Senator Lanane recaps this year's legislative session during a press conference in his office on Friday morning.

By Sen. Tim Lanane: Heading in the wrong direction

A study released last week by the Tax Foundation reported Indiana taxpayers saw one of the sharpest increases in tax burden since 2001. Dig deeper and the numbers are more alarming.

Between 2001 and 2011, Indiana’s annual per capita income slipped by $1,064. What’s worse, Hoosier incomes fell at an accelerating pace. Between 2005 and 2011, per capita income decreased by $1,950. At the same time, the rest of the nation saw a nearly 1 percent increase in income. For comparison, neighboring Kentucky saw per capita incomes grow nearly 1.5 percent while their tax burden declined 1.7 percent.

So while the rest of the country was making progress, Hoosiers saw their paychecks shrink, driving their tax burdens higher by more than 10 percent. It’s no wonder folks are feeling buried.

Declining incomes are at the root of Indiana’s rising tax burdens. When earnings fall, families have less income to cover their taxes, thus raising their tax burden. When families earn more, it takes less of their income to cover taxes, therefore lowering their burden.

The governor and Republican leaders ignored a pressing need to address falling wages this past legislative session, instead, focusing on cutting corporate taxes for the second time in three years. A cut last year in the personal income tax trumpeted by the governor translates into a savings of about $56 annually for the state’s middle income households and won’t take full effect until 2017.

The reality is, even as the state adds jobs, Hoosier incomes remain low. If more people are working, state revenues should grow as a result of more folks earning income and paying taxes. That’s not reflected in recent revenue figures. One possible explanation is an administration settling for low wage, low skill jobs to boast about job creation numbers.
Choices made by the governor and Statehouse Republicans aren’t helping middle class Hoosiers. Shrinking paychecks and potholed streets are quickly becoming the tradeoff for the vision the governor and Republicans leaders have laid out. Roadmap or not, that vision is leading Indiana in the wrong direction.

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LANANE: Listen closely, expand health care coverage

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Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) released the following statement Tuesday concerning the state’s health indicators and legislative efforts to improve health outcomes.

“Glad to see Congressman Bucshon and Representative Brown taking the initiative but they don’t need a listening tour to know what health issues Hoosiers face.

“There are areas of the state where more than 20 percent of Hoosiers are uninsured, you can expect to live longer in 38 other states and Indiana had the 7th most bankruptcy filings per capita last year. When Cuba and Estonia have lower infant mortality rates, there is clearly a problem.

“Drs. Bucshon and Brown are right, the conversation about health care is as much about cost as it is coverage.

“Republican inaction on expanding health care coverage is costing the state 30,000 good-paying jobs and coverage for as many as 400,000 working Hoosiers.

“There’s no debating the merit of 30,000 jobs and billions in new economic activity. Let’s quit playing politics with the issue of Hoosiers’ health and get to work on creating a framework to expand coverage today.”

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OpEd by Sen. Young: Raising Hoosier incomes starts with a fair wage

This year, lawmakers proved that we can work together to accomplish important goals. Take a proposal I spearheaded to update outdated regulations and allow the production of industrial hemp. Industrial hemp can be used to produce paper, fuel, textiles, construction materials and some medicines. The new law has already allowed the Indiana Seed Commissioner to seek necessary federal approval to enable Indiana universities to conduct research on this valuable crop. By taking this step, we gave Hoosier farmers a chance to compete in a new market and created the opportunity for Hoosier entrepreneurs to start businesses and create jobs.

This same mentality should be used to address a critical issue facing Hoosiers. It’s alarming to note that Hoosier households earned more in 2004 than in 2012. Indiana ranks 40th among all states for inflation-adjusted earned income, and in some areas, average incomes equal those from the 1960s. In 2013, Indiana ranked seventh in most per-capita bankruptcy filings, and nearly a quarter of children live in poverty. These children sit next to ours in classrooms, they’re our neighbors, they live down the street and attend the same church. While the economy is improving, many Hoosiers are being left behind.

