are not your grandfather’s big cell towers but are smaller and are often disguised and co-located with light poles and other utility poles. There was some concern raised by a couple of communities that wanted the ability to say where the towers should go. Ultimately, it is an engineering solution that must prevail based on the coverage area.

The House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee will consider amendments in the coming week or so, and then hopefully the bill will be voted out for further consideration on the Senate floor.

Bumpy Road for Road Funding in Senate?

The Chamber recently testified in support of HB 1002, citing the need for long-term, sustainable funding to adequately maintain, finish what we have started to build and build out our priority new road projects. We also noted that we do not see where the state can magically find the funds in the present budget to address the need outside of taxes, plus the additional 10 cents a gallon to ensure our road quality is a wise investment.

There were no amendments offered as of yet but it is safe to say the bill will have several committee amendments to change it.

Additionally, there are several major issues to iron out in this bill. One is whether to dedicate all of the sales taxes collected on fuel sales to road funding or keep most of that revenue flowing into the general fund. Another is what the Senate will do with the $1 a pack cigarette tax increase passed by the House. The cigarette tax increase would have replaced much of the revenue in the general fund if the fuel sales tax would have gone to the road fund. Yet another issue is to toll or not to toll major interstate highways. While that is a pure user fee for roads, there is quite a disagreement about if and where such tolls should be considered.

Another aspect is there are legislators who don’t want to be labelled as “raising taxes” and shy away from the fiscal realities of our very important road infrastructure.

Folks, this is an investment in our future that won’t cost that much individually and has the potential to enhance commerce and Indiana’s “Crossroads of America” location advantage.

The Chamber will continue to advocate for a strong, user-fee based model to address Indiana’s $1.2 billion per year road funding gap.

Call to Action: Connect with your state senator via our grassroots page. Let them know today that long-term funding is important to you and your company!

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.

Local Option Transportation Bill Moves Forward

SB 128 was amended on the Senate floor last week and passed third reading yesterday. It was previously determined that HB 1141, with similar language, would not move out of committee and efforts would be focused on the Senate legislation.

These were two bills with similar goals – to allow for communities all around Indiana to supplement road funding to enhance the possibility for a priority regional project – and were introduced in their respective legislative bodies. Both bills would apply to all areas of the state and create a mechanism for local communities to create a regional development authority, which can be used to apply for federal grants, create separate funding for a particular road project, give them the authority to issue bonds and have a referendum to raise property taxes to pay for transportation infrastructure.

The authors of both bills are from Jasper, and they see great economic value in connecting their community and surrounding communities with Interstate 69. They want to create options for communities to step up to provide additional local funds to enhance the possibility of getting a road built sooner.

The Chamber supports the effort as it creates a viable local funding option and it doesn’t require INDOT to elevate the priority. However, if the funding is there, it is more likely to happen. The authors and other supporters will continue to work on moving the Senate bill through the process.

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.

Many Tech, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Priorities Remain in Budget Bill

The House Republicans’ budget priorities were recently announced, as HB 1001 goes from the Governor’s initial budget priorities to more in-depth House consideration. The Chamber was glad to see several technology and innovation priorities in the bill including:

  • Makes the Venture Capital Tax Credit transferrable to people who don’t have Indiana tax liability. It also removes the 2021 expiration date of the tax credit, which helps enhance certainty
  • Several parts of the $1 billion over 10 years for innovation and entrepreneurship plan:
    • It caps the amount of the Next Level Trust Fund that can be invested in Indiana businesses to 50% of that $500 million fund. It still appoints a board of trustees to oversee the investment policy of the fund
    • Has $20 million over the two years for the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute
    • Due to budget pressure, it reduced the 21st Century Research and Development Fund by $10 million per year to $20 million per year
    • It allocates $1 million for the biennium for the Launch Indiana program

We expect many changes in HB 1001 as it advances through the legislature. The Chamber will continue to educate legislators on these important economic development priorities currently in the bill and why they need to remain.

Road Funding Bill Now Travels to Senate

Chamber-supported HB 1002 was amended last week on the House Floor and then passed 61-36 largely along party lines and is now up for consideration by the Senate.

The floor amendment prohibits any new toll road within 75 miles of any other toll road, terminates the gas tax indexing after July 2024 and allows additional time for public comment before a significant road project begins. Earlier, changes were made to the bill to have all sales taxes collected on fuel costs to be designated for roads (currently it’s only a penny of the seven-cent tax) starting in 2018 versus a phase-in of the sales tax to roads over three years through 2021. This creates a potential general fund budget deficit of over $300 million a year that must be addressed, either through budget cuts or other identified revenue sources. Moreover, the Chamber will continue to advocate for a strong, user-fee based model to address Indiana’s $1.2 billion per year road funding gap.

Call to Action: Connect with your state senator via our grassroots page. Let them know today that long-term funding is important to you and your company!

Better Data for Indiana Bill Advances

The Indiana Chamber supports HB 1470 (on management of government data), authored by Rep. David Ober.

During the second hearing last week, language was added to reframe how the MPH will be built out. Included is how data can be accessed that could make state government and agencies more transparent, how legislative services could use information from MPH for data-driven policy and various operational aspects of the MPH for information input and output. The Chamber will continue to work with Rep. Ober and the administration to ensure the MPH is as useful as possible for the executive and legislative branches of government, as well as offers strong external uses for stakeholders outside of government.

Heard by the Government and Regulatory Reform Committee; amended and passed 8-0, and now headed to the full House.

Bill to Change Net Metering for Those Investing in Wind and Solar Energy

The Senate Utilities Committee heard a full day of testimony on SB 309 on February 9 from both sides. No vote was taken and the bill will be heard again on February 16.

Most of the committee testimony was focused on net metering. Senator Hershman offered an amendment on the floor and Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) indicated he will be offering additional amendments to be considered at the next hearing. The Indiana Chamber gave testimony in support of the bill, including stating: the expectations for energy needs are diverse; our concerns about net metering if we do not make a step forward; the potential for rising costs through continued litigation; and the concern of numerous parties intervening in cases which will further slow down the process and increase costs to both utilities and ratepayers.

Overall, we testified the current bill is a step in the right direction and can be used as a building block going forward.

This bill is truly a compromise of long-standing issues that industrial users and businesses, as well as residential ratepayers, have had with Indiana’s investor-owned utilities. It will not fix all of the concerns our members expressed, but is a first step in helping businesses control costs. It has elements of competitive procurement, net metering, distributive generation and transparency of utility rates. It will serve as a building block of the Chamber’s efforts to maintain Indiana’s historical competitive edge, given the increase in energy costs over the past decade. With that said, we will need to consider all of the amendments before ultimately taking a final position on the bill.