April 28, 2017

Indiana 2017 Legislative Wrap-up

Indiana lawmakers had plenty of reasons to celebrate the conclusion of the 2017 legislative session — they finished a week early in what leadership called a “monumental” year. Here is a look at the raw number of bills introduced, and those that made it through both houses and are eligible for Governor Holcomb’s signature:

  • 675 House Bills introduced, 139 to Governor Holcomb
  • 570 Senate Bills introduced, 132 to Governor Holcomb

The following provides an in-depth look at individual bills and how they contribute to the top legislative priorities of the Indiana legislature. 

Governor’s Bill Watch

There are outstanding bills which must be decided on by early May. The Governor has seven days to sign or veto the enrolled acts. If he does not sign the enrolled act, it will become law after the seven days. You can keep track of the bills the governor is reviewing here.

To date, the governor has vetoed one bill. HEA 1523 would have permitted government agencies to charge up to $20 per hour to fulfill public records requests that take more than two hours to find. 

In a letter to House Speaker Bosma, the Governor said, “Providing access to public records is a key part of the work public servants perform and is important from a government transparency standpoint. I do not support policies that create burdensome obstacles to the public gaining access to public documents.” 

It is up to the General Assembly to decide whether to override the Governor’s veto by a simple majority vote and enact the bill into law despite his objections. 

Governor’s Next Level Agenda

In January, Indiana’s 51st governor, Eric Holcomb outlined his top priorities for lawmakers in his State of the State address by breaking his legislative agenda into five pillars. The five pillars include diversifying our economy, upgrading our infrastructure, workforce development, attacking the drug epidemic and delivering efficient government service. Within those pillars were 28 individual legislative initiatives, 26 of which were totally or partially secured.
 
1. Economy

HEA 1001: The State’s $32 Billion Biennial Budget: The final bill lawmakers debated in each chamber before declaring “sine die” late in the night on Friday, April 21 was the state’s biennial budget, which focuses on improving roads, boosting education funding and other moves aimed at improving Indiana’s economy. 

Gas Tax Increase: In an effort to adequately fund their infrastructure plan, lawmakers raised the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon. Lawmakers say the increase will cost the average Hoosier $60 annually. Motorists can also expect to pay an additional $15 registration fee for most vehicles, $50 for hybrids and $150 for electric cars. 

Pre-Kindergarten: The General Assembly authorized the Governor to pay for more low-income children around the state to attend pre-k through the My Own Way Pre-K program. Students from more counties will be eligible for the grants, which nearly double to $21 million a year, if they meet income thresholds. If no high-quality pre-k exists in close proximity to a student, the state will allow usage of an online early learning program. 

Veterans: Veterans will receive a small increase in exemptions and additional funding for several veterans’ programs. Holcomb’s push for a total tax exemption of military pensions did not end up in the final budget, but legislators still rejoiced in their efforts to assist veterans  as the session wrapped up. 

2. Infrastructure Upgrades 

HEA 1002: $1.2 Billion Road Funding Package: “Historic,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma when describing the four-month session, largely due to the passage of a landmark road funding, which he characterized as the most important bill addressed during his tenure. Indiana’s latest financial forecast, which arrived days before a vote on the budget bill, was a confidence booster for many Indiana lawmakers. The forecast showed that the state is on track to make $200 million more over the next two years. Passage of HEA 1002 fulfilled a session long pledge from all caucuses, seeking to address projects spanning the next 20 years. With INDOT estimating a need for $1.2 billion a year for the next 20 years to fix Indiana’s roads and bridges, state legislators crafted a plan that would generate that amount by 2024 with $617 million in new revenue coming in 2018. INDOT will put together a priority list for the governor in June for maintenance and new projects. 

HEA 1144 (South Shore Rail Transit): Holcomb is eager to sign HEA 1144, which establishes the double-tracking of the South Shore Line between Gary and Michigan City. It also puts the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority in charge of attracting transit-oriented residential and commercial projects near existing and future South Shore stations. Indiana will spend $180 million over the next 30 years to expand commuter rail service in the Region, a move Holcomb believes to be a vital investment in the state’s future. 

3. Workforce Development

HEA 1005 (Superintendent of Public Instruction): HEA 1005 stipulates that the governor will appoint a Secretary of Education instead of the electorate voting for a State Superintendent of Public Instruction after 2025. Holcomb says he’s happy that this will become an appointed position. 

HEA 1008 (Workforce Development): HEA 1008 requires the State Board of Education and the Department of Workforce Development to work together for career and technical education. 

4. Attacking the Drug Epidemic

New Drug Prevention Executive Appointed: Governor Holcomb appointed Jim McClelland, the former CEO of Goodwill, to be state’s first drug prevention executive. McClelland and his group will release its’ strategic action plan in May to support the efforts of the legislature. 