There’s no doubt these enormous problems interconnect with others, and cannot be corrected overnight. It will take the dedication of the legislature, a willingness to apply as many approaches as necessary, and a commitment to doing what’s best for Hoosier families and businesses. So what can we do now to put more money in the pockets of working families? We can start by raising the minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage is a step toward ensuring working Hoosiers can lift themselves out of poverty. A recent study found that hiking the minimum wage to $10.10 would positively impact nearly 650,000 Hoosier workers. Cutting against common perception, 87 percent of Indiana workers positively affected by an increase in the minimum wage are 20 years of age or older, 56 percent are women and more than 175,000 workers with children would benefit. That’s a total of nearly 300,000 Hoosier children living in more economically stable homes.

Workers making more than the minimum wage would see their incomes rise to remain competitive in the labor market. A reduction in the costs associated with employee turnover and retraining a workforce in constant flux would allow Hoosier businesses – the engine that drives our economy – to offset higher payrolls.

Raising the minimum wage is only a small step toward helping families help themselves and lifting children out of poverty. But it is a positive step. And if we have the tools to combat these issues, we owe it to Hoosier families to use them. I supported a proposal to raise the minimum wage that was blocked during the 2014 session. However, I will continue to fight for this proposal and other common sense approaches that aid working families.

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Unemployment rate falls to 6.1%

On Friday, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced Indiana’s February unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent.

The national unemployment rose slightly to 6.7 percent, remaining slightly higher than Indiana’s unemployment rate for the second straight month. Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped 0.4 points to 6.5 percent. The unemployment rate  in Kentucky rose slightly to 7.8 percent from 7.7 percent in January. Illinois’ jobless rate stayed the same as January’s numbers, remaining steady at 8.7 percent. Michigan’s February jobless rates dropped slightly as well, down 0.1 points to 7.7 percent.

County with the highest unemployment rate: Vermillion at 11.1%
County with the lowest unemployment rate: Hamilton at 4.6%

Employment Report (LAUS)

Jobs Report (CES)

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OpEd | Lanane: What really matters

The legislative session reflects priorities. It’s a chance for lawmakers from around the state to identify the most pressing issues and hash out a way forward. When the dust settles, success and failure is measured both by what issues leadership prioritized and the solutions crafted to address them. In that light, many will judge the 2014 legislative session as an enormous missed opportunity.

Make no mistake, our state faces very real challenges. Hoosier average incomes stuck near the national average in 1996, jobless rate above the national average for 31 of the last 32 months and an infant mortality rate higher than Cuba and Estonia: these issues are real and command urgent action.

For Senate Democrats, it’s simple; our vision for attracting businesses and growing our state’s economy starts with higher wages, good schools and healthier communities.

We backed that up by advocating for solutions that would put more money in the pockets of 650,000 Hoosiers now and help ensure tomorrow’s workforce has the skills businesses demand by starting them off right in preschool.

Quality early childhood education is a building block to future success. There is no reason why every Hoosier child shouldn’t have the same opportunity to arrive in classrooms ready to learn.

We were willing to work together to get things done, like directing a portion of money dedicated to expanding highways to repair local roads. Widened highways are nice, but they’re a crossroads to nowhere if businesses can’t get their products into local communities. Republicans chose instead to actively block progress and leave potholes unfilled.

So Hoosiers are left with a legislative session defined by a fight over amending the constitution to codify discrimination and sweeping cuts in the corporate income and financial institution tax rates. If you struggle to see how those issues help Hoosiers, you’re not alone.

Proponents like to say we have the most competitive business climate in the Midwest. That may be true, but the fact is Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and even Illinois all experienced at least twice as many significant new facilities or expansions per capita last year. More of the same isn’t helping Indiana and it’s doing nothing to raise incomes or build better communities.

