Working through major end-of-session deadlines, state lawmakers have only a few weeks left to conclude business. Numerous bills have passed both chambers without amendments and have advanced to the governor for final review and possible enactment. Negotiations on legislation still under consideration now move to the joint House-Senate conference committee phase where compromises are sought on heavily amended bills. Conference committee reports must be agreed to by all members of the committee and approved by both chambers. Legislators have until midnight March 14 to conclude business, although there is some discussion that they may adjourn early. This brief summary highlights some of the recent action taken by the Senate.
State surplus revenues
Although state spending has been tight throughout the economic downturn, state revenues have begun to improve. The state’s surplus is estimated to be in excess of $1.7 billion by June 30, 2012. In addition, last December the administration found $320 million in electronic corporate income tax payments that had accrued in a state revenue collection account since 2007. This revenue was not properly transferred to the state’s general fund until this year.
A provision in the state budget passed last year established an automatic taxpayer refund if the state’s combined cash and reserve fund balances exceed 10 percent of the state’s operating appropriation. The discovery of the $320 million tipped the combined balances over this 10 percent trigger.
Effective January 1, 2013, House Bill (HB) 1376 would change how the state would handle surplus revenue. The bill would make the trigger for use of excess reserves 14 percent (rather than 10 percent under current law) of general revenue appropriations for the state fiscal year. The proposal also specifies that if the amount of the excess reserves is less than $100 million, all of the excess reserves shall be transferred to the Pension Stabilization Fund; and if the amount of the excess reserves is $100 million or more, 50 percent of the excess reserves shall be transferred to the Pension Stabilization Fund and 50 percent of the excess reserves shall be used for the purposes of providing an automatic taxpayer refund.
In addition, HB 1376 includes additional compensation for victims of last summer’s State Fair tragedy, and additional funding for full-day kindergarten. The bill was approved by the Senate by a vote of 44-6 and now heads to a conference committee where fiscal leaders will iron out differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions of the bill.
Statewide smoking ban
The Senate added numerous amendments to HB 1149
, legislation that would establish a statewide smoking ban. Amendments to the bill added to the list of exemptions as to where smokers could light up cigarettes, which weakened the bill considerably. In the bill’s current form, some of the exemptions include: gaming facilities; bars and taverns; cigar and hookah bars; fraternal, social and veterans’ clubs; tobacco stores; bingo parlors; nursing homes and mental health facilities. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 29-21. The bill’s fate will be decided by a joint House-Senate conference committee. Similar legislation has worked its way through the House for the past five years, but this is the first time the smoking ban has been considered by the full Senate. Indiana is one of 13 states with no comprehensive
Legislation that targets a new synthetic drug referred to as “bath salts” has been approved by the Senate. According to poison control centers and law enforcement agencies, the effects of the salts are comparable to methamphetamine abuse. HB 1196
would add additional chemical compounds, including those compounds sold as bath salts, to the definition of synthetic drugs. The legislation would also expand the definition of synthetic drugs to include certain chemical compounds that are structurally related to synthetic drugs. In addition, the bill was successfully amended by the Senate to tighten the law as it relates to the retailers who sell synthetic drugs. Under this provision, if a person has been convicted of selling or offering to sell a synthetic drug that was offered for sale by a retail merchant, the retailer could lose their retail license. HB 1196
now returns to the House for consideration of Senate changes to the bill.
Child care ministries
Legislation which would require the Division of Family Resources to establish a Child Care Ministries Advisory Committee to enhance child care regulations among church day care centers gained Senate approval. Currently, ministries that provide day care for children are not required to operate under state requirements already in place for licensed day care facilities. HB 1136
was recommended by the Committee on Child Care, which was established by law in 2007 to study the state’s system of child care regulations and providers including child care homes and child care centers. An amendment to the bill that would have brought ministry facility standards in line with licensed child care centers sooner failed to pass despite strong support. Since the filing of this amendment, a local church child care facility experienced the tragic death of an unsupervised one-year old child, prompting increased attention to the issue.
Health care compact
Controversial legislation that would allow states to join together and create a health care compact in efforts to regulate health care has been approved by the Senate by a party-line vote of 37-13. HB 1269
would require the securing of the consent of the U.S. Congress before the state legislature of each member state could have the primary responsibility to regulate health care in the member state’s jurisdiction. The legislation would allow member states of the compact to suspend all federal laws, regulations, and orders concerning health care that are inconsistent with the laws and regulations adopted by the member state under the compact. Opponents expressed numerous concerns about the bill including a potential cost of $10-15 billion to implement
News from the House
The House has approved SB 293
which would provide for a 10 year phase-out of the state inheritance tax beginning in 2012. The bill now returns to the Senate for approval of amendments made to the bill. If approved, the bill will advance to the governor for signature into law or veto.
Legislation which would establish an advisory committee comprised of experts and advocates from around the state to promote early education opportunities has been approved by both chambers. Under SB 268
, members of the advisory committee would provide professional and technical assistance to the Indiana Education Roundtable, a state board of key education, business, community, and government leaders charged with ensuring that the state has world class academic standards for student learning. Passage of the legislation would provide greater input as to the necessary steps required to start the education process earlier and improve educational outcomes for children in Indiana. SB 268
now advances to the governor for final consideration and possible signature into law.
March 14 – By law, the legislature has until midnight to conclude all business.
To stay informed about bills moving through the General Assembly or to track legislation, log on to www.in.gov/legislative. From this site, you can also watch House and Senate committee hearings and session floor debate.