Sunday, January 31, 2016

This week marks the mid-point of the 2016 legislative session and an opportunity to review the slate of proposed working-family friendly bills, noting both the "potential victories," which include those bills that are moving forward and the "missed opportunities," or those bills that appear to be stalled. If your legislator authored one of the "missed opportunities" bills, you might consider thanking that member for proposing the legislation and encouraging that legislator to find a germane bill to amend their proposal into or to bring the issue forward again in the 2017 session.

Potential Victories

The Indiana General Assembly is advancing the several bills that would help working families move toward self-sufficiency. These bills include provisions to...
EXPAND USES OF SPECIAL SAVINGS PROGRAMS: One of the priorities in the Institute's Working Families Agenda is to allow Individual Development Account Program participants to purchase vehicles for work or education. SB 325, which will make this possible, passed  its third reading 50-0 and has been referred to the House. Similarly, bills are advancing in both the House (HB 1407) and Senate (SB 11) to establish Achieving a Better Life Experience accounts, which allow individuals to save tax-free for their children with disabilities.

SMOOTH THE PATH TO MEANINGFUL EDUCATION & CAREER OPPORTUNITIES: Another of the Institute's Working Families Agenda items includes opening the EARN Indiana Program to part-time adult students. HB 1248, which alters a number of state aid programs, does this and has been referred to the Senate. In addition, SB 301, which would improve data collection for workforce education and better align educational opportunities with high-demand, middle-skill jobs in Indiana, is also progressing.
INCREASE ACCESS TO HEALTH & WELLNESS SUPPORTS: Bills promoting greater access to healthy food in food deserts have received attention in both the Senate (SB 15) and the House (HB 1077). The Healthy Indiana Plan, SB 165, which offers insurance benefits to low-income Hoosiers and their families, is also moving forward. Also, SB 132, which will permit individuals who have served sentences for felony drug convictions to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will receive its third reading on Tuesday, February 2.
Missed Opportunities

By failing to offer committee hearings to the following bills, the Indiana General Assembly has missed a number of important opportunities to support working families. These bills included provisions to...
INCREASE ACCESS TO WORK SUPPORTS & SAFETY NETS: Several legislators proposed bills that would increase access to work supports and social  and safety net. Among these were SB 377 and SB 341, would remove asset limits for SNAP recipients, HB1011 and HB1014, which would create worksharing unemployment benefits, and SB 210, HB 1328, and HB 1139,  which would expand or create paid leave programs. SB 210 got a hearing and Jessica Fraser, Program Manager at Indiana Institute for Working Families, testified in support of the bill, but it did not receive a vote. 

BOOST INCOMES FOR LOW-TO-MODERATE INCOME FAMILIES: Legislators put forward a number of bills that would directly or indirectly drive up income for low-to-moderate income working families. Some of these bills increased wages directly, including SB 211 or SB 369, which would have increased the minimum wage and HB 1072, which would have provided overtime for certain employees.  SB 319 would have allowed local governments to establish a common construction wage, and SB 346 would have required employers to pay a prevailing wage - as determined by the commissioner of the department of labor - on public improvement construction projects. Other bills increased income by reducing taxes or increasing tax credits, like SB 129, which would have increased the Indiana earned income tax credit, HB 1343, which would expand eligibility for the income tax deduction for dependents,  and HB 1050, which would have provided a sales tax holiday. 

PROTECT WORKERS: Legislators sought to establish several mechanisms to better protect working Hoosiers. SB 212 would have required employers to give advance notice to employees of their scheduled shifts and compensate them when they cancelled shifts without sufficient notice. SB 99 would have provided more information on small loans to consumers and offered a more affordable extended payment plan to help working families avoid the debt trap. SB 32 would have created more transparency in relation to the use of economic development incentives and recaptured taxpayer-funded incentives when recipients did not create or retain the specified number of jobs or pay the specified wages.    

PROMOTE GREATER ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION: SB 201 would have offered in-state tuition to any student who (1) attends a high school in Indiana for at least three years; (2) registers as an entering student at or enrolls in a state educational institution; and (3) graduates from a high school located in Indiana or receives the equivalent of a high school diploma in Indiana.

