Chamber Talks Workforce Needs, Impact of Opioid Addiction as 2018 Legislative Session Begins

As the 2018 General Assembly gets underway, the Indiana Chamber is highlighting three big issues expected to be debated in the coming days and weeks: workforce needs, the opioid crisis and smoking rates.

Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar says, “We’ve done so well recently from an employment standpoint that we’ve almost outstripped our ability to hire skilled workers since unemployment is so low in the state.

“It’s clear we need to raise up the skills of those who are here, but the Indiana Chamber is also suggesting that perhaps we need to pursue a parallel strategy of recruiting people from out of state. Talent is more mobile than ever before and once people gethere, they really appreciate our cost of living.”

But make no mistake, Brinegar stresses, the state’s priority should be on the potential talent pool at home. That means some major changes will need to occur – ones that hopefully start in the new legislative session.
“What we’ve been doing wrong is saying, ‘Here is our program, you come use it and we hope that it will solve your needs.’ Instead, there should be a conscious effort to truly listen to employers and then develop training programs that are demand-driven to what the needs of the marketplace are now.”

Many of those jobs today and down the road are in the middle skills area – skills that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year bachelor’s degree. Brinegar states this should be a focus for both Hoosier workers who need to improve their skillset and young students.

“We know from our member companies that they are reaching down to high schools and even middle schools to explore with students what job opportunities there are with their companies, what skills they need to have, what classes they need to take in high school to be eligible to take those jobs. It’s becoming a lot more focused on getting people ready with some specificity for jobs after high school.

“There will always be the need for a number of jobs requiring a four-year degree or more, but the real growth is in show me what you know, show me what you can do, show me what machinery you can operate. That’s the mindset we need to have to transform some of these government silos … along with listening to employers and creating programs that communicate to young people what those job needs are.”

Additionally, the Indiana Chamber is partnering with the Governor’s office and the state’s drug czar, Jim McClelland, to be the source for the business component of the state’s plan to combat the opioid crisis.

“We will be researching on best practices, disseminating information to employers and putting on training programs. I’ve told the Governor’s office that we want to be part of the effort and part of the solution. It’s a big problem and it’s not going to be solved overnight, but this has become an employer problem in addition to a personal and societal problem,” Brinegar offers.

“We’ve rapidly gotten to the point to where employers almost can’t fire somebody for failing a drug test because there isn’t the depth in the workforce to tap into for new workers. Employers are looking for guidance. They want more information on what they can do, how they can train supervisors to recognize signs and know where the effective treatment programs are.”

The Indiana Chamber, a founding member of the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, would like the same urgency placed on reducing the state’s smoking rates.

“There are 10 times more people dying from smoking-related illnesses every year than opioids. And it’s the most preventable source of disease,” Brinegar notes.

“We need to improve our health metrics, including obesity, which are in the bottom third of the states. I rarely accept average for anything, but if Indiana rose to be just average when it comes to smoking, that would significantly curb health issues and save those individuals and businesses a lot of money on insurance coverage and health care costs.”

Indiana’s current smoking rate is at 21% of the population; the national average is 15%.

Enhanced workforce efforts and reducing the state’s smoking rates are among the Indiana Chamber’s Top 9 legislative priorities for 2018. The full list is available at www.indianachamber.com/priorities.

New and Improved Legislative Directory App a Hot Commodity for Government Affairs Teams

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Want to have up-to-date information about the Indiana legislature, but you don’t want to carry a book around with you? How about using the smartphone or tablet you’re already working on?

The Legislative Directory app, developed by Indiana-based Bluebridge, is more than an electronic version of the long standing Legislative Directory. Here are some of the app benefits:

  • Updated and ready to use on the first day of the legislative session
  • Real time updates to information throughout the session and beyond
  • Less expensive than the book, but contains the same information
  • Legislators’ contact info can be downloaded to your phone

You can order the app online now (order through the Indiana Chamber, not the app stores). The app is days away from being available, at which time you will receive download links for your mobile device. (We’re updating the app throughout December as information comes in from legislators.) Bulk app purchases are now available too; your company contact will receive all of the download links for distribution as needed.

Order online now at www.indianachamber.com/ldapp.

A Look Back at the Legislative Session: Some Major Accomplishments and a Few Missed Opportunities

statehouse-picMeaningful long-sought accomplishments mixed with a few missed opportunities and one highly unfortunate detour quickly tell the tale of the 2015 legislative session.

The Key Victories
The state’s common construction wage statute has unnecessarily cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars on public construction projects over many decades. With the repeal finally in place, there will be open and fair bidding among all contractors for these projects.

Also gone: The hassle of filing personal property tax returns – or paying to have them filed – for what amounted to a very small tax liability for many small businesses. This will positively impact over half of all businesses in the state – some 150,000 in total. The throwback rule – really an unfair and inappropriate tax – is eliminated, too. It allowed for Indiana to tax whatever portion of your business income that wasn’t already taxed in Indiana or elsewhere.

