School funding – Under HB 1367, Indiana schools would be provided greater flexibility to tap into various funds and funnel those dollars into the classroom. In the most recent conference committee report, the measure would allow financially-strapped schools to utilize up to 3.5 percent of their capital projects fund without restrictions. The legislation is a result of action taken by the governor in early January when he imposed funding cuts of $300 million on K-12 education as state tax collections continue to fall below expectations. Passage of this legislation will enable schools to transfer unused monies from any fund, except debt service, to their general fund.
Unemployment insurance – Lawmakers are still wrangling over legislation that would avert a scheduled increase in unemployment insurance taxes on businesses. The tax increase was approved last session to help replenish the bankrupt state unemployment insurance trust fund. The state has borrowed more than $1 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment claims. Suggested changes to SB 23 have included postponing the increase for two years as well as a repeal of the tax increase. Also at issue are changes in state law that would allow Indiana to access federal stimulus funds for unemployment.
Net metering – Expanded net metering opportunities is the goal of SB 313 now in conference committee. This legislation would help reduce utility bills and increase renewable energy production in Indiana. Net metering laws allow consumers who generate excess electricity through wind mills, solar panels and other renewable energy technologies, to send any excess power back onto the electric grid for a credit on their utility bill. Current law limits participation to homeowners and schools with a generating capacity of 10 kilowatts or less. The legislation would expand net metering opportunities to all consumers, and place much of the rule-making authority with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
Township government reform – Legislation which would allow for a public referendum to allow voters to decide whether to eliminate township boards and trustees is still under negotiation. Under HB 1181, township duties and responsibilities would be transferred to counties.
Negotiations on all of these issues will continue into next week.