This Week
SB 132:  Food stamp assistance after drug conviction
Description: Allows certain individuals who were convicted of a drug offense but have not been convicted of another drug offense in the previous five years before applying for food stamps to receive food stamps. Permits individuals who have had a conviction in the past five years but who are receiving specified treatment and drug and alcohol testing to receive food stamps.
Last Action: Second reading: ordered engrossed
Next Action: Third Reading, 2/2/2016, 1:30pm, Senate

HB 1340:  Long term small loans
Description: While originally this bill would have allowed lenders to offer long-term small loans at 20% of the principal per month, the bill was amended to urge the legislative council to assign a study committee on the topic of granting lenders the authority to make long term small installment loans.
Last Action: Second reading: ordered engrossed
Next Action: Third Reading, 2/2/2016, 10:00am, House
Last Week

HB 1248: Higher education matters
Description: Among other provisions, this bill amends the definition of "eligible student" for purposes of the EARN Indiana program to include adult, part-time students.
Last Action Taken: Referred to the Senate

Our Position: Support. The amendment to this bill would pave the way for adult learners to access more meaningful, career-aligned work-based learning opportunities. 
  HB 1344:  Unemployment insurance
Description: Abolishes the Indiana unemployment compensation board and transfers the board's duties to the Department of Workforce Development. Provides that not later than the fourth week after the week an individual begins receiving benefits, the individual must visit and receive an orientation to the services available through a one stop center in order to maintain eligibility to receive benefits.
Last Action Taken: Referred to the Senate

SB 165:  Healthy Indiana Plan
Description: Repeals the prior healthy Indiana plan statutes and makes revisions to the currently operating healthy Indiana plan. Repeals statutes governing the high risk Indiana check-up plan.
Last Action Taken: Referred to the Senate

SB 206:  FSSA matters
Description: Makes a number of changes to the Family and Social Services Agency.
Last Action Taken: Second reading: ordered engrossed
SB 217 Township assistance payment of electric bills
Description: Allows a township trustee to make an advance deposit of township assistance funds in the township's trustee's account with an electric service provider to pay for a township assistance recipient's electric usage charges as those charges are incurred. 
Last Action Taken: This bill was amended to exclude investor-owned utilities at their request. It passed.
Our Position: Support. This bill enables township trustees to assist low-income customers with prepaid utility accounts.

SB 301: Workforce Development
Description: Requires the department of workforce development (DWD), commission for higher education, Ivy Tech Community College, and regional work councils to use data on expected workforce needs to identify imbalances in the courses and certifications offered and develop recommendations for the career and technical education courses to be offered at high schools.
Last Action Taken: Third reading; passed; Roll Call 46: yeas 50, nays 0
Our Position: Support. This bill will help low-income Hoosiers learn about and prepare for middle-skill jobs, a pathway to economic self-sufficiency.

SB 400: Employee misclassification
Description: Urges the legislative council to assign to the interim study committee on employment and labor or another appropriate interim study committee during the 2016 legislative interim the topics of employee misclassification, payroll fraud, and the use of independent contractor status.
Last Action Taken: Referred to the House

SB 210:  Family leave insurance program
Description: Requires the Department of Workforce Development to establish a voluntary family leave insurance plan.
Last Action: The Committee on Pensions & Labor heard testimony on this bill. Jessica Fraser, Program Manager of the Indiana Institute for Working Families, pointed out that low-income families tend to have even less access to paid leave than the general population and that new mothers who return to work after taking paid leave are about 40 percent less likely to report receiving public assistance and food stamps in the year after a child's birth than those who take unpaid leave. The Chair did not allow a vote on the bill.
Our Position: Support.

SB 285:  Employment of unauthorized aliens
Description: Prohibits an employer from knowingly employing an unauthorized alien and authorizes the attorney general to investigate complaints, verify work authorization of employees, and, under certain conditions, notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Last Action: A number of individuals and organization representatives testified on this bill. The Chair declined to hold a vote on the bill.

SB 132:  Food stamp assistance after drug conviction
Description: Allows certain individuals who were convicted of a drug offense but have not been convicted of another drug offense in the previous five years before applying for food stamps to receive food stamps. Permits individuals who have had a conviction in the past five years but who are receiving specified treatment and drug and alcohol testing to receive food stamps.
Last Action: Committee report: do pass, adopted

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