The members of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus released their 2012 legislative agenda today, highlighting the pressing need to fuel job creation, strengthen early education and protect Indiana voters as their top priorities. Below are a number of the key legislative initiatives Senate Democrats will carry in the upcoming session.
Hear more from Senator Simpson: “Again this year the Senate Democrat Caucus has put forward a package of several bills laying out the priorities…” (00:39)
Jobs and Economic Fairness
With an unemployment rate of 9 percent and hundreds of thousands for Hoosiers out of work, the General Assembly’s first priority in 2012 should be addressing unemployment in this state. Senate Democrats believe the focus should be on long-term progress and an understanding of how small businesses are taking an increasing role in our economy, not on lowering expectations or putting out-of-state interests above those of Hoosiers.
Online sales tax
Indiana retailers, who employ more than half a million Hoosiers, are losing an estimated $2.9 billion in business annually to online retailers. The proposed legislation would require all online retailers with any presence in the state to collect sales tax, leveling the playing field for local businesses and providing the state with an estimated $200 million in uncollected sales tax revenue. The bill will be authored by Sen. John Broden (D–South Bend) who offered a similar measure in 2011.
Hear more from Senator Broden: (00:42)
Work share to avoid temporary lay-offs
An option already available to businesses in twenty-one states, “work share,” evens out the economic highs and lows for businesses and allows them to keep workers on the job during slow periods. The program allows employers to reduce the workweek of their employees in lieu of layoffs. The affected employees receive a portion of the unemployment benefit they would receive if laid off relative to the reduced work hours.
For example, if an employer could schedule employees to work four days (32 hours) a week for six months as an alternative to layoffs, the employer would develop a plan and applies to the state for a work-share unemployment benefit option for the employees. If the plan is accepted with a 20 percent reduction in work hours, the employees would apply and receive 20 percent of the unemployment benefit for which they would be eligible if completely laid off. Senate Democrats will support the House bill expected to be authored by Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis) on this issue.
Restricting employer use of consumer credit history in hiring
Past credit decisions should not hold individuals back from gainful employment. Under proposed legislation, an employer would be prohibited from using an applicant’s credit history for hiring and employment purposes. Exceptions would include managerial positions and positions with the Attorney General, local government, law enforcement, or those where credit history consideration is required by federal law. The bill will be authored by Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis).
Hear more from Senator Taylor: (00:35)
Prohibiting discrimination against the unemployed
A second proposal aimed at helping the unemployed would prohibit using language in job ads that discriminates against unemployed people. During a time of such high job loss in Indiana, unemployed workers should not be further punished for economic conditions they cannot control. Similar legislation has been approved in New Jersey and is pending in New York. The bill will be authored by Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis).
More funding for local roads and bridges
The quality and maintenance of Indiana roads, bridges and other infrastructure is an essential component to Indiana’s economic development and our quality of life. Less money is being devoted to local roads, and the results are evident around the state with crumbling asphalt, closed bridges and rural roads turned back to gravel. It’s not a funding crisis, it’s a matter of priority. The state needs to prioritize resources to preserve existing roads and bridges before embarking on new highway projects. More costs to Hoosiers through tolls and fees on taxpayer-funded roads and bridges are unacceptable, as is shifting the repair costs to future generations. Legislation to address this is being finalized and will be authored by Sen. Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute).
Capital Access Fund for entrepreneurs and start-ups
Small businesses and entrepreneurs would benefit if the state followed through on a program created with bipartisan support but not funded under the recent Republican state budgets. The programis designed to provide low-interest loans to Indiana businesses for start up or expansion costs through a revolving state fund. Since the fund has languished under the direction of IEDC, the proposal would move the fund to the Indiana Finance Authority where other state revolving funds are managed. A similar proposal was introduced last year and the legislation will be authored this year by Sen. Vi Simpson (D–Elletsville).
New hire tax credits for smaller employers
Indiana’s small businesses deserve the same tax benefit for new hires that is available to larger companies under the New Employee Tax Credit established in 2010. The proposed legislation would eliminate the 10-employee minimum qualification now required under the program, providing any sized business with a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the wages paid for qualified new hires during a 24-month period. This proposal was introduced last session as SB 583-2011 and will be authored this year by Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis).
Preference for Indiana employers in state contracts
Taxpayer money spent on state contracts should help put Hoosiers to work, not profit out-of-state companies. The proposed legislation would require that public works projects be awarded to companies and subcontractors that can guarantee at least 80 percent of the employees working on the project are Indiana workers. This proposal was introduced last session as SB 369-2011 and will be authored this year by Sen. Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte).
Hear more from Senator Arnold: (00:36)
Studies consistently show students with access to quality early education that takes place before Kindergarten score higher on achievement tests, graduate from high school at a higher rate and are more likely to attend college. Students with access to quality early education also repeat grades less frequently and require special education less often. Quality early education promotes success for all Hoosier students.
