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Under a week left, negotiations remain on controversial issues

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 $5,000. A conference committee for the bill has yet to be scheduled but is likely before April 29.

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.

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Senate Democrats provide an update on needle exchange to combat HIV outbreak in southern Indiana

Senate Democrat Leader Tim Lanane, Assistant Democrat Leader Jean D. Breaux and Senator Mark Stoops held a media availability to discuss negotiations that occurring in the final week of the legislative session to combat the HIV outbreak in southern Indiana. The Senate Democrats offered a three-pronged approach to fight the spread of the disease that consists of needle exchanges, testing and ultimately drug treatment.

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Indiana’s March unemployment report shows slight decline

On Wednesday, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced Indiana’s March unemployment rate dropped slightly to 5.8 percent, a 0.1 percent decrease from February’s mark.

The national unemployment rate held at 5.5 percent from February, with Indiana remaining above the national average. Kentucky and Michigan both saw declines in unemployment for March, with Kentucky dropping 0.2 percent to 5.1 percent overall and Michigan dropping 0.3 percent to 5.6 percent overall. Illinois and Ohio experienced no monthly change from February to March, remaining steady at 6 percent and 5.1 percent respectively.

IN County with the highest unemployment rate: Vermillion at 8.8%
IN County with the lowest unemployment rate: Hamilton at 4.0%

Employment Report (LAUS)

Jobs Report (CES)

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Why equal pay for Hoosier women matters

On April 14 or Equal Pay Day, Hoosier women finally earned what their male colleagues made in 2014. It took women 104 additional days – 469 in total – to earn what men earned in 2014.

The impact of gender income inequality is even more acute considering that a record number of women are participating in the workforce and 63 percent of women serve as the primary or co-primary earner in Hoosier households, according to a report from the Center for American Progress.

Indiana has the ninth worst wage gap in the nation. In 2013, women earned just 75 cents for every dollar men made according to a report from the Status of Women in the States. Hispanic and African American women earned even less. Even when economists control for factors like education, occupation and hours worked, a substantial gender pay gap still exists. That same report showed a greater percentage of women earned the lowest incomes in the labor market while a greater share of men earned the highest wages.

So what does pay inequality look like around kitchen tables? A 2014 study from the American Association of University Women found the gender pay gap costs women on average $210,000 over the span of a 35-year career. Motherhood also creates a larger wage gap. Women between the ages of 20 and 24 earn 89 percent of men’s median weekly earning rates, but that number drops to 78 percent in women between the ages of 35 and 44 according to a study from the American Association of University Women. Paying women a salary equal to men working comparable jobs would have injected $448 billion into the United States’ economy in 2012.  As many as 42.5 million women – 60 percent of all working women – would have received a raise according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Senate Democrats have taken clear action on closing the pay gap, offering legislation outlawing wage discrimination and creating a mechanism for Hoosier women to recoup lost wages. Led by Assistant Democratic Leader Jean D. Breaux, Senate Democrats know working women can’t wait until 2086 – when economists estimate women’s salaries will catch up to men’s in Indiana. Efforts to include equal pay legislation in the state’s operating budget were rejected on a party-line vote as recently as this week.

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What is a conference committee?

Legislators are working this week  as final negotiations continue in conference committees. Conference committees are a unique step in the legislative process designed to allow different versions of a bill to be reconciled into a final agreed upon form. We thought an explanation of conference committees might be in order here.

What is a conference committee?

Bills which have passed their house of origin, but were amended by the opposite chamber must return to the house of origin to allow the author to review the changes. If an author is unsatisfied with changes and the house of origin dissents, an agreement must be negotiated between the two different versions of the bill in a joint House-Senate conference committee.

A conference committee is a temporary group with four appointed members, or conferees: a member of each party from the Senate and member of each party from the House. Other legislators also can be appointed as advisors to the conference committee, but the approval of advisors is not necessary for the bill to move forward.

Conference committee meetings are open to the public, and a one hour public notice must be given before a meeting convenes. During the meeting(s), legislators may take public testimony, discuss differences in the language, and consider proposed compromises. The resulting compromise takes the form of a conference committee report, which must be signed by each of the four conferees in order for the bill to move forward for a final vote in each chamber. Over the course of negotiations, multiple conference committee reports may be drafted.

Once signed by the four conferees, a conference committee report is filed in each chamber and put to a final vote. If approved by both chambers, a conference committee report is signed by the Senate President Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House, then sent to the governor for his signature into law or veto.

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Senate Republicans sink full-day kindergarten funding

INDIANAPOLIS – Senate Republicans rejected a proposal on Tuesday ensuring Indiana schools have the resources needed to provide full-day kindergarten for every Hoosier student. The amendment to the state’s two-year budget would have counted kindergarten students as full-time students for funding purposes and was rejected on the Senate floor along party lines.

“The Senate budget took a step back in terms of funding full-day kindergarten,” said Tallian. “We missed an opportunity here to give schools the resources they need to provide quality kindergarten programs. Frankly, we’re being cheap and it’s costing our kids.”

The amendment would have directed about $38 million in state Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and $44 million in FY2017 to schools to fund full-day kindergarten. Per-student funding is determined using poverty indicators. The amendment would have helped offset nearly $250 million cut from funding directed to schools serving high-poverty areas and redistributed to other schools.

“This was a win-win, a way of directing dollars to schools adversely impacted by cuts to the complexity index and ensuring we can provide the very best education – starting with full-day kindergarten – to every Hoosier student,” said Tallian.

House Bill 1001 must clear a final vote in the Senate on Wednesday before returning to the House of Representatives. It’s widely expected that House authors will dissent and the budget will move to conference committee for additional negotiations.

