Friday, February 9, 2018

We’ve reached the halfway point in the 2018 Legislative Session, so it’s time for a 'half-time' recap. Our policy agenda this year focuses on the 1 in 3 Hoosiers who are underwater and the six policy solutions that could right the ship.

Is #INLegis making progress to remove the anchors weighing families down and keeping them underwater?

PROTECT HOOSIERS FROM PAYDAY LENDING with a rate cap and protection from dangerous new predatory products.

Instead of reforming existing payday loan products, the House narrowly passed HB1319  which would allow payday lenders to offer installment products at triple the current criminal loansharking rate of 72% APR. A diverse coalition is fighting this bill, including veterans’ organizations, religious groups, and consumer advocates.  Polling shows that 88 percent of Hoosiers support capping payday products at 36% APR. SB416 would also have allowed triple-digit APR loans, but was transformed into a study bill. In other words, the legislature will take a closer look at the effects of the bill and weigh in on whether they believe the bill should continue to be pursued further in its current form next year. This gives us the opportunity to talk with lawmakers over the summer about our lending laws and ensuring that proper checks and balances on loan institutions remain in place. SB416 passed out of the Senate and is moving to the House. 

A bill the Institute supported, SB325, died in the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee. SB 325 would have established a 36% APR cap on payday loans.

See our factsheet on HB1319 and call your Senators to ask them not to approve any new installment loans above 36% APR.

• REQUIRE EMPLOYERS TO PROVIDE REASONABLE PREGNANCY ACCOMMODATIONS so women don’t have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a paycheck.

HB1344 would have prohibited employers from discriminating against pregnant women and required that employers provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace. Addressing the needs of pregnant women and employment is an important step toward closing the wage gap between men and women, and would allow women to continue working while maintaining a healthy pregnancy. It also aligns well with the Governor's desire to address infant mortality, as new research suggests a link between maternal stress and preterm birth. We are disappointed that the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee did not hold a hearing on this bill.

HB1388 would have required certain employers allow employees to earn up to one week paid sick leave per year. While this bill does not specifically address pregnancy accommodations, paid leave is an important step in addressing the health and financial stability of all employees.  Indiana’s lawmakers missed an opportunity to provide Hoosiers with much-needed time off without penalty to address health concerns. Paid sick leave is important for creating and maintaining a healthy and productive workforce.

SB309 would have created a state family leave insurance program. Family leave allows caregivers to spend time with their newborns, critically ill children, and aging loved ones without losing much-needed income. This bill did not receive a hearing, but the Institute will host five screenings of the documentary Zero Weeks between April and November of 2018 to prompt conversations about this important topic. Be sure to follow us on Facebook to see our event listings. 

Read our Pregnancy Accommodations Fact Sheet here.

Ensure there are enough life preservers for those who need them.

• REFORM TANF’S ELIGIBILITY GUIDELINES AND BENEFIT LEVELS so that their values cease to erode and are indexed to inflation moving forward.

SB79 Would have set the income eligibility requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program at not more than 50% of the federal income poverty level. The bill died in the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee. SB79 would have also adjusted TANF Benefits to 2017 dollars and indexed them to cost of living adjustments moving forward. We were grateful to Senators Lanane, Stoops and Ford for co-authoring this important piece of legislation. The state missed out on an opportunity to update the safety net for Indiana’s most vulnerable Hoosiers, helping them achieve stability so they can begin the journey to self-sufficiency.

• ELIMINATE THE LIFETIME BAN ON SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) for people who have served their time for drug felonies.

SB11 passed the Senate and is now on its way to the House. SB11 calls for Indiana to opt out of the federal lifetime ban from SNAP for people who have served their time for felony drug convictions. A person with a felony conviction makes, on average, about $10,000 in their first year of release. In addition, many people with felony drug convictions are dealing with long-term effects of substance dependency issues, have restitution and fines to pay, and struggle to find work sufficient to meet their needs. Proper nutrition is vital to the successful recovery from substance dependency and the overall mental and physical health of those working to rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient. We are working to encourage lawmakers in the House to pass this bill and join the 46 other states which have already opted out of the ban and committed to providing people with the support needed to for a second chance.