What’s worse, the total price tag on recently-enacted tax cuts is nearly $6 billion by 2023. I’m certain $6 billion would go a long way toward any of a number of more pressing concerns like reducing class sizes, retraining workers or resurfacing roads.

Good paying jobs matter. Quality schools matter. Strong communities matter. To that end, Senate Democrats are committed to advocating for a common sense approach that prioritizes Hoosiers.

The work of the legislature means nothing if we can’t find ways to raise Hoosiers’ standard of living. We’ve been down the road Republican leaders directed us this session before: Hoosiers are still stuck choosing between which bills they can afford this month, local roads are still cratered and schools are so tight up they’re turning to bus advertising. What evidence is there that this time around Republican “solutions” will have any different result?

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Unemployment rate dips down to 6.4%

On Monday, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced Indiana’s January unemployment rate dipped to 6.4 percent.

The national unemployment dropped to 6.6 percent, remaining slightly higher than Indiana’s unemployment rate for the first time in 31 months. Ohio’s unemployment rate ticked down slightly to 6.9 percent, a 0.2 point decrease. The unemployment rate  in Kentucky dipped slightly to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent in December. Illinois and Michigan’s January jobless rates both dropped as well. Michigan fell  0.5 points to 7.8 percent, and Illinois dropped slightly to 8.7 percent from 8.9 respectively.

County with the highest unemployment rate: Vermillion at 11.0%
County with the lowest unemployment rate: Hamilton at 4.5%

Employment Report (LAUS)

Jobs Report (CES)

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2014 session concludes | A look at key issues

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The 2014 session of the Indiana General Assembly ended March 13 with a number of proposals already sent to the governor for his consideration. Read below for highlights of important legislation that came before the Indiana General Assembly.

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Pre-K initiative

The Senate Democrats’ highest legislative priority, the General Assembly signed off on Indiana’s first state-funded preschool program. HEA 1004 creates a five-county pre-kindergarten pilot program, enrolling as many as 3,000 4-year-olds. The pilot program will be open to families earning up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 for a family of four and will utilize $10 million in reversions from the state budget and up to another $5 million in contributions. Democrats in final negotiations succeeded in removing a provision linking the preschool pilot to the state’s controversial K12 voucher program. The measure includes a longitudinal study tied to the pilot program.

Senate Democrats argued that a quality preschool option is a critical part of ensuring that Hoosier children get a head start on education and develop the skills to be lifelong learners. Until the bill is signed into law, Indiana is one of only 9 states that do not provide state funding for pre-K programs after Mississippi rolled out a state-funded option earlier this year.

High school athletes and concussions

High school student athletes would be required to be removed from play because of a suspected concussion or head injury for at least 24 hours under SEA 222. Current law stipulates that a student athlete may not return to play until the athlete has been evaluated by, and has received written clearance from, a licensed and properly trained health care provider. Under the act, athletes suffering head injuries will also have to sit out the required 24 hours. Additionally, the legislation would require high school and youth football coaches to take concussion awareness courses at least once every two years beginning July 1, 2014. The act also stipulates, except in cases of gross negligence, that a coach who completes the required coaching certification training would not be held personally liable if an athlete under the coach’s supervision suffers a concussion or head injury. Some concerns about the act center round the cost of the program and who would pay. The National Federation of High School Associations certification program is available on-line for a $10 fee. USA Football also has a certification program consisting of two levels. Level 1 costs $25, which includes membership in USA Football. Level 2 consists of age-specific courses for ages 6 to 14 and the cost is $10 per course. According to a USA Football spokesman who testified on behalf of the bill, the money would be used to build the infrastructure of the online education course. USA Football also includes training for “Heads Up Football,” a national initiative supported by the NFL and more than two dozen other entities to promote safety.

