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