Infrastructure Under a week left, negotiations remain on controversial issues

Under a week left, negotiations remain on controversial issues

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Lawmakers are currently working to finalize legislation in conference committees before bills receive a final up or down vote. A number of issues, including the state’s biennial budget, remain on the table. Below is a run-down of major proposals awaiting a final decision.

For a recap of the conference committee process>>

A look at some of the big issues still left on table:

State budget

UPDATE: Negotiators held a public hearing late last week as they work to combine budget versions passed in the House and Senate. State revenue projections fell below target levels largely as a result of lower individual income tax collections that some have attributed to the slow growth in Hoosiers’ wages and previously passed tax cuts. It’s largely expected negotiations on the budget will continue up until Wednesday, the last day of the 2015 legislative session. 

Approved Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee 8-3, HB 1001 – the state’s budget – has been significantly amended. The $31.5 billion, two-year state budget increases funding for K-12 education and higher education. It also increases funding for state highway projects, establishes a statewide entrepreneurship program, and appropriates $10 million each year for the governor’s Regional Cities Initiative. The new version of the budget also adds $56 million for community corrections to help with an expected shift of the state’s prison population to local jail and mental health programs following the overhaul of the state’s criminal code. Opponents expressed concerns regarding cuts to school funding for urban and rural districts in favor of more funding for suburban districts and private schools receiving state funds from voucher students. A key concern is that while both the House-passed budget plan and the Senate Republican proposal add new money to the formula, it redistributes hundreds of millions of dollars within the formula that currently aids urban and rural schools serving low-income students. The bill now heads to the full Senate. This bill is expected to go to conference committee.

Common construction wage repeal

UPDATE: Senate Democrats saw amendments to move the controversial proposal to a summer study committee, allow state officials to set public project wage scales among other amendments were defeated on party line votes. Senator Karen Tallian and Senator John Broden argued that to achieve the 20 percent savings proponents of repealing the common construction wage claimed, skilled local workers would have to work for virtually nothing. At a time when incomes earned by Hoosiers are growing at the sixth slowest rate in the country, Senate Democrats noted we should be working to raise wages, not lower them.  The bill moves to the governor’s desk where he has indicated he will sign the controversial measure.

HB 1019 seeks to repeal the state’s common construction wage statute. Current law has been in place for 80 years, and allows local boards to set wages for each state or local public construction project costing more than $350,000. The five-member boards include members from the labor community and associations of non-union contractors who set the wage contractors must pay workers for public works projects. When the bill was heard this week in the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, it was heavily amended to include new bidding and job-training requirements. Opponents, including many Indiana contractors, maintain that these wages drive economic development in local communities. How a repeal of the current law would affect Hoosier contractors, workers, wages and ongoing training and safety programs are major concerns surrounding this controversial bill. Including Indiana, 32 states have common construction wage laws. The committee voted 8-5 to advance the bill to the full Senate where additional amendments are expected.

State Board of Education changes

UPDATE: In the House, controversial amendments were added to expand the size of the State Board of Education to 13 members. Under the House-passed version, the governor would appoint 10 members to the board, six of whom must have professional experience in the field of education. The governor must appoint members from each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts and no more than six appointees can be from the same political party. The Speaker of the House and Senate President each get an appointment to the board in addition to the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

After July 1, Superintendent Ritz will be removed from her position as Chair of the State Board, the position then will be elected by members.

Republican leaders of the House and Senate have indicated they will continue to pursue the bill and it will likely surface in the final hours of the legislative session.

SB 1 would give members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) the ability to remove the Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz as the chair of the board. Changes to the bill made in the House of Representatives also increase the number of appointees the governor selects to serve on the board from 10 to 13. Statehouse Democrats offered amendments to restore the duties and responsibilities of the superintendent as well as remove the politics associated with the current board’s appointment process. Despite a groundswell of public support for Superintendent Ritz as the chief education officer for the state’s education policy, SB 1 was ultimately approved in the Senate and how heads to the House floor where it is eligible for amendments.

Gaming and Indiana casinos

UPDATE: The proposal moved to a conference committee where details are still being hashed out. In public testimony, proponents continued to advocate for live dealers to replace electronic gaming machines at the state’s racinos. They argued the effort could create hundreds of new jobs and only replaces existing gaming options. The bill must achieve final passage before the last day of the 2015 legislative session, April 29.

A proposal that cleared the Indiana Senate would enable riverboat casinos to move inland and paves the way for table games at Indiana’s horse track casinos or ‘racinos.’ In a move to cut maintenance costs, open harbor space and encourage inter-state competition, HB 1540 would permit riverboat casinos to covert to land-based operations. The bill would also allow racinos to move forward with table games staffed with live dealers beginning in 2021. Racinos are currently permitted to offer electronic-based gaming, proponents argue converting those games to live dealers could generate hundreds of jobs. The bill includes language urging the study of revenue and tax issues related to gaming. Currently, gaming revenue is shared with local municipalities. The initiative is likely bound for conference committee where the bill can be modified before a final vote in both chambers.

Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority

UPDATE: Legislation to revamp the stadium used by the Indy Eleven soccer club and expand rail service in Northwest Indiana have been rolled into the budget where the final details are being negotiated. Senate budget writers have combined a number of “legislative regional projects” including the soccer stadium, rail expansion, an Indiana University medical school campus in Evansville, renovations to Indiana State University’s Hulman Center and the Hoosier State Rail Line. All the aforementioned projects have been vetted by the State Budget Committee over several years. At the same time, Governor Mike Pence is pressing the legislature to approve his “Regional Cities” initiative, at a price tag of $84 million.