Guns on school property

Controversial legislation gained approval that will now allow individuals who legally possess a firearm to keep it in a motor vehicle parked in a school parking lot as long as the firearm is locked in the vehicle out of plain sight. Under current law, it is a felony to possess a firearm on school property. However, with the passage of SEA 229, this penalty is eliminated as long as the firearm is locked in the trunk, glove box or out of plain sight in the vehicle. If persons in legal possession of a firearm leave the firearm in plain view in the vehicle while on school property, they would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

In addition, SB 229 allows law enforcement agencies to sell confiscated firearms to the general public at auction. Only individuals who are lawfully allowed to own firearms could make purchases. Proceeds from these sales would be used by the agency for the purchase or maintenance of firearms, ammunition, protective vests, and other law enforcement equipment. Another provision provides that a firearm scheduled to be destroyed can be sold to a salvage company where it can be dismantled for parts, scrap metal, recycling, or for resale as parts for other firearms.

Common Core

Indiana would discontinue using Common Core standards adopted in 2010 under SEA 91. Agreed upon by the governors and school superintendents of 45 states as a unified attempt to establish similar standards and requirements for all schools, the standards detail what K-12 students should learn by the end of each grade level. SEA 91 would require the State Board of Education to adopt new standards by July 1, 2014. Supporters believe Indiana should have better standards. Opponents argue that program implementation thus far has cost the state about $24 million and passage of the bill would hurt many schools that have significantly invested in teaching Common Core standards for the past several years. The legislation also authorizes the State Board of Education and Indiana Department of Education to administer the ISTEP assessment or a comparable assessment aligned to the new standards in the 2015-2016 school year. The new assessment must be signed off on by the state budget committee.

Lifeline Law

Legislation providing legal protection for anyone under age 21 who calls 911 to report a medical emergency that involves alcohol, a possible drug overdose or a sexual assault has gained unanimous support in both chambers. Aimed at protecting lives, SEA 227 is an expansion of legislation enacted in 2012 referred to as the Lifeline Law, which provides immunity to those who call 911 to report an alcohol-related medical emergency, such as alcohol poisoning. SEA 227 provides that a person is immune from arrest or prosecution for certain alcohol offenses if the arrest or prosecution is due to the person reporting a medical emergency, being the victim of a sex offense or witnessing and reporting what the person believes to be a crime. The bill includes provisions to allow first responders and other emergency professionals on the scene to administer an overdose intervention drug to a person suffering an overdose. Other portions of the bill provide for several studies and evaluations to be conducted on crimes of sexual and domestic violence. The provisions set forth in SEA 227 become effective July 1, 2014.

Industrial hemp

Subject to federal approval, SEA 357 would authorize the State Seed Commissioner at Purdue University to license the cultivation and production of industrial hemp in Indiana. Although related to marijuana, hemp does not contain the intoxicating qualities of its cousin. During World War II, Indiana was a leader in hemp production when it was used for making rope. Today, hemp is used in the manufacturing of various products, including plastics, paper, food, textiles, construction materials, auto manufacturing materials, beauty products and medicines. However, hemp is expensive because it must be imported from other countries, like Canada and China.
The original proposal, authored by Sen. Richard Young, passed the Senate by a unanimous vote. However, the House of Representatives added language during the committee process that would regulate the storage of various domestic transportation fuels, like fuels containing ethanol. That portion of the bill was later removed during the conference committee process. Passage of this bill will allow Indiana to move quickly to promote the growth and marketing of industrial hemp.

Law enforcement cultural diversity and U-Visa training

Authored by Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, SEA 343 requires law enforcement agencies to provide training on cultural diversity and U non-immigrant Visas (U-Visas). The use of the U-Visa will benefit those who do not hold legal status in the United States and are victims of violent crimes. An understanding of the U-Visa process by law enforcement officers is important as certification of a victim’s cooperation by an officer is a prerequisite to a victim’s application for U-Visa status with the federal government. U-Visas would not serve as a shortcut to citizenship, but instead a vehicle for cooperation. Law enforcement agencies would be educated on the purpose of U-Visas and their role as an authorizer. Law enforcement officers would only be liable for indicating whether a victim was cooperative or are likely to be helpful in the future.

