Tech Talk: Seeking Further Legislative Progress

 

Legislators returned to the Statehouse one week ago for the “short” session of the Indiana General Assembly. That means adjournment must occur no later than March 14 and there is no budget to construct as the current two-year plan was put into place in 2017.

Technology and innovation issues, however, will be on the table. This follows some early successes in 2017 (see Page 5 of the comprehensive 2017 Final Legislative Report) that included establishment of the Next Level Fund, resources for the Management and Performance Hub, enhanced broadband connectivity and more.

The Indiana Technology and Innovation Council Policy Committee, led by John McDonald of ClearObject and Bill Soards of AT&T Indiana, worked through the remainder of 2017 to craft new and revised policy positions moving forward. They were the focus of much of the discussion at the second Tech Policy Summit in early December and in meetings with legislative and executive branch leaders.

We enter the new session cautiously optimistic of continued progress. Among the key topics: clarity of tax treatment of software-as-a-service (SaaS), computer science education requirements for students and development of an autonomous vehicles policy.

Browse the following to become more informed of both key tech/innovation priorities and the Indiana Chamber’s broader focus:

Tech and Innovation Legislative Business Issues

Tech, Innovation and Indiana’s Future Economy (two-page overview of why these policy priorities are so important)

2018 Indiana Chamber Top Legislative Priorities

Indiana Chamber Top Policy Victories

Additionally, TechPoint is accepting applications for the 19th annual Mira Awards honoring ‘the best of tech in Indiana.’ The Mira Awards are like Indiana’s Oscars for technology with award categories recognizing the people, products and companies that make our community so special.

Applications are due January 19. Visit https://techpoint.org/mira/ to apply. This year’s black-tie gala celebration will be held Saturday, April 28, at the JW Marriott – Indianapolis.

You can learn more about this year’s upcoming Mira Awards from the official awards program launch press release.

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.