And We’re Off! Budget Session Begins
The First Regular Session of the 123rd Indiana General Assembly officially began its work in Indianapolis on Monday with an action-packed week of ceremony, procedure, and a parade of legislative agenda reveals to follow. Day one saw a flurry of activity and the swearing-in ceremonies for newly elected statewide officials. This session, deemed a “long session” due to its 4 month timeline, will coalesce around the drafting of the state’s spending plan for the next two years. Day two of the legislative session saw the first meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee, the initial architects of the budget. The Commission on Higher Education and several state universities gave their presentations, outlining priorities for funding, including $476 million for capital projects — or around $38 million per year. The Governor’s recommended budget was also presented to the committee by the Office of Management and Budget.
As always, expect this bill to take multiple forms before we see the April revenue forecast that will ultimately determine its fate.
Holcomb Delivers State of the State Address
Governor Eric Holcomb delivered his State of the State address on Tuesday and outlined his legislative priorities and vision for Indiana’s future. Touting the state’s population and revenue growth, Holcomb said Indiana is able to fund one-time projects while maintaining a robust surplus and AAA credit rating. The Governor’s budget proposal adds an ambitious $5 billion in new spending.
New spending proposals include a $347 million injection of public health funding over the next two years. Local governments would be required to match these public health dollars 80-20 for access to the funds. Additionally, he is asking lawmakers to approve a $50 million investment in trail funding and $25 million in land conservation.
Education was also a clear priority in his address. His proposal includes an increase of $1.1 billion toward K-12 tuition support, an additional $120 million to pay for textbooks, and to continue to work toward raising yearly teacher salaries to $60,000. Noting that Indiana is one of seven states with textbook costs, statehouse Democrats found themselves in what they called the “interesting position” of supporting the proposal.
Education Quickly Becomes Session Focal Point, Multiple Voices Weigh In
While the Governor pushed for numerous proposals to support the state’s educational landscape, advocacy groups spanning the legislative field of play are also converging around a few key areas: increased K-12 funding, an expansion of accessible pre-k and childcare, auto-enrolling students in 21st Century Scholars, and shoring up school staffing and retention.
Education bills filed so far include making school board elections partisan, and curriculum-focused bills to mandate teaching cursive, sex education, and internet safety.
Caucuses Unveil Legislative Priorities
Meanwhile, education policy did not make the list of priorities outlined by the Indiana Senate Republican Caucus. During a Monday press conference, healthcare and fiscal responsibility were the mainstays of the Senate GOP legislative agenda. Proposals currently being considered include tax cuts, mental health care funding, revamping the state’s network of health departments, pay increases for state troopers, and strengthening Hoosier data privacy
The Governor did find support within the Senate Democrats’ legislative agenda. The caucus once again asked for an increase in K-12 spending, in addition to the elimination of textbook fees and the auto-enrollment of students into the 21st Century Scholars Program.
House Democrats have legislation in the works to provide incentives to businesses to offer childcare for employees and will continue to push for wider implementation of universal pre-K.
House Republicans were the final caucus to present their priorities in a Thursday press conference. In addition to passing a balanced budget, the caucus listed expanding school choice, lowering healthcare costs, and allowing child support payments to begin at conception.
State of the Judiciary
Chief Justice Loretta Rush delivered her annual State of the Judiciary address on Wednesday. In her remarks, she celebrated the successes of the judicial system while also acknowledging the toll the judicial process can take on Hoosiers personally, emotionally, and financially.
“The sooner a person can get before a judge and resolve differences… the sooner they can get back to their family and back to work,” said Rush.
In her address, she outlined the need for an expansion of special courts like problem solving courts— dedicated to veterans’ issues, mental health, and treating addiction or substance abuse, and commercial courts, which navigate complex business litigation.
There are currently 148 special courts across the state with plenty of need for expansion, says Rush. One particular area that has reached critical mass within the criminal justice system is mental health.
According to a recent report from the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission, untreated mental health disorders cost an estimated $4.2 billion annually.
Chief Justice Rush also pleaded the case for increased funding for technological enhancements to the state’s judicial system.
On Deck for Next Week
The Indiana Supreme Court also begins its oral arguments over the state’s abortion ban. Lawmakers have not indicated new abortion legislation will pass; nevertheless, the issue remains a focal point in the state’s highest court.
Over 700 bills have been released, and we are likely to see an additional 700+ bills become public in the next week. We are reading through every bill to determine what will be relevant to your legislative priorities, and will add to your tracking list as they are released. Please keep in mind that this week’s report will not be exhaustive as we are still making our way through bill lists.
- Five of the eight priority Senate bills are healthcare related. There are a lot of approaches being taken to drive down costs, tackle workforce issues, create more transparency, and address social determinants. We will be keeping an eye on each bill to see what moves, and the changes that are made throughout the process.
- A number of childcare/preK bills have been filed to help workforce development issues. SB186, authored by Senator Kyle Walker (R-Indianapolis) establishes a state tax credit for a taxpayer that makes qualified child care expenditures or qualified child care resource and referral expenditures in providing child care to the taxpayer’s employees. SB368, authored by Senator Stacy Donato (R-Logansport) that creates a cost sharing pilot program for child care and education. Senator Kyle Walker has also authored SB307, which increases the income eligibility threshold from 127% to 138% of federal poverty level. It also includes language changing the preK program from a pilot to a standing program.
- It looks like the big workforce/education bill will be HB1002 which seeks to reinvent high school, a priority for House Republicans this year. This bill is authored by Rep. Chuck Goodrich (R-Noblesville), a member of our delegation.