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.

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.

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.“

Tobacco, E-Cigarettes and Cigarette Tax Topics in Interim Study Meeting

On October 6, the Interim Public Policy Committee met for nearly four hours to discuss a host of issues related to tobacco and e-cigarettes.

The group first entertained debate regarding whether smoking should be prohibited in bars, casinos and private clubs, as well as the fiscal impact of such a move. State law was passed in 2012 that prohibited smoking in the workplace with the aforementioned businesses excluded. The Casino Association testified in support of maintaining the carve-out. Representative Charlie Brown (D-Gary) asked the Indiana Chamber’s if its policy was still to support a workplace ban on smoking; we confirmed it is.

The most interesting exchange surrounded whether e-cigarettes should be defined as tobacco products and the potential taxation of them. Proponents of e-cigarettes testified that because nothing burns, no smoke is released and these products should not be classified as tobacco. The liquid in e-cigarettes contains 0, 3, 6, 12 and 18mg/ml of nicotine, thus enabling these products to be used as cessation devices. Prohibiting them and/or taxing them as tobacco products would treat them as products that are as harmful as cigarettes; they are generally considered not to be in that category. A manufacturer of e-liquid testified that a 20-cent tax per milliliter would put him out of business.

Testimony was also provided that Indiana University’s Prevention Resource Center conducted a survey among Indiana high school seniors and found that 25% had used a vaping device in the past month. That was a higher number than had used traditional tobacco products. Both are prohibited for sale to minors.

Further discussion revolved around the impact of taxation on the consumption of cigarettes. Several individuals testified that studies indicate (including one fiscal modeling of Indiana) that a 10% increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes results in a 3-5% reduction in tobacco consumption. The fiscal analysis that was conducted indicated that a 50-cent tax increase on a pack of cigarettes would generate approximately $137 million in additional revenue.

The Indiana Chamber testified that the state’s overall health ranking is 41st nationwide and 39th for smoking. Indiana has decreased from 25.6% to 21.9% of adult smokers in the population since the enactment of the 2012 smoking ban. While acknowledging the studies referenced above, the Chamber also cited a recent study from the Cato Institute that indicates that it may take a 100% increase in the cigarette tax to accomplish a 2-3% decrease in tobacco use.

No decisions were made about any of the topics discussed. The committee will meet again on October 22.

Wellness, Smoking Cessation Gain Momentum

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar offers insights on the Wellness Council of Indiana, which has grown 400% since it became part of the Indiana Chamber in 2011. The council is now leading a smoking cessation program aimed at helping employers institute smoke-free policies and individuals break the costly and deadly habit.

Study: Smoking a Costly Habit for Indiana Businesses

The fact that smoking has been detrimental to Indiana and its businesses likely doesn’t surprise anyone at this point. However, the gravity of its destruction is quantified in a new report from Ball State University. Additionally, if your company needs laminated signs or window stickers reading "State Law Prohibits Smoking Within 8 Feet of This Entrance" to comply with the upcoming ban, you can purchase those from the Indiana Chamber.

As Indiana prepares for a statewide smoking ban on July 1, a new study from Ball State University finds that 21.2 percent of Hoosiers admit to regularly lighting up a cigarette, a habit costing the state nearly $2.6 billion in productivity losses and $2.2 billion in health care costs each year.

"Burden of Smoking among Adults in Indiana," a report by Ball State’s Global Health Institute (GHI) based on 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ranks the state 42nd worst in terms of percentage of population among the 50 states and District of Columbia. Only eight states have higher smoking rates than Indiana."

"We have known for decades that smoking is counterproductive for our health and plays a major role for the spiraling health care costs facing both employees and their employers," said Kerry Anne McGeary , GHI director and Phyllis A. Miller professor of health economics. "When combined with our reports on obesity, this report demonstrates that on average Hoosiers have health issues and engage in behaviors that put them at risk for chronic conditions."

She pointed out that on average, about 9,700 deaths per year in Indiana are attributable to smoking while the habit is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for one in five deaths or about 443,000 each year.

"Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease – ailments that are preventable simply by not lighting up in the first place," McGeary said. "Smoking kills half of its users. About one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco. This data sends a clear message to smokers that they are involved in a very dangerous habit."

The study also found:

* About 23.3 percent of males are currently smoking as compared to 19.3 of women.

• Adults older than 65 have the lowest smoking rate at 8 percent as compared to adults 18-24 years old at 21.2 percent, 25-44 years old at 26.1 percent and 45-64 years old at 22.6 percent.

• About 30.1 percent of African-American adults regularly smoke as compared to 20.6 percent of white adults and 16.8 percent of Hispanic adults.