Office of Child Development and Early Learning
Creating an effective education system that incorporates early education will benefit generations of Hoosiers. By creating the Office of Child Development and Early Learning, the proposed legislation encourages the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) to streamline their efforts and create an education plan that includes developmental benchmarks for Pre-K education. The proposal also calls for universities and colleges with education programs to work with the state to include early education in teaching degree programs. The legislation will be authored by Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary).
Hear more from Senator Rogers: (00:51)
Early Education grant opportunities for middle income parents
Until early education is integrated into Indiana’s traditional public school system, middle income children deserve access to preschool learning during those critical years.The proposed legislation would provide state-funded grants for middle income families with earnings that put them outside the eligibility for federal assistance programs, but who still need support paying for preschool classes. A sliding scale fee based on income would determine eligibility and grant amounts. The proposal will be authored by Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis).
Oversight and Accountability for Education Funds
Oversight of private schools receiving vouchers
In these difficult economic times, every public dollar spent matters. Requiring both an annual fiscal audit of any private school receiving public money and compelling IDOE to both track and publish those schools’ performance data allows Hoosier parents to compare schools more accurately and make the right decision for their children. The legislation would also limit to three percent how much of each taxpayer funded voucher could be used toward administrative costs at private schools. Sen. Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute) will author this legislation.
Hear more from Senator Skinner: (1:20)
Oversight of turnaround school management organizations
Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) will author legislation to provide legislative guidance for the oversight of organizations contracted by the state to take over underachieving public schools. The legislation would give the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) specific standards to regulate those private organizations contracted for public school takeovers.
Protecting Voter Rights
According to the 2011 Indiana Civics Health Index, Indiana ranked 48th in voter turnout in 2010. With a turnout rate of 39.4 percent, Indiana’s turnout was six percentage points lower than the national average of 45.5 percent.
Early voting at satellite locations
To improve voter turnout and increase accessibility to the polls, a legislative proposal offered by Senate Democrats this year would expand early voting opportunities at satellite locations. Indiana law now requires that satellite clerk offices may only be used for early voting if approved by a unanimous vote of the county election board. In counties where there are satellite county clerk offices already providing services to citizens, partisanship on the Election Board should not block voters’ access to early voting.
In 2009, legislation (SEA 209) was approved with bipartisan support in the General Assembly to remove this unanimous election board decision requirement for early voting at satellite locations and replace it with a majority vote requirement. That bill, however, was vetoed by Gov. Daniels. In 2012, Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) will author legislation again to remove the unanimous decision requirement and protect voter access to the polls.
Hear more from Senator Breaux: (00:35)
All municipal officials on the ballot, regardless of challenge
In 2011, a new state law allowed a municipal office and a candidate’s name to be omitted from the general election ballot if that candidate was unchallenged. The change was confusing and did not allow voters the opportunity to signal their approval or withhold their vote from the single candidate. Sen. Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte) will offer a measure to repeal that language in 2012 so that all valid municipal candidates are represented on ballots.
OpenGov – Government Transparency
In 2010, Senate Democrats rolled out their “OpenGov” legislative package to improve public access to state government information. OpenGov is about keeping citizens informed through government transparency and honest reporting of how taxpayer dollars are spent.
Stopping “Pay to Play”
Public contracts should be awarded based on qualifications, not contributions. Stricter regulations are needed to ensure that campaign donations don’t sway decision making in state and local public works contracts. The proposed legislation would require donors to state and local campaigns to register in public databases, increasing public scrutiny and discouraging “pay to play” kick-backs to campaign donors. This legislation will be authored by Sen. Jim Arnold (D–LaPorte).
Campaign finance reform
The influence of money in political campaigns at every level, and how that money affects policies after the election, is gaining greater attention. Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Ellettsville) will request a two-year legislative study of how other states control campaign finances to limit the influence of big money in election outcomes, which can be used as models to improve Indiana elections.
One-stop online public access to track taxpayer dollars in state budgets, spending and contracts
As a continuation of the Senate Democrats’ effort that helped result in the Transparency.IN.gov state website, the caucus will push in 2012 for more transparency on the following:
Businesses that failed to meet their incentive agreement for job creation and how the state is reclaiming lost tax dollars from those businesses.
Reports comparing state program-level budgets to actual expenses and how those cuts are impacting program performance and service.
An opportunity for citizens to track and comment on administrative rules that are being proposed or reviewed by the state’s agencies and offices.
The proposed legislation will be authored by Sen. John Broden (D–South Bend).
Corporate accountability for economic incentives
Businesses that receive taxpayer-funded incentives for job creation should be held to their end of the deal. Legislation will again be offered by Senate Democrats in 2012 to require the recapture of funds from businesses that receive state incentives but fail to make the level of capital investment, create the number of jobs, or pay less than the wages specified in the agreement. In addition, those deals would be subject to disclosure under the state’s Open Records Act and published on the Transparency.IN.gov website for public view. This bill will be authored by Sen. Lonnie M. Randolph (D-East Chicago).
Hear more from Senator Randolph: (00:38)
For more information on the members of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus or Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson, visit www.SenateDemocrats.IN.gov.