The second session of the 116th Indiana General Assembly is near completion. The statutory deadline to finish all business is midnight Sunday, March 14, and it looks as though lawmakers will remain in negotiations throughout the weekend.
Two major issues which drew the most attention during the final week included public school funding and unemployment insurance.
Public schools – Providing schools the flexibility to transfer dedicated funds into their operating accounts was necessitated this session by the governor’s decision in January to cut $300 million from school funding. Contained in House Bill (HB) 1367, one provision would give schools greater flexibility to tap into various funds and funnel those dollars into the classroom. At issue is the topic of tying a school’s ability to make those transfers to an agreement for teachers to forgo pay increases. Conference committee members are also debating the inclusion of provisions that would mandate statewide school start dates to after Labor Day and end dates to June 10, and to evaluate the costs of holding back third grade students who cannot read.
Unemployment – In light of continuing economic problems, lawmakers decided to revisit unemployment insurance reform passed with bipartisan support last year. A one year delay of the changes is being sought under Senate Bill (SB) 23. This delay would be extended to two years if the state unemployment rate remains at or above a certain percentage. While many employers would benefit from the delay, an estimated 45,798 Indiana employers, or more than 1 out of 3 businesses in the state, would see unemployment insurance tax costs decrease this year under the 2009 changes.
Also on the negotiating table is language that would enhance enforcement and increase penalties against employers that inappropriately classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees. By misclassifying employees as independent contractors, employers are able to avoid paying unemployment insurance taxes on those workers. The strength of that regulation language is yet to be worked out.