Statehouse Update: Women’s Suffrage, Funds for Small Business and More

By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance | | 3.22.21

Aspire Economic Development Chamber Alliance Johnson County Indiana

The second half of the legislative session ramped up last week, with committees meeting in full swing and longer daily session calendars. House and Senate leadership also increased pressure to move bills faster by announcing their goal to adjourn sine die (“without day,” or without assigning a day for further hearing) on April 21, a full eight days ahead of the statutory deadline. Accordingly, the House and the Senate both moved their committee hearing deadlines up by a week. So, let’s dive into last week’s highlights.

Monument Honoring Women’s Suffrage Movement to be Installed at Statehouse

SB 6, a bill to extend the Indiana women's suffrage centennial commission (IWSCC) until July 1, 2024 and require a monument to suffragists to be installed on the Indiana Statehouse Grounds has passed both the Senate and House unanimously. The IWSCC will commission this monument, and the department of administration is required to install it by January 1, 2024. The bill was authored by Senator Sue Glick (R-LaGrange). Because it was not amended in the House, it will move to the Governor for signature.

Small Business Restart Grant Program Gets a Boost

The Senate amended HB 1004 to increase the grant money from thirty to sixty million dollars. This money will come from CARES Act funds, rather than from the state’s general fund (which is where the money came from prior to this amendment.) The amendment also allows for more flexibility regarding the use of the grants (with oversight from the budget committee). Aspire previously signed onto a coalition of Chambers testifying in support of this bill.

Tobacco Tax: It is about Health

The smoking/e-cigarette tax increase remains unchanged in the budget bill at this point. Included within the State budget bill, this matter will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee, but the focus last week was mostly on higher education funding. Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown (an emergency physician by trade) presented the budget and included talking points on the cigarette tax increase by stating that the House’s focus was on health, and not on revenue.

We agree. Tobacco use is proven to cause health issues, leading to increased costs to businesses. Aspire has testified and signed onto joint letters from other chambers of commerce supporting the tobacco tax increase. We will continue to do so. A healthy workforce is critical to business success.

Bill to Strip IndyGo Funding not yet Heard in Committee, Significant Amendments Likely

As of this article’s writing, the House Roads and Transportation Committee has not scheduled a hearing for SB 141. Speaker Huston was asked at a press conference late last week if the bill will be moving forward, and he said there have been ongoing discussions with stakeholders, particularly regarding the dedicated lane issue on Washington Street, but he did not say one way or another what he thinks will happen with the bill. Aspire anticipates it will be heard this week.

After an exhaustive ten-year public debate, transparency, and public outreach to gather input, and then and three-vote process, including a county-wide referendum, the General Assembly is poised to modify in three months what took ten years to create. The Marion County plan is the foundation to a more robust regional transit plan, including into Johnson County. Aspire continues to disagree with this legislation because it will undue years of progress and hamper the vision for a regional system.

Broadband Funding is the Focus

It was a quiet week for broadband legislation, but HB 1449 (Representative Ed Soliday’s bill concerning how broadband projects are funded) was officially sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee. It is scheduled for a hearing this week. Aspire sent a letter of support to the committee.

Police Reform Bill Unanimously Passes Senate

HB 1006, the police reform bill authored by Representative Gregory Steuerwald (R-Avon), passed through the Senate 49-0. Provisions in the bill include adding mandatory de-escalation training to the use-of-force curriculum, defining chokeholds (and banning them in certain situations), and a procedure to allow the Indiana law enforcement training board to decertify an officer who has committed misconduct. The bill passed also through the House unanimously. It has been sent to the governor for approval.