• Smoking rates decrease as income increases. Smokers make up 39.4 percent with household incomes of less than $15,000, 30.9 percent with household incomes of $15,000-$24,999, 24.2 percent with household incomes of $25,000-$49,999, 16.6 percent with household incomes of $50,000-$74,999, and 11.1 percent with household incomes of more than $75,000.

• Smoking rates also decrease as education levels increase. About 35.1 percent with less than a high school education are smokers as compared to 25.3 percent of adults with a high school education, 24.8 percent with some college education, and 8.9 percent with a college education.

McGeary attributes anti-smoking policies as well as a combination of new tobacco taxes, anti-smoking campaigns and indoor clean air acts in playing a role in reducing the number of people taking up the habit.

The report found that percentage of current smokers in Indiana has dropped from about 29 percent in 1996 to 21.2 percent in 2010. About 60 percent of Hoosiers who smoke have tried to quit at least once, tying the national rate. In 1994, about 42 percent of Hoosier smokers tried to quit as compared to slightly more than 45 percent across the country.

Chamber Urges Passage of Imperfect Smoking Ban Bill

Passing the statewide smoking ban bill would be a substantial step and offer Hoosiers protection from second-hand smoke in key public places, says Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar.

“House Bill 1149 would protect 95% of Hoosiers while at work and also allow citizens to eat at a restaurant without having to encounter cigarette or cigar smoke. What’s more, local communities would still be able to pass a more stringent smoking ban. These are all huge positive developments,” he declares.

“We strongly encourage legislators to carry through on the bill negotiated in conference committee and pass HB 1149.”

In reference to attempts to defeat the bill:

“To those seeking a total ban, the Indiana Chamber agrees that is ideal, but also not realistic. At this time, a bill is not going to pass that bans smoking in bars and taverns. The health of Hoosiers is too important to let this bill die yet again because the legislation is not perfect.”

The bill passed the House by a 60-33 vote last night, and moves to the Senate today for passage.

I Can Walk Away From This Promo Message

I receive press releases — lots and lots of press releases. Here’s one that gained attention, not for its message but its absurdity.

Title: Which is Worse for Your Health? Cigarettes or Office Chairs?
 
NBC News reports that new research shows the ill effects of prolonged sitting is commensurate with similar health afflictions found among cigarette smokers.
 
Dr. David Coven, a cardiologist at St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital in New York, states in the report that several new studies show prolonged sitting is linked directly to many of the same diseases contracted by smokers including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and premature mortality. The report warned that the odds of contracting any of these diseases increased with the amount of time spent sitting during the day.
 
“We have been sounding the alarm bells about the dangers of sedentary lifestyles for the past two years and appreciate that NBC’s coverage will add to our attempts to build a movement revolution in the United States,” stated TrekDesk CEO Steve Bordley. “America’s health is at risk as never before yet few understand the severe health impact of sitting at a desk all day.”

I’m all for wellness (we’ve got the Wellness Council of Indiana under the Chamber umbrella now, we’re putting the final touches on the wellness issue of BizVoice and the Chamber is preparing for the annual Indiana Employee Health and Wellness Summit). But really: Comparing the impacts of working at a desk to smoking to sell "walking treadmills?" The product might be worthwhile, but the message to get us to pay attention leaves much to be desired.

More Campuses Just Saying No to Smokers

In 2007, about 60 colleges and universities had enacted a smoke-free policy. That number has grown to nearly 400.

There has been some external push. Clean air laws in Illinois, New Jersey and Wisconsin require smoke-free university housing. Smoking is prohibited on all public campuses in Arkansas and at every school (public and private) in Iowa. A couple of big players soon join the list, with no smoking at the University of Florida this fall or at any of the three University of Michigan campuses starting in 2011.

For those that still allow lighting up, more have policies that restrict the number of areas and move smokers away from building entrances. What have student reactions been? According to a CongressDaily story:

A Student Tobacco-Free Task Force was created when the University of Denver went smoke-free in January. Similar associations have been created at other colleges to help enforce the policy and support the change.

However, students who oppose the ban on smoking cigarettes outdoors have not remained silent. Groups of students held daily "smoke-ins" in protest when the University of Pennsylvania attempted to ban smoking at all 14 of its campuses in 2008.

The University of Denver found that about two-thirds of the student population was in favor of banning tobacco. "Interestingly, these divisions were not necessarily based on one’s personal use of tobacco," said Katie Dunker, the assistant director of health promotions at the school. "We had students who use tobacco who were for it and students who didn’t who were against it."

A list from the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation puts campuses of 15 Indiana colleges and universities in the total smoke-free category. There are another nine Hoosier campuses rated smoke-free with the exception of some remote outdoor areas.