Other Good Outcomes
We have a balanced two-year budget that puts as much emphasis as the revenue forecast would allow in prioritizing K-12 education, higher education and expanding funding for career and technical education – all Indiana Chamber priorities.

Another focal point of ours is water resources. The General Assembly took heed of our study last summer and passed two important next-step pieces of legislation that center on getting better data on what water resources exist throughout the state.

The Governor’s Regional Cities initiative recognizes and puts an appropriate focus on the important concept of quality of place. It acknowledges that population within our state and elsewhere is shifting from rural and less populated areas to urban and suburban areas. Similarly, we are in an era where young adults are increasingly choosing the place where they want to live and then looking for employment instead of letting the job dictate their location.

We were also satisfied that a reasonable conclusion was reached regarding the property assessments of “big box” retail stores. As it was initially introduced, it would have been devastating for many businesses by putting far too much specificity into law.

Missed Opportunities and One Detour
Conversely, there are a few decisions that stand out as particularly unfortunate that more or anything wasn’t done.

A work share program that would benefit employers and their workers as well as repealing the smoker’s bill of rights for new hires are still facing resistance from key individuals, which is preventing the issues from even getting a committee hearing. Likewise, regulating the practice called lawsuit lending, which translates to prolonged litigation and more costs for employers, continues to be stymied by two legislators.

An issue we hoped was going to be properly addressed was the dysfunction between the state superintendent and the State Board of Education. The best solution and one we have advocated for the last 30 years would be to let the Governor appoint the state superintendent like he does all other agency heads. But we ended up with something not even a middle ground. Instead, Senate Bill 1 is a rather convoluted piece of legislation that does nothing in the immediate term to remedy the situation in the least.

And then there was the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the historical fallout and the “fix”. We were pleased by the legislative response to specify that in no way could that statute be used to discriminate against individuals or different groups of Hoosiers. We anticipate there will be efforts by legislators to further strengthen that stance next year.

Chamber Scores Hoosier Legislators on 2013 Voting Records

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce handed out scores today to all 150 state legislators for their voting records on pro-economy, pro-jobs legislation during the 2013 General Assembly. The numbers, released in the organization’s annual Legislative Vote Analysis, also contain a two-year total for each legislator.

The 2013 scores range from 44% to 100%. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-District 88 of Indianapolis), who votes at his discretion and therefore was scored on fewer bills, was the lone perfect mark. The highest full-time voting record for 2013 was Rep. Ed Clere (R-District 72 of New Albany) at 97%. The top senator was Joe Zakas (R-District 11 of Granger) at 87%. Last year, there were 15 legislators with 100%.

The reason for the slightly lower vote scores overall is the type of public policies on the docket, observes Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“The issues in 2013 were more complex and less partisan in nature. Two examples involved the Common Core academic standards and the ratepayer protection for the Rockport synthetic natural gas plant. Both were highly complicated – containing various provisions – and had significant supporters and opponents in both parties. This could very well be a sign of things to come.”

All scores and the full report are available at the Indiana Chamber’s web site at www.indianachamber.com/lva.

Brinegar also points out that the Senate scores, on average, were notably lower than in recent years. “That happened because the Senate watered down several crucial bills or simply refused to move other pro-jobs bills altogether.

“What’s more, the gap between the top (87%) and bottom (60%) scores in the Senate was closer this year, as Democrat scores increased overall while Republicans went down,” he notes.

“All in all, however, it was another successful session for Hoosier businesses and their workers. Legislators, for the most part, voted to grow jobs and move our state forward – and the results show it.”

A total of 19 legislators also received a star designation for their significant efforts on issues deemed of critical importance or their overall leadership. Among them: Speaker Bosma and first-term House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (D-District 9 of Michigan City) who together championed the Indiana Career Council legislation.

Says Brinegar of Pelath: “He brought a breath of fresh air to the House and it was noticeable. From our perspective, things were much more focused on policy issues than political issues.”

New this year in the vote descriptions is a 2025 icon next to those bills that directly reflect the goals contained in the Indiana Chamber’s long-term economic development plan, Indiana Vision 2025.

“We do the Legislative Vote Analysis to keep Hoosier employers and citizens informed about what’s going on at the Indiana Statehouse and how their legislators are voting on issues vital to Indiana’s economic future. This report makes it clear which legislators support pro-job growth and pro-business issues, and which legislators do not,” Brinegar explains.

Legislators who score 70% or greater for the most recent two-year voting period are eligible for endorsement by the Indiana Chamber’s political action committee, Indiana Business for Responsive Government.

