Welcome to week three of the Indiana General Assembly. Committee hearings are well under way and legislation is beginning to make its way to chamber floors for consideration. The week began with a list of legislative priorities outlined by the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus and wrapped up with a high-ranking appearance in Senate Appropriations – with lots of committee action in between. Let’s dive in … 

Indiana Black Caucus Legislative Agenda Revealed
The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus released their legislative agenda on Monday morning. State Rep. Earl Harris Jr. (D-East Chicago), chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC), was recently elected to serve as president and noted tha their priorities revolve around closing the achievement gap in the state’s educational system. Harris noted, “The achievement gap between African American students and their non-Black peers has been a problem in Indiana for generations, but was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.” The group listed priority legislation to automatically enroll eligible students into the 21st Century Scholars Program, create a reading specialist certification fund, and establish a division of Educational Opportunity and Academic Success to assess cultural competency in public schools. Every year, colleges and universities would be assessed to determine how they are preparing future educators to be able to effectively teach and communicate with children from various cultural backgrounds.

Lieutenant Governor Crouch Makes Committee Appearance
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 Thursday before the Senate Appropriations committee urging the passage of SB 1. The Senate’s major mental health bill this year, it is authored by Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield., 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. Housing 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 past summer and fall and would specifically pay for the vital infrastructure needs not otherwise considered in alternate grants or programs.  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, at this time, the cost to fund the program does not have a specific number.

Hospitals In the Hot Seat Over Rising Costs
After making it on several lists of states with high healthcare costs, House and Senate Republicans are taking this issue up as a priority this legislative session. New legislation would impose financial penalties on hospitals who can’t keep their costs in check. This comes after a warning letter that was sent to hospitals from legislative leadership last year naming high costs as a major concern.  Additionally, a bill to eliminate non-compete clauses in physicians contracts has advanced with the support of physicians and medical consumer groups in hopes that few restrictions on where doctors can practice will lower health costs. The current version of SB 7 would not affect existing agreements, but it would prohibit new ones after the law goes into effect. On the national level, the Federal Trade Commission is considering a new rule banning all non-competes across all industries, nationwide.

Senate Moves on Legislative Priority to Secure Consumer Data
Indiana is one of nine states introducing comprehensive privacy bills, which broadly seek to set limits around what consumer data companies can collect and how they use it. SB 5 would create an entirely new article in Indiana Code to offer a structural and streamlined outline for how private data should be kept secure. Other states with current legislation in the works include Massachusetts, Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, New York and Kentucky. 

Public Health Rally Focuses on Increased Funding
Hundreds came to the Statehouse 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.” Will the legislature decide to make this a funding priority? Time will tell …

Halting School Tax Increase Referenda Considered By GOP
The House Republican Caucus is considering introducing legislation that would stymie measures placed on the May 2 primary ballot. They say this stems from concern over the uncertainty surrounding property tax bill increases after a year of record inflation and soaring home values. Such referenda require a vote because they would exceed the state’s property tax caps, which mandate that property tax bills can’t be more than 1% of assessed value for owner-occupied homes, 2% for other residential properties and farmland and 3% for all other property.