HEA 1438 (Syringe Exchange Programs): In an ongoing effort to combat the massive health risks of the opioid epedimic, HEA 1438 expands local authority to establish syringe exchange programs. Needle exchange programs aim to reduce the spread of infectious diseases by providing people with clean syringes. Indiana began to allow such programs last year, but required pre-approval by the State Department of Health.   

5. Delivering Efficient Government

HEA 1001(State Biennial Budget): The State’s new budget also provides State Police with significant raises in pay. State Police can expect a 10 percent jump in the first year of the budget and 14 percent in the second. Starting pay will jump to $51,291 over the next two years.     

Bills of Significance from the 2017 Legislative Session

Health Care
SEA 408 (INSPECT Program): Proposes to study and review current and future purposes of INSPECT, the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. 

HEA 1006 (Mental Health Matters): Broadens mental health and addiction treatment options in Indiana. The number of opioid addicted mothers is alarming, and parents with substance abuse problems are the cause of over 52 percent of cases in which children are removed from homes. This bill looks to connect individuals who commit misdemeanors with Recovery Works services earlier on to prevent more serious offenses from occurring. 

HEA 1148 (Cannabidiol and Treatment Resistant Epilepsy): Allows people with certain types of epilepsy to use marijuana-derived oil as medicine. 

Utilities
HEA 1519 (Infrastructure development zone utility service): Provides that facilities used by a wastewater utility in the collection or treatment of wastewater constitute "eligible infrastructure" for purposes of the law providing a property tax exemption to a person who invests in eligible infrastructure located in an infrastructure development zone.  The bill also authorizes a public utility that provides water utility service to petition the utility regulatory commission (IURC) for approval of a plan to develop a future source of water source supply.

SEA 478 (Utility Easements): Provides that current electric easements with rural electric cooperatives may be used to add rural broadband.

SEA 213 (Wireless Support Structures): Eliminates barriers for installing small cell facilities to support the advancement of technology and the ability to use wireless devices. Ensures technological neutrality in broadband provisioning between wireless companies and cable companies. Limits government’s ability to regulate small cell facilities.

Education
SEA 248 (Consolidation of School Administrative Functions): Allows two or more school corporations situated in the same or adjoining counties to consolidate in a manner in which debts or obligations paid by a debt service levy incurred by a school corporation before the new consolidated school corporation comes into existence may be levied only on the taxpayers of the subunit that initially incurred the debt or obligation before consolidation.

SEA 182 (Superintendent Contracts): Provides that a contract entered into or renewed after June 30, 2017, between a governing body and its superintendent must, with an exception for an extension, be for a term of at least one year and not more than three years. 

HEA 1024 (Prayer in Schools): Provides that public school students may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expressions before, during, and after the school day. 

SEA 567 (Distressed and Fiscally Impaired Political Subdivisions): Provides for a state-appointed emergency manager in charge of the finances and academic program at the Gary Community School Corporation. 

Government
SEA 309 (Distributed Generation): Provides sunsets for incentives for solar energy use by overhauling an alternative energy practice known as “net metering.” Eliminates discounts homeowners and businesses receive when they buy back extra energy they had sent to the electric grid because they had generated more than they needed. 

HEA 1001 (Annexation Language): Language written into the biennial budget bill prohibits annexation of all properties proposed after December 31, 2016 and before July of this year. It also prohibits any municipality from taking further action to annex any of the property to which the section applies until after June 30, 2022.  

HEA 1036 (Marion County Judicial Selection): Moves the selection process for Marion County Superior Court Judges to merit-based selection determined by a 14-member Review Commission. 

Public Policy
HEA 1496 (Alcohol Matters): Freezes alcohol permits for nontraditional restaurants. Memorializes trade practices long viewed as acceptable by the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.

HEA 404 (Parental Consent, Abortion, Child Abuse and Human Trafficking): Strengthens parental consent rights when women under the age of 18 seek abortions. 

SEA 43 (Firearm Matters): Permits certain employees of the general assembly and members of the Indiana lobby registration commission to carry a handgun within the state capitol building and on the property of the state capitol complex.  

Justice Rucker Set to Retire From Indiana Supreme Court

Just down the hall from the bustling General Assembly chambers, last week the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission announced its 3 finalists to replace retiring Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert D. Rucker. After narrowing it down to 11 candidates, the commission publicly voted on three candidates to recommend to Governor Holcomb. The finalists are Judges Vicki Carmichael, Christopher Goff and Matthew Kincaid. Once the finalists’ names are officially sent to the Governor, he will have 60 days to choose. Justice Rucker, who served on Indiana’s highest court since 1999, is set to retire on May 12.  

As this year’s legislative session came to a close, lawmakers were already looking towards the 2018 Legislative Session. Their eyes are set on dealing with “outdated” liquor laws and cutting down the opioid epidemic across the state. 

Services and Industries

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