Hoosier women veterans program

SEA 354, advocated by Senator Richard Young, will establish the Hoosier Women Veterans Program to provide information and services to Indiana’s growing population of female veterans. The act will require the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) to implement the Hoosier Women Veterans Program and hire a women veterans coordinator under the supervision of the director of IDVA. The costs of the program and the compensation of the state coordinator will be funded using existing funds already allocated to IDVA. To help meet the needs of women veterans at a local level, the act also allows a county executive to appoint a county service officer for a four-year term.

The original proposal was weakened during the House committee process exclude language allocating new funds to IDVA to fund the women veterans coordinator position. The proposal was altered to include the language that states the program and coordinator will be funded only with available resources of the department. Against the wishes of supporters of the initiative, the proposal was weakened in the House when the “shall” requirements were changed to “may”, meaning IDVA will not be required implement the program until funds can be allocated. Additional funds will most likely have to be allocated to the department during the next budget process.

Statewide recycling goal

A proposal championed by Senator Mark Stoops will establish a state goal of recycling at least 50% of all municipal waste in Indiana and require Indiana recycling organizations to post periodic reports on their recycling efforts. HEA 1183 defines municipal waste as any garbage, refuse, industrial restroom waste, office waste or another similar material. The measure would also require all Indiana recycling organizations and businesses to submit an annual recycling activity report to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management beginning in 2015. Those reports would be shared with the public through the department’s website. The Department of Environmental Management would also be required to submit to the Environmental Quality Service Council an annual report summarizing the information contained in the recycling reports.

Sen. Stoops noted the amount of recyclable material that is simply being thrown away with garbage, and the need for Indiana to get on track with the rest of the nation since the state is ranked near the bottom in recycling efforts. The increased recycling efforts would create jobs, prevent environmental degradation and help make Indiana more efficient by capitalizing on the recyclable resources already in the state.

Tanning bed restrictions

A proposal heading to the governor’s desk would prohibit teens younger than 16 from using tanning beds. The International Agency for Research on Cancer had previously designated tanning beds in their highest cancer risk category – carcinogenic to humans. Any teens ages 16 and 17 will now be required to have a written note of permission from their parent or legal guardian in order to use a tanning bed. Continue reading

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RELEASE: Senate approves preschool pilot

On Thursday, the Indiana Senate signed off on a measure establishing a state-funded preschool program. House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1004 creates a five-county pre-kindergarten pilot program, enrolling as many as 3,000 4-year-olds.

“This is a victory for common sense,” said Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane. “Moving forward with this pilot is the first step. Tomorrow we need to ensure we don’t leave middle class families behind.”

The pilot program will be open to families earning up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 for a family of four, and will utilize $10 million in reversions from the state budget and up to another $5 million in contributions. A provision linking the preschool pilot to the state’s controversial K-12 voucher program was removed in final negotiations. The measure includes a longitudinal study tied to the pilot program. Senate Democrats argued that while the pilot program is a step in the right direction, the legislature needs to commit to making quality early learning options a reality for all Hoosier children.

“The lifelong benefits of preschool have been clearly established,” said State Senator Earline Rogers. “All students deserve an opportunity to take advantage of these benefits, not just those who meet narrow income eligibility requirements.”

Senate Democrats argued that a quality preschool option is a critical part of ensuring that Hoosier children get a head start on education and develop the skills to be lifelong learners. Until the bill is signed into law, Indiana is one of only 9 states that do not provide state funding for pre-K programs after Mississippi began rollout of a state-funded option earlier this year.

The final conference committee report for HEA 1004 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 40-8, and the act now moves to the governor for his signature, veto or passage into law without his signature.

For more information on the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus agenda or other State Senate business, call 1-800-382-9467 or visit http://www.senatedemocrats.in.gov.

