Statehouse Update: First Big Deadline Ahead
Public Health Front and Center; Key Workforce Retention Program On Deck
We are just three weeks away from the first big deadline. The House committee report deadline is February 21, and the Senate on February 23. If a bill is not heard in its assigned committee by these dates, the bill is considered dead (although, it is not uncommon to see ‘dead’ language reappear within other bills later in the session).
Here are highlights from the statehouse last week, starting with an exciting movement on a long-debated workforce program Aspire previously supported.
Work Share Program
When faced with a difficult economic situation or temporary business transition, employers currently have two choices if they cannot continue to sustain the affected employees’ wages: permanently separate from the affected employees or reduce their hours and wages, and hope they stay.
Work Share is a key workforce retention program that gives employers a third option. Employers can reduce employee hours in lieu of complete separation, thereby allowing affected workers to:
- continue working
- receive a reduced level of W2 wages
- maintain access to their employer-sponsored benefits such as health insurance
- and also receive partial public unemployment benefits
This type of program benefits everyone: employers because they can retain talent in tough times; employees because they can retain a job and benefits; and the State’s economy because it preserves economic output and requires less public expenditure.
And considering the public’s acute attention and support for improving Hoosiers’ mental health, it would seem obvious that retaining employees’ connectedness to their employer and employer-sponsored benefits will mitigate mental health decline.
Aspire has supported this program for several years but it was stuck in the Senate Pension and Labor Committee. And even after we helped line up most committee members as sponsors, the previous committee chair was not inclined to take a vote.
After a decade of defeat, this year’s Work Share proposal, SB 347, is scheduled this week for a hearing in the Senate Pensions and Labor committee. With two committee members sponsoring the bill and a new committee chair, we are cautiously optimistic about its ability to move forward! Aspire will be testifying in support of this bill this week.
Lieutenant Governor Crouch Makes Committee Appearance for Mental Health
While the Lieutenant Governor is the President and often presider of the Senate, it is rare to see them attend a legislative hearing, much less testify on a bill.
In a strong show of support, Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch testified last Thursday before the Senate Appropriations Committee urging the passage of the Senate’s major mental health bill, SB 1. This bill transforms the 988 Crisis Hotline into the 988 Crisis Response Centers and addresses funding and sustainability plans for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. There are currently 19 pilot CCBHC sites in Indiana.
HB 1006, the Mental Health companion bill in the House, also passed through House Courts and Criminal Code Committee and now goes to the full House of Representatives for their consideration.
Aspire is in favor of policies that encourage the development and implementation of mental health support systems. Now more than ever, leaders embrace health and wellness as business success and community development strategies – and it is important to recognize that mental health is a critical aspect of this strategy. Mental health issues within our workforce, homes, and especially in vulnerable populations create obstacles to achieving optimal success at work, school, and other areas.
Public Health Rally Focuses on Increased Funding
Hundreds came to the Statehouse also on Thursday to make a push for increased funding for public health measures. As a reminder, the Governor created a Public Health Commission last year which made recommendations to significantly increase public health funding - to the tune of $243 million. This number has given legislators some pause, causing the Governor to scale back his ask to $125 million in the first year, followed by the rest of the full amount in the second year.
Nationally, the average per capita state spending on public health is $91 but Indiana spends just $55 – putting it 45th in the nation for funding. Governor Holcomb stated that he tasked his Commission to get Indiana to the “middle of the pack.” Hoosier health statistics remain an annoying low mark on our state’s report card. Will the legislature decide to make this a funding priority?
As we previously reported, a bill to create a Residential Housing Infrastructure Assistance Program has begun to make its way through the legislative process. HB 1005 was crafted in response to a Housing Task Force that met this last summer and fall and would create a revolving loan fund to pay for the vital housing development infrastructure not otherwise considered in alternate grants or programs. The bill was heard in the House Government and Regulatory Reforms Committee this week and drew a lot of support. It passed out of committee and recommitted to Ways and Means due to its fiscal component.
The fund will be overseen by the Indiana Finance Authority, and the money could be used for sidewalks, curbs, sewer, water, and other infrastructure. However, the bill’s fiscal impact report does not yet actually offer a specific dollar amount of its estimated fiscal impact.
Some committees will meet just a few more times and committee meeting agendas will be filling up fast. Stay tuned for updates on these issues as well as Aspire key areas such as Pre-K/daycare, business autonomy, economic development tools, and more.