Bills used in the report were selected based on their significant impact to the state’s economic climate and workforce. Lawmakers are notified of the Indiana Chamber position and reasoning on these bills through various communications during the legislative session – and prior to key votes being taken. Only floor votes for which there is a public record are used in the Legislative Vote Analysis.

Copies of the Legislative Vote Analysis report are sent to all legislators and Indiana Chamber board members, and made available online for all businesspersons, community leaders and citizens.

This marks the 29th year the Indiana Chamber has measured state legislators’ voting performance on bills that reflect the organization’s public policy positions.

Governor Gets Down to Business Quickly

While the Indiana General Assembly began its work on January 7, new Gov. Mike Pence had to wait a week for his January 14 inauguration. He quickly went to work, however, with significant positive actions on his first two days on the job.

A series of executive orders that Pence signed following his official ascension into office included a moratorium on new rules and regulations (with obvious emergency exceptions) that were not proposed before January 14, as well as a cost-benefit analysis of existing administrative rules. Priority will be given to review of those rules with the most negative effect on job creation and economic development.

Candidate Pence promised this action leading up to the election. While federal regulatory challenges are often at the forefront today, this step will help ensure that state government is not unnecessarily limiting job and economic growth.

On day two, the Pence team delivered a two-year, $29 billion spending plan to the State Budget Committee. The first six pages of this extensive document provide an overview of the key elements.

This is a very good starting point for legislators. It is a fiscally sound proposal, with a focus on meeting key state priorities and providing the 10% individual income tax relief (which also encompasses 90% of Hoosier businesses) that Pence proposed in his campaign. As we’ve indicated previously, lawmakers have questioned whether the income tax cut should take precedence over other budget desires. That will be worked out in the legislative process and could be determined by the updated revenue forecast that will be presented in early April.

A few highlights:

  • A 1% increase in each of the next two years for K-12 and higher education. The second year for K-12 would have that 1% be divided among the state’s highest performing schools. Combined, the education funding totals 65% of the budget.
  • While the administration did not include money to specifically expand the Medicaid program as outlined under federal health care reform, it does significantly increase funding for health insurance for the poor – from $1.65 billion this year to $2.1 billion in 2015.
  • The budget calls for a change in projected excess revenues. After 12.5% of annual spending is set aside in reserves, the remainder would be divided between the automatic income tax credits that were enacted during the Daniels administration and a new fund to help maintain roads, bridges and other infrastructure critical to economic growth.
  • Spending is kept in line in this proposal. A structural surplus is maintained and reserves are allocated effectively, with the infrastructure fund a good start to the larger question of financing future transportation needs. The Chamber will be working with the governor’s team and legislators to help ensure that as many pro-job, pro-economy priorities as possible are achieved in a responsible manner.

Legislature Shooting in the Dark on This One

Do you want the factual or the emotional arguments against what has become an unfortunate Indiana General Assembly tradition in recent years — consideration of legislation to allow guns to be brought into the workplace? The Senate actually passed such a bill in 2009 (by a 42-8 vote) and it returns this morning in the Senate Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters Committee (in the form of SB 25).

Yes, individuals have a right to bear arms. But property owners certainly have the right — and obligation — to provide a safe workplace for their employees. The consequences are bad, often deadly, when guns and the workplace mix. Some of the facts that Chamber issue expert George Raymond will share in testimony:

  • October 2009 study by University of Pennsylvania researchers that shows people in possession of a firearm are almost 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than people who are not in possession of a firearm. It cites a number of reasons why possessors of guns are in more, not less, danger.
  • A previous case study in North Carolina found that the "risk of a worker being killed at work was substantially higher in workplaces where employer policy allowed workers to keep guns … relative to those where all weapons were prohibited."
  • Texas, known for its straight and not-so-straight shooters, became one of the most recent states to "just say no" in 2009, rejecting bills that would have allowed guns in college classrooms and in cars in company parking lots.

If emotion is more your flavor, how about:

  • Last week’s St. Louis manufacturing company shooting that resulted in four deaths and five people being wounded.
  • The 2008 Henderson, Kentucky tragedy in which a disciplined worker retrieved a pistol from his car and proceeded to kill five people before shooting himself.
  • Two Northern Indiana incidents within four months of each other (in Goshen and South Bend in 2001 and 2002, which resulted in seven deaths and others being wounded).

Really, guns in the workplace? The goal should be to help Indiana companies and their employees prosper, not unnecessarily put them in the line of fire.

Budget Blues in the Bluegrass State

The Louisville Courier-Journal examines the monumental task the Kentucky legislature has before it as it attempts to cultivate a workable budget in next year’s session. When the word "bloodbath" pokes its head into an article about your economic situation, you know things aren’t good. Let’s hope our neighbors to the South can find a workable solution.