Sen. Tallian represents Senate District 4 which encompasses portions of northern Porter County and Michigan, Coolspring and New Durham townships in LaPorte County. For more information on Sen. Tallian, her legislative agenda or other State Senate business call 1-800-382-9467 or visit www.IN.gov/s4.

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Rogers’ Gary Schools revitalization proposal moves forward

INDIANAPOLIS—A proposal to establish a working group of financial specialists, local leaders, and the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB) gained Senate approval Tuesday after weeks of advocacy from State Senator Earline Rogers (D-Gary).

During a floor speech, Sen. Rogers outlined a timeline of events leading to the current financial situation experienced by the Gary Community Schools Corporation. She noted that loss of property tax collections from major corporations like U.S. Steel, a drop in revenues from property tax caps, and declining residential and student populations have all played a part in destabilizing a once-thriving community.

“There’s no doubt Gary schools and the students they serve face enormous challenges,” said Sen. Rogers. “To make progress, Gary schools need proactive intervention by the people with the most invested, our neighbors.”

To set Gary Community Schools on a path towards success and economic recovery, the measure approved today would create a plan of action where local officials, school board members, a financial advisor of the board’s choosing and the DUAB would work together to create the school’s recovery plan.

The first step in this process calls for a public hearing where community members would be given a presentation on the school’s current status. From there, the DUAB would present the Gary Community School Board with three suggested financial advisors from which they may choose. The chosen financial planner would assist in the board’s management and assist in debt management during that time.

In order to take immediate action, the board would have the authority to delay or suspend any payments of principal or interest from the Gary Community School Corporation on loans from the common school fund. The board will also have the ability to submit a proposal to the State Board of Finance for an interest-free loan from the fund which may be granted for up to six years.

The proposal was approved as part of the state’s biennial budget proposal, House Bill 1001, The Indiana General Assembly has until April 29 to approve the budget.

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Breaux equal pay measure rejected by Republicans on Equal Pay Day

INDIANAPOLIS – On Tuesday, Senate Republicans rejected a proposal offered by Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Jean D. Breaux (D-Indianapolis) that would ensure fair pay regardless of gender, race or national origin and would give the Indiana Civil Rights Commission the jurisdiction to investigate and resolve complaints of unequal pay. The proposal, defeated along party lines, was offered as an amendment to House Bill (HB) 1001, legislation that frames the state’s next biennial budget.

“It’s simple. Hoosier women deserve equal pay for equal work. Today, April 14, Hoosier women will have finally earned what their male colleagues made in 2014,” said Sen. Breaux. “It takes women 104 additional days – 469 in total – to earn what men earn in a calendar year.”

Sen. Breaux pointed to wage gap statistics that rank Indiana sixth worst in the nation. Studies show Hoosier women earn just 75 cents for every dollar men earn. That adds up to $11,000 less on average in 2013. Over their career, women will lose out on more than $200,000 as a result of the gender pay gap. It is expected, if current workforce and earnings trends hold, that women’s pay will catch up to what men earn in 2086.

“This proposal gives the Indiana Civil Rights Commission the authority and jurisdiction to investigate and resolve complaints of unequal pay for the same work,” said Sen. Breaux. “I do not believe Indiana would have such a shocking wage gap if this enforcement mechanism were placed into law.”

Senate Democrats offered a number of amendments to HB 1001, including alterations to the state’s school funding formula and a legislative study of expanding civil rights law to LGBT Hoosiers. Those amendments were also defeated along party lines.

Sen. Breaux represents Indiana Senate District 34 which includes the near eastside of Indianapolis including portions of Center, Washington, Lawrence and Warren Townships. For more information on Sen. Breaux’s legislative agenda or other State Senate business call 1-800-382-9467 or visit www.IN.gov/S34.

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Republicans reject next step towards LGBT protections

INDIANAPOLIS – On Tuesday, Senate Republicans rejected a proposal offered by Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) that would urge the Legislative Council to establish an interim study committee examining the issue of adding LGBT Hoosiers as a protected class within the Indiana Civil Rights Act. The proposal, defeated along party lines, was offered as an amendment to House Bill (HB) 1001, the state’s two-year budget.

“We may not yet know the full economic implications of the fallout from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle,” said Sen. Lanane. “What we do know is the governor is spending two million dollars to hire an international public relations firm to repair our state’s image. In reality, the strongest action would be to fully protect the rights of LGBT Hoosiers under the Civil Rights Act.”

Sen. Lanane said the debate over RFRA exposed Indiana’s Civil Rights Act as being deficient and that the legislative “fix” passed by Statehouse Republicans and signed by the governor failed to provide statewide protections from discrimination.

“We have a lot further to go when it comes to equality in the state of Indiana,” said Sen Lanane. “We can do better, and today we could have taken the first step to ensure that everyone is protected from discrimination regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Senate Democrats offered a number of amendments to HB 1001, including alterations to the state’s school funding formula and a proposal to ensure equal pay regardless of gender. Those amendments were also defeated along party lines.

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Lanane offers IEDC a free PR fix

INDIANAPOLIS—Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) released the following statement in response to an announcement made by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) to hire a public relations firm to repair the state’s post-RFRA image:

“Here’s an idea to mend our state’s image that doesn’t cost a dime: Outlaw discrimination and guarantee protections for sexual orientation and gender identity by amending our state’s Civil Rights Act.

“The actions announced today by the IEDC are an admission by the governor that more must be done to clean up the mess they created with RFRA.

“Tuesday, we’ll offer an amendment to take the next step. We’ll commit to studying how Indiana will work to make the LGBT community a protected class.

“After realizing their grave misstep, Statehouse Republicans committed to further discussion of this issue.

“We look forward to cementing that commitment tomorrow by voting to begin the process on how to fully protect all Hoosiers from discrimination.”

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