Monday, April 24, 2017

*Updated 4/28/17
Ding dong, the session’s over! In a long budget session, it can feel like endlessly walking the yellow brick road complete with trees throwing apples and gate guards that block entrance to Emerald City. But we made it! Along the way, we stopped a dangerous payday lending bill, got a summer study of paid family and medical leave through, spoke out against banning Ban the Box statutes, educated on the importance of early childhood education and Head Start, fought to expand access to SNAP to prior drug felons, passed a bill increasing SNAP asset limits, added an adult literacy report to the table, protected the Work Force Ready Grant, and battled for affordable housing. Read on for more details and a look at how our policy agenda fared.

The Institute’s 2017 Legislative Public Policy Agenda detailed the “missing pieces” in Indiana’s economy that affect a third of Hoosiers who are not self-sufficient, meaning do not make enough to pay for the basics. The legislative session is over and with that, we take a look at which missing pieces were filled in and where there are still holes in Indiana’s economic puzzle. 

A PATH TO SELF-SUFFICIENCY: Put families on a path to self-sufficiency by protecting them from high-cost payday loans and predatory lending products. Support asset-building and financial literacy training by increasing funding for individual development accounts (IDAs). 

SB 245 Long term small loans (Holdman) was a bill that sought to extend the payday industry with a long-term loan up to $2,500 with an annual percentage rate (APR) of 240%. (You can read about the details on the blog here and here. Highlights, on a $2,500 loan, a person making $10,000 less than the self-sufficiency standard for one adult with one child in Marion county would owe over $9,000 in interest over those two years. Yikes!) The Institute fought hard against in the first half of the session, rallying over 20 religious leaders, former payday borrowers and employees, and advocates to speak against this harmful and unnecessary legislation.  It was successfully defeated in committee with bipartisan 4-5 vote. Later in the session, the payday industry tried to insert language about high interest small loans into another bill, but the amendment was never voted on thanks in part to several advocates who dropped what they were doing to be a voice in that committee hearing. SB 474 Small loans (Melton) provided for more disclosures and an extended payment plan not over $50/weekly or $100/biweekly and was amended into SB 245 in the first half of the session, perhaps as a way to make the bill more palatable. While those were good ideas, the Institute was still happy the bill died.

INVESTMENT IN TWO-GENERATION SOLUTIONS: Investments in Head Start, preschool and the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) ensure that young children continue to learn and grow while their parents work or seek further education. 

SB 276 Early childhood grant pilot program (Holdman) and HB 1004 Prekindergarten education (Behning) were the two big Pre-K bills this session. In the end, the House bill is what went through with aspects of SB 276 folded in. It passed 31-19 in the Senate and 82-16 in the House. The final version expands Pre-K to 15 additional counties, details income eligibility requirements (127%-185% of FPL depending on the circumstances), and increases spending by $10 million including $1million for an online preschool program. It also contains voucher language that allows an eligible student in the Pre-K pilot program to get a private school voucher for kindergarten at that same choice scholarship school. The Institute is excited that Pre-K in Indiana is expanding and more families will have access to the family-wide benefits of early childhood education! *UPDATE - Governor Holcomb signed this bill into law on April 26, 2017.

REMOVE BARRIERS TO ADULT EDUCATION & WORKFORCE TRAINING: Allow for better coordination of skills training, higher education and necessary support services. Increase support for the Indiana Adult Student Grant and the WorkINdiana training program, and create Indiana’s first fund for job-driven adult literacy.

SB 198 Career and technical education (Long) and HB 1008 were the workforce bills the Institute followed throughout the session to ensure that the Workforce Ready Grant was included. This grant helps Hoosiers as they seek training and certification for high-value jobs. At one point the language was removed, but is in the final version of SB 198 which passed as a hybrid with HB 1008. The Senate passed the bill with a 50-0 vote and the House passed it with a 98-0 vote. This is a great step in connecting Indiana employees with the thousands of openings for high-demand, high wage  jobs. 

SB 108 Education matters (Kruse) had a technical correction in the last days of the session. It requires, among other things, the department of workforce development to commission an entity that specializes in improving access to adult literacy programs to: (1) prepare and submit a report regarding adult literacy programs to the legislative council; and (2) present the report to the state workforce innovation council. Literacy is an important factor in determining employment and thus self-sufficiency; the Institute wants to help ensure that Hoosiers have access to quality programs that put them in the best position to succeed. 
There were two work-sharing unemployment insurance bills that did not get hearings this session, HB 1212 Work sharing unemployment benefit (Hatfield) and HB 1464 Work sharing unemployment benefits (Carbaugh). The legislature missed an opportunity to help employers reduce layoffs by cutting hours wages and spare employees the hardship of full unemployment.

ASSISTS & REBOUNDS: Help Hoosiers rebound more quickly from tough times by removing the asset test from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility requirements and raising Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) eligibility to 50 percent of the federal poverty level.

We had some great success in this area, but also some frustrating missed opportunities. Good news first, SB 154 Removal of asset limits for SNAP eligibility (Merritt) passed, increasing the asset limit to $5000. This will help families save, while still getting much needed food assistance. *UPDATE - The Governor signed SB 154 into law on April 27, 2017. Huzzah!

The bad news, SB 9 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and drug convictions (Merritt) made it through the Senate, but did not move in the House. Currently, those with other felonies are eligible for food assistance. There is no good reason this benefit should not be extended to those with prior drug convictions too. A subject of much legislation this session was the opioid epidemic in Indiana. The argument was made that if we want to stop this epidemic, we need to make sure those in recovery, who may have drug felonies, can get food assistance in order to stay clean. Even that was not convincing enough for some members. This is a topic that the Institute will continue to support and work on.

