Statehouse Update: Remote Worker Grants and Rare Moment of Bipartisanship

By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance | | 2.8.21

Aspire Economic Development Chamber Alliance Johnson County Indiana

It is hard to believe, but this week is the last full week for committee hearings before the Feb. 16 committee deadline in the Indiana House. The Senate deadline is Thursday, Feb. 18, giving them two more weeks (the legislation is not in session Fridays). This can be a frenetic time during a session when lawmakers and constituents race to persuade committee chairs to hold hearings and to persuade committee members for support or opposition.

Aspire will be a part of this deadline frenzy, talking with legislators about bills supporting our priority issues, and others we oppose because they are bad for employers, or would unravel our past legislative progress.

Here are updates on some key issues Aspire has been following. We end this week’s update on a proud moment of bipartisan progress for Indiana. Check it out.

Smoking Cessation: Cigarette Tax Rate Increase Passes Committee

A bill to double the cigarette tax rate to $2 in Indiana has passed through the House Public Health Committee by a vote of 8-3. HB 1434, authored by Representative Julie Olhoff (R-Crown Point), includes a provision that would direct funds toward Medicaid. Language also in the bill would allow for the taxation of e-cigarettes and e-liquid of $1.56 for a two-pod package. Because of the fiscal impact of the bill, it must next be considered before the House Ways and Means Committee before moving to the entire House for a vote. Aspire is advocating for a hearing.

Broadband Service: Hearings Scheduled

SB 264, Senator Eric Koch’s (R-Bedford) broadband capacity infrastructure bill, passed through the Senate unanimously. Three additional broadband bills with be heard in the Senate Utilities Committee this Thursday. Aspire will continue to actively support these bills, which seek to expand coverage by prioritizing the current State funds, and/or increase available funds.

Bill to Stop Employer-Mandated Vaccines Hits Roadblock

SB 74, the bill to expand exceptions to vaccine mandates that would essentially end employer requirements, will not receive another committee hearing, according to committee Chair Senator Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville). The measure would have allowed employees to decline any vaccination for medical, religious or any reason of personal “conscience.” Employees would also be allowed to sue an employer that required immunizations as a condition of employment.

As we previously reported, Aspire opposed this bill due to its severe restrictions on and risk to business. Without another committee hearing, the bill will not receive a vote to move forward in the legislative process. However, Aspire will continue to monitor this topic lest it is amended into another bill.

Indiana Lawmakers Consider Grant Program to Attract Remote Workers

Aspire’s new economic strategic plan includes attracting new talent to Johnson County. We have been tracking a bill that would create a powerful new tool in our toolbelt to this end. HB 1416, authored by Representative Martin Carbaugh (R-Fort Wayne), would establish the remote worker grant program. This legislation would offer out-of-state individuals either up to $5,000 or $8,500 to relocate to Indiana. The concept of remote work has become much more prevalent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Indiana is now competing with other states that have similar types of grant programs to attract workers.

The bill picked up steam last week when it passed out of the House Commerce, Small Business, and Economic Development committee 10-1 and was recommitted for further consideration before the House Ways and Means Committee due to its fiscal impact. But it may need a broader coalition of support to get it scheduled for a hearing in Ways and Means. Aspire is actively supporting this endeavor.

Law Enforcement Reform Bill Passes House Unanimously

HB 1006, which outlines various reform measures such as de-escalation training and the banning of chokeholds under certain circumstances, passed the House 96-0, receiving a standing ovation from the entire chamber. The bill was authored by Representative Gregory Steuerwald (R-Avon). Of note - this bill was supported by Republicans, Democrats, and the members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

Aspire supports policies that will advance the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion in Johnson County, the state of Indiana, and across the nation. We rise with our legislators in applauding action to bring Hoosiers together and address this issue.