In recent years — as revenue failed to meet projections — Kentucky has used its Rainy Day fund and the stimulus money to avoid mass layoffs of state workers and deep funding cuts for its highest priorities, including the public schools.

But now the Rainy Day Fund is empty. And federal stimulus dollars are scheduled to run dry in the middle of the next fiscal year.

“It’s most definitely the worst budgetary outlook I’ve ever seen,” said State Budget Director Mary Lassiter, who has worked in the budget office for 27 years. “The outlook is a lot worse than it was two years ago.”

Lassiter’s boss, Gov. Steve Beshear, said the budget picture is “going to get more difficult because we’ve already cut out a lot of things that perhaps aren’t as essential as other things. You get down to bone at some point and cuts hurt.”

Budget process could be ‘bloodbath’

The stimulus funds, while welcome, merely delayed the day of reckoning for Kentucky.

Revenues to the state General Fund are projected to fall more than $1 billion short (about 12 percent) of the roughly $9 billion required in the 2009-10 budget as enacted by the 2008 General Assembly.

Beshear and lawmakers are using $787 million in stimulus dollars to help fill that hole.

But only about $485 million in stimulus funds will be available to Kentucky in 2010-11 — and none at all in 2011-12.

State tax revenues — which have shrunk the last two years — are expected to begin growing again next year, but not nearly fast enough to plug the gap when stimulus funds end.

Civic Education: Teacher Denied Paid Leave to Serve in Legislature

A Virginia school teacher is running to become a state legislator. However, his superintendent has notified him that he would not be receiving paid leave for the two-month session. So now it’s up to the school board to determine if he’ll receive unpaid leave (should he win):

House District 20 Republican candidate Dickie Bell has been told he will not be granted paid leave from his Augusta County teaching position to serve in the General Assembly should he be elected.

Bell said he would accept an unpaid leave and that is what he requested, but was told by letter by Superintendent Gary McQuain last week that a paid leave would not be granted for the two-month session that starts in January 2010.

If he wins the House 20 race against Democrat Erik Curren in November, Bell has asked to speak to the Augusta County School Board at its Nov. 5 meeting. The meeting is two days after the election.

Should the school board not agree to an unpaid leave for 39 school days in 2010, Bell has said he would have to consider “retiring or resigning’’ as a teacher. Bell said he plans to serve as a delegate if elected.

Both political experts and elected officials say Virginia’s part-time citizen legislature has great benefits, because it keeps representatives closer to their constituents.

But the experts say the entry to the legislature is often limited to those who have the resources and flexibility to do it.

So, harkening back to Monday Night Football games of my youth, let’s try a quick game of "You Make the Call!" Is this an appropriate example of a school district attempting to save money, or a blatant lack of judgment in not encouraging a teacher to perform a civic duty (and serve as a positive role model for America’s youth)? Or is unpaid leave appropriate here as he’d be earning a legislator’s stipend? Interested in your thoughts.

Hoosier Issues in Kentucky Special Session

Indiana isn’t the only state reveling in the joys (insert your own joke here) of a special session – our neighbors to the south called back lawmakers for their own budget issue. Unlike Indiana, Kentucky is facing a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall.

While the race to finish a budget continues here, Kentucky legislators sent a revised plan to the governor on Wednesday (see story) . Several decisions being made in the Bluegrass state directly affect Hoosiers:

Legislation that would have allowed video slot machines at Kentucky horse tracks squeezed through the House, but failed in Senate committee this week (had this passed it would have meant fewer Kentuckians crossing state lines and less revenue for Indiana). This has been an ongoing debate in Kentucky, and this surely won’t be the last attempt by proponents.

Several years in the works, Kentucky finally has developed a funding plan for its share of the Ohio River Bridges Project, which would allow for two new bridges connecting the two states. (Read the 2005 BizVoice® story and the 2007 update.) Indiana plans to fund its portion of the project with Major Moves money. 

Now back to the countdown closer to home. We didn’t fare too poorly in Kentucky – we’ll see what happens here though.

House Introduces 14 New Bills… Why?

Late yesterday it was revealed that the General Assembly has 14 new bills to contend with… or do they?

Four of the measures introduced by House members are procedural in nature: the vehicle bills.  The remaining 10 appear to be hot-button issues that couldn’t find their way to passage during the regular session.  Among them:

  • Elimination of townships outside Marion County
  • Smoking ban in public places
  • Constitutional property tax cap amendment
  • Declaration that marriage is between a man and woman

So why bother with them now during the special session, with less than a week before a state budget needs to be finalized?

It’s called going through the motions says Indiana Chamber health care lobbyist Mike Ripley, himself a former state representative.

“The legislators know realistically these bills are not going to move – maybe they have a 1% chance – and that leadership probably can only deal with the budget matters,” he states. “This comes down to legislators wanting to keep the issues that are most important to them out there, and going on record like this is one way to do that.”