Another disappointing missed opportunity was SB 527 TANF eligibility (Stoops), which was heard in Senate Family and Children Services, but never acted upon. This bill would have increased access to TANF by changing income eligibility and would have removed the dollar amounts dictated in statute, which has not kept up with inflation. Hopefully, this is something legislators will be more amenable to in the future.  

QUALITY OF LIFE & QUALITY OF WORK: Ensure that all working Hoosiers can balance work, family and household budgets through policies that promote fair scheduling, paid leave and high-quality, well-paying jobs. 

The legislature took a step towards increasing the quality of life and work by passing SB 253 Study of voluntary paid family and medical leave (Tallian). There is data being collected now on some options for paid family and medical leave programs, which will be presented to the summer study committee. The Institute is hopeful there will be open ears and that the General Assembly continues to take steps forward on this.

This policy point had several missed opportunities including SB 318 Minimum wage (Mrvan), HB 1183 Employee paid sick leave (Lawson), HB 1442 Paid sick and safe leave (Porter), and SB 3 Paid personal leave (Randolph). Legislators may be more willing to move legislation like this forward after the summer study when they have heard some of the options.

BUILD A MORE JUST HOOSIER ECONOMY, STARTING WITH EQUITABLE BUDGET CHOICES: Make equitable budget choices that remedy Indiana’s regressive tax structure, increase economic mobility for working families and promote a more just economy for all Hoosiers.

HB 1001 Biennial budget (Brown) is a huge document (183 pages!), and includes, among many other things, $22M/year for Pre-K expansion with $1M/year earmarked for online Pre-K reimbursement, $300,000/year for food banks, $970,000/year for Individual Development Accounts,  $5M/year for WorkINdiana Program, and $7,579,858/year for adult student grants.

HB 1002 Transportation infrastructure funding (Soliday) increased gas tax by $0.10 per gallon, created a new registration fee, and moves gas sales tax funds to road funding over the next several years.

The Institute had over 100 bills on its tracking list this session. Though many did not make it past the first set of deadlines, there were several notable ones that did. These bills have passed both chambers, but have not yet been signed by the Governor.

HB 1470 Government information (Ober) passed 93-2 in the House and 37-13 in the Senate. A main concern was privacy of personal information that Hoosiers entrust to the state. Hopefully, the management performance hub will be able to use public data released to them to solve issues that will impact Hoosiers for the better.

HB 1523 Search fee for public records request (Richardson) has been signed by the President Pro Tempore and the Speaker and heads to the Governor’s desk. When it goes into effect in July, it will interesting to see the affect it has on public records requests and if the cost is burdensome to individuals, political parties, companies, and research organizations like the Institute.*UPDATE - Governor Holcomb vetoed this bill.

SB 312 Use of criminal history information in hiring (Boots) is on its way to the Governor’s desk. The Institute, the ACLU, and the NAACP among others have signed a letter asking Governor Holcomb not to sign SB 312 without an executive order to Ban the Box for state employees. This legislation preempts local ability to address the unique employment circumstances in different areas and help portions of the population obtain meaningful employment. *UPDATE - Governor Holcomb will sign SB 312, but has said he will also sign an executive order banning the box for State employees. See IIWF's press release on the Governor's announcement.

SB 558 Leases and sales of real property (Holdman) is on its way to the Governor. The Institute fought against this bill as it preempts local ability to solve affordable housing problems by limiting requirements municipalities can put on new developments. It also defines occupancy standards by room (2 per specified sleeping area) instead of square feet. This could cause families with three children to rent three bedroom apartments instead of two, increasing housing costs by hundreds if not thousands per year.

These bills are law!

SB 242 Indiana housing first program (Merritt) was signed into law on April 21. This establishes a Housing First program in Indiana that helps find housing and support services for those with mental health and addiction challenges. Reliable housing can help individuals tackle the next step towards self-sufficiency like transportation, employment, and savings.

SB 307 Veteran preference for employment and training (Hershman) fits right in to the discussion of the Indiana economy and increasing access to employment and improved skills. This bill was signed into law on April 21, and will hopefully connect service members and their families to jobs that acknowledge and build upon their service and skills.

HB 412 529 Education savings plan matters (Koch) was signed into law on April 13. It excludes 529 education savings plans from asset tests for some scholarships and grants and for certain public assistance programs (LIHEAP, TANF, and Medicaid).

HB 1268 Traffic amnesty program (Shackleford) was signed into law at the end of March. This bill assigns to a study committee the topic of lower traffic fines and fees for certain individuals. Removing barriers to a driver’s license is not only beneficial to working families who need transportation to work, but to the economy who gains reliable workers.

More missed opportunities:

Food Supply – SB 277 Healthy food initiative program (Head) and HB 1425 Fresh food initiative (Olthoff) would have helped businesses and other legal entities to provide fresh food options for underserved geographic areas, which are sometimes known as food deserts.

Child Care – SB 364 Child care tax credit (Stoops) was heard in Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure and Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy, but failed to advance. Child care costs are incredibly expensive and this could have helped families pay for quality care as they work or go to school.

Criminal History and Employment – HB 1267 Former offenders (Shackleford) would have done the opposite of SB 312 by prohibiting employers from asking about criminal history information until they are sure the applicant meets the minimum employment requirements. This would have been an opportunity to give those who have served their time a second chance by increasing their ability to even get interviews for jobs. HB 1611 Tax incentive for hiring ex-offenders (Mayfield) would have done just that, also increasing the ability of former offenders to find gainful employment.

You can see how ALL the bills on the Institute’s Inside the Statehouse watch list fared by going to this blog post. It will be updated for a few more weeks until all the bills have been signed, left to become law after 7 days with no signature, or vetoed. 


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L-R: Amy Carter, Andrew Bradley, Jessica Fraser, and Erin Macey

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