SEN. LANANE: “As I think many people know this was the number one priority for the Senate Democrat Caucus…”


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SEN. ROGERS: “It’s the only fair thing to do…”


(Length: 00:26)

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RELEASE: Senate Democrats: Business tax cuts shortsighted, wrong approach to growing middle class

INDIANAPOLIS – On Thursday, the Indiana Senate signed off on a controversial measure that cuts Indiana’s corporate and financial institution tax rates and opens the door for additional cuts to the business personal property tax rate.  Proponents of Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 1 touted the measure as an economic development tool, however Senate Democrats expressed concern over the job creation performance and cost in lost revenue of previous and future tax cuts – pegged at more than $5.8 billion through 2023.

“In this decade, the result of these cuts will force us to make some difficult choices: like choosing between funding our schools or repairing roads,” said State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage). “Tax climate is only part of the economic development equation. I’m disheartened we have not focused more on investing in education and infrastructure improvements.”

SEA 1 authorizes county governments to fully exempt personal property tax levied on businesses with less than $20,000 in acquisition costs, allows local governments to award up to 20 years of tax abatement on business personal property and permits local governments to exempt taxes collected on any new business personal property. The initiative may also shift the expense of cutting or abating business personal property taxes onto homeowners paying property taxes.

“A strong business tax climate doesn’t help Hoosiers if those tax cuts don’t translate into jobs or more money in the pockets of Hoosier families,” said Senator Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson). “We have to go beyond corporate giveaways and focus on building up all Hoosiers.”

The final conference committee report for SEA 1 was approved by the Senate on a vote of 36-12, and the act will now be sent to the governor for his signature, veto or passage into law without his signature.

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Audio from Sen. Tallian on the passage of SEA 1:


 

 

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What’s still on the table: Session reaches final week

SessionDeadlines_2014With the 2014 legislative session winding down, a number of issues are yet to be finalized. Proposals that were modified from their original version and subsequently approved in the second house are eligible for a conference committee. Below, read where a number of issues are heading into session’s final days.

What’s a conference committee?>>

High school athletes and concussions

High school student athletes would be required to be removed from play because of a suspected concussion or head injury for at least 24 hours under Senate Bill (SB) 222. Current law stipulates that a student athlete may not return to play until the athlete has been evaluated by, and has received written clearance from, a licensed and properly trained health care provider. Under the bill, athletes suffering head injuries would also have to sit out the required 24 hours. Additionally, the legislation would require high school and youth football coaches to take concussion awareness courses at least once every two years beginning July 1, 2014. The bill also stipulates, except in cases of gross negligence, that a coach who completes the required coaching certification training would not be held personally liable if an athlete under the coach’s supervision suffers a concussion or head injury. Some concerns about the bill center round the cost of the program and who would pay. The National Federation of High School Associations certification program is available on-line for a $10 fee. USA Football also has a certification program consisting of two levels. Level 1 costs $25, which includes membership in USA Football. Level 2 consists of age-specific courses for ages 6 to 14 and the cost is $10 per course. According to a USA Football spokesman who testified on behalf of the bill, the money would be used to build the infrastructure of the online education course. USA Football also includes training for “Heads Up Football,” a national initiative supported by the NFL and more than two dozen other entities to promote safety. A conference committee will attempt to negotiate a compromise on differences between the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill.

Pre-K initiative

Along party lines, the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development voted to gut House Bill (HB) 1004, a proposal that would have established a five-county pre-kindergarten pilot program. HB 1004 now calls for the creation of a summer study committee to examine pre-K issues, such as appropriate family income standards, which agency would oversee the program, and financing. Attempts by Senate Democrats to reinsert the pilot program were blocked during Senate debate on the bill. The measure was later approved by the Senate, but the House chose not to agree with Senate changes and sent the measure to a conference committee. Proponents of a pre-kindergarten program believe that a quality preschool option is a critical part of ensuring that Hoosier children get a head start on education and develop the skills to be lifelong learners. Indiana is now one of only 9 states that do not provide state funding for pre-K programs after Mississippi began rollout of a state-funded option earlier this year. Continue reading