Statehouse Update: Governor Signs First Bill, An Aspire Priority

By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance | | 2.22.21

Aspire Economic Development Chamber Alliance Johnson County Indiana

The snow did not delay business at the Statehouse last week as legislators raced to get bills out of committee. The next major deadlines are happening this week as this is the final week for bills to receive passage from the full floor of their originating chamber (House or Senate). Bills that are not passed this week are considered dead for the session.

Aspire has been tracking our priority issues, including testifying at committee hearings and communicating directly with legislators and legislative offices our requests for support. We also expressed our opposition to bills that are bad for business and would stunt community development.

Here is an update on our priority issues.

Employer Liability Legislation Signed by Governor Holcomb

On Monday, the Senate approved of the House’s changes to SB 1, employer liability legislation, with a vote of 39-7 along party lines. Senator Mark Messmer (R-Jasper), who authored the legislation, says it will provide businesses and individuals with immunity from civil liability if someone is exposed to COVID-19 on their property or during an activity they organized.

On Thursday, Governor Eric Holcomb swiftly signed the bill into law. “The pandemic has affected Hoosier businesses, schools and others in ways no one could have foreseen just one year ago," Holcomb said in a statement after signing the bill. "Most Hoosier businesses and other organizations are making good faith attempts to protect their customers and employees, because it is the right thing to do and it makes for better business in the long run. I want to thank lawmakers for rapidly passing this key piece of legislation and sending it to my desk for signature.”

Aspire began working with legislative leaders and other chambers of commerce on this issue last summer when it became clear Congress was not going to address this issue at the federal level.

Smoking Cessation Addressed in Budget Bill

The cigarette tax increase (currently at 50 cents) remains in the House version of the budget, bringing the tax to $1.50 per pack. There is a corresponding increase for e-cigarette vapor products at ten percent of the retail gross price. No amendments successfully went into the budget on second reading to increase the tax. The budget will next move to the Senate for further consideration.

Committee Fails to Vote on Work Share Bill, Even With full Business Support

Senate Bill 44 was heard in the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee but was not given a vote, despite having the votes to pass it out of committee. In fact, seven of the eleven committee members had signed on to the bill to coauthor. The bill also has bipartisan support and there was no opposition testimony to the bill, although there was some neutral testimony from the Indiana Manufacturers’ Association. The Chairman of the committee, Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville) refused to vote on the bill. Chairman Boots said he had concerns about creating a new government program when it is uncertain how many companies would utilize it. Later last week, Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) tried to amend work share language into the budget bill, but the House rejected his amendment.

Aspire will continue to look for opportunities to amend funding for the program into the budget bill but is not optimistic about Indiana adopting a work share passage this year.

Broadband Bills All Pass

SB 359 passed unanimously through the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, after first being heard in Senate Utilities Committee. SB 352, a broadband development bill authored by Senator Erin Houchin (R-Salem), along with Senator Zay’s (R-Huntington) SB 377 passed unanimously out of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In the House, HB 1449, authored by Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) passed 11-1 in the House Utilities, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee. The bills are expected to pass full floor votes and be sent to the next chamber. Rep. Soliday, who also chairs the Utilities, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee, indicated that he would likely hear ONE broadband bill coming from the Senate, meaning expect all the Senate bills to be combined into one large omnibus package for the House, with new funding going into the budget bill.

Transit Bill Threatens System Development

SB 141, authored by Senator Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) would withhold 10% of local income tax revenue from IndyGo until it meets a private fundraising threshold established in a 2014 law. It also would prevent IndyGo from moving forward with expansion projects, like the Blue and Purple lines, until it secures private funding. Aspire opposes this bill because Marion County is the foundation to a regional transit system, including into Johnson County.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved SB 141 7-5 on Thursday, after Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, changed his vote from “no” to “yes” to allow the bill to move to the Senate. Boots said he does not know how he will vote on the Senate floor.

IndyGo officials have also said that if the bills were to pass, more than $177 million in federal funding dedicated for the Blue and Purple lines would be in jeopardy because lack of funding could cause the agency to have to delay and/or redesign the projects.