Language was added in the Senate version of HB 1001 to provide $60 million for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. The funding, for which lawmakers have advocated for nearly a decade, will provide the necessary capital to extend the South Shore Line to Dyer. Part of a larger package funneling money to five different regions, the appropriation aims to assist local communities with their infrastructure projects. The initiative must gain final passage in the Senate and will likely end up in conference committee.

Indy Eleven soccer stadium proposal

UPDATE: Legislation to revamp the stadium used by the Indy Eleven soccer club and expand rail service in Northwest Indiana have been rolled into the budget where the final details are being negotiated. Senate budget writers have combined a number of “legislative regional projects” including the soccer stadium, rail expansion, an Indiana University medical school campus in Evansville, renovations to Indiana State University’s Hulman Center and the Hoosier State Rail Line. All the aforementioned projects have been vetted by the State Budget Committee over several years. At the same time, Governor Mike Pence is pressing the legislature to approve his “Regional Cities” initiative, at a price tag of $84 million.

After much debate regarding the plan to publicly finance a new $80 million stadium for the Indy Eleven professional soccer stadium, the Senate amended the original proposal to instead make improvements to Michael A. Carroll Stadium on the campus of IUPUI – where the Eleven currently play home games. HB 1273 would allow the university to issue and sell bonds to make the improvements to Carroll Stadium and fit the needs of Indy Eleven’s growing fan base. The bill specifies that the costs of the bonds issued may not exceed $20 million, a fraction of the cost to build the original stadium proposal. The Indy Eleven are entering their second season in Indianapolis and have touted their ability to sell out every game in their bid for a new stadium.

Independent redistricting commission

UPDATE: The proposal sailed through the Indiana Senate with no changes and is heading to the governor’s desk where he can choose to sign, veto, or let the initiative pass into law without his signature.

Future election boundaries could be determined by an independent commission rather than by the Indiana General Assembly. HB 1003 would urge the study of how election boundaries are drawn and what steps would be required to transition to an independent commission. Currently 12 states authorize a body or commission other than the state legislature to redistrict. The bill is eligible for amendments before it must receive a final Senate vote.

Ethics reform

UPDATE: The House author of the bill dissented to an amendment added on the Senate floor that would require additional disclosure regarding investments of more than $500,000. A conference committee for the bill has yet to be scheduled but is likely before April 29. (*correction: a previous version of this post erroneously set the disclosure amount at $5,000)

After a number of ethics violations came to light last legislative session, lawmakers have crafted a bipartisan ethics reform proposal that focuses on transparency and accountability. HB 1002 would require lawmakers to be more transparent regarding their finances and business interests and prohibits elected officials from using state resources – employees and equipment – from being used for political gain. Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was accused of using state resources to campaign in 2012. The proposal mandates ethics training for lawmakers and creates an ethics oversight office within the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA). The call for stronger ethic standards grew louder after the conduct of State Representative Eric Turner raised questions whether his support for legislation that financially benefited his business interests constituted an ethics violation. The proposal sets new requirements for legislative statements of economic interests that would require lawmakers to disclose active business investment of at least $5,000 (current law does not require disclosure unless investments reach $10,000).

High-fenced hunting preserves

UPDATE: The high-fenced hunting proposal failed to gain approval after extended debate on the Senate floor. Supporters of the bill argued that the proposal would significantly regulate the four hunting operations currently conducting business in the state while also preventing additional preserves in the future. Opponents of the measure argued that there should be a complete ban of high-fenced hunting preserves in the state and anything short of that would not go far enough. Ultimately, the measure was defeated by a vote of 23-27 and will not advance this session, leaving the existing hunting preserves with no limits and no regulations.

Although nearly half of states have enacted full or partial bans on captive hunts and 80 percent of Hoosiers support a complete prohibition of the practice, HB 1453 would increase regulation of the industry in Indiana. HB 1453 allows privately-owned facilities in the state to stock deer and elk for trophy-seekers, letting them pay to shoot the semi-tame animals trapped in enclosures for guaranteed kills. Opponents feared shipping deer and elk across state lines to be stocked in these fenced enclosures would greatly increase the risk of native wildlife being infected by the deadly chronic wasting disease. The bill was amended to ensure deer used by high-fenced preserves are born and raised in Indiana. After an intensive study of the issue last year, concerns were raised over the risk of chronic wasting disease and the health and monetary costs of the disease. Therefore, the proposal would establish licensing requirements, inspection requirements and fees associated with stocking and hunting deer and elk on a hunting preserve.

Needle exchange program

UPDATE: Senate and House negotiators are working behind the scenes after hearing multiple hours of public testimony during a conference committee meeting on slowing the spread of HIV in Indiana. In a media avail, Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane criticized Governor Pence’s response to an HIV epidemic that has seen more than 100 positive cases across two counties in Indiana, stating it was “no time for the governor to lead from behind.” Senate Democrats maintained the state has to take a three step approach to the intravenous drug crisis by including comprehensive testing and treatment options in any plan to expand a needle exchange program. Negotiations are ongoing and must be concluded by April 29.

In response to an unprecedented outbreak of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in Scott County and other health concerns, SB 461 would authorize certain counties and municipalities to begin needle exchange programs. The bill requires the State Department of Health to determine areas where the case rates for Hepatitis C are highest. In localities hit hardest by Hepatitis C, the initiative authorizes counties to allow anyone to exchange dirty needles for clean ones without legal ramifications. Localities would also have to provide drug treatment counseling services. Proponents argue it will help slow outbreaks of diseases spread by shared needle use while opponents contend it’s sending a signal that drug use is permissible. The bill heads back to the Senate where the author can consent to changes or take the bill to conference committee where a compromise version can be hammered out.