HB1285, another bill addressing SNAP, began as a bill to implement real time income (RTI) verification along with other changes to SNAP like prohibiting the waiver for work requirements when unemployment is high. RTI was introduced this session as a "cost control" method for SNAP; however. we have concerns and question whether it would save the program money or just create instability for people who need access to food assistance. Beyond RTI, we have concerns over a prohibition on the work requirement waiver. The waiver was a beneficial tool during the recession, allowing Hoosiers access to nutrition assistance when unemployment was high. A permanent prohibition would limit SNAP's reach if our economy takes a downturn or if certain communities face high unemployment. The bill has passed the House as a study, which will look at the potential affects of these changes and what they mean for the state as well as SNAP recipients.

Provide Hoosiers with the propeller we need to steer us toward economic security and broad prosperity.

• IMPROVE ON MY WAY PRE-K BY REMOVING ‘SERVICE NEED’ RED TAPE so more kids can participate in pre-K to learn & thrive.

The House failed to pass HB1042, HB1042 would have removed the work requirement to qualify for early childhood education. The work requirement is problematic for a few reasons. If a child is living with a disabled parent or grandparents who are unable to work for reasons of health or otherwise, the child does not qualify for the grant. In addition, some families struggle with obtaining the affordable childcare necessary to search for and go to work. Some families need the child to be enrolled and attending an early childhood education program to allow a parent's child free time to search, interview and go to work.

• SUPPORT INDIANA’S WORKFORCE by removing non-academic barriers to adult student completion, boosting adult literacy, and adding a work-sharing program.

HB1002, a bill to reorganize Indiana's workforce funding and programs, passed third reading in the House. HB1002 passed with an amendment from the Ways and Means committee allowing for prioritization of adults in the Workforce Ready Grant program. SB50, the Workforce Development; Career and Technical Education bill passed out of committee with language adding a panel to review college and career funding and a new Secretary of Workforce Training, as well as a 'real world career readiness program' for high school students. There is still a lot of work to be done on these bills to adequately address the needs of low income, low skilled workers and adult students. HB1002 is now on its way to the House, and SB50 is on its way to the House.

SB1245 calls for the state to review licensing restrictions as they apply to people with criminal convictions and decide which specific crimes are applicable in consideration of a license and which are not. The bills aim is to remove blanket restrictions and assure that restrictions placed are appropriate to the crime committed. Currently Indiana has 145 licenses which are inaccessible to people with felony or misdemeanor offences. The House passed HB1245 by a narrow margin. It is now on its way to the Senate where we will continue to work to remove unneccesary restrictions to employment placed upon people with criminal backgrounds while monitoring other bill provisions that preempt local licensing fees.

In addition to SB1245, SB399 also addresses licensing concerns and regulation of employment. The bill charges a business ombudsman with the task of reviewing licenses for the least restrictive regulation. It also creates a process for people who have a criminal background, not including a felony, to check to see whether the employment license in which they are seeking is available to them. The bill will also create a petition process to plead for and obtain a license if a criminal history is a barrier. The bill passed out of the Senate on third reading.

The State continued to address licensing issues this session with SB419, which removes duplicate licensing requirements between State licensing and Municipal licensing. Under SB419 if a person has been licensed by the State then they are eligible to work in any state county without also being required to obtain a county license to operate. This bill attempts to reduce redundancies in licensing to allow workers to work freely anywhere in the state.  SB419 passed third reading in the Senate and is on its way to the House.

HB1198, Would have established a work sharing unemployment insurance program requiring a participating employer to submit a work sharing plan for approval by the commissioner of the department of workforce development. Work sharing programs help to protect people in the event of an economic down turn by allowing companies to keep people employed part-time, maintaining their job and pay.

Other Moving Bills and Missed Oppertunities:

SB142 Maternal Mortality Review passed the Senate and is on its way to the House. 

SB374 Individual Development Accounts would have allowed individuals with unearned income to participate in the Individual Development Account program, a proven strategy to help low-income families build assets. The bill did not have a hearing this session as there were some pieces of the bill that needed some further study. However, we expect this legislation to be consider next session and we will continue to support its passage.

While HB1152 Traffic Amnesty Program passed the House Courts and Criminal Code committee 10-0, it was referred to the Ways and Means committee where it was not heard and therefore died. This is unfortunate because the bill would have greatly reduced reinstatement fees for hundreds of thousands of low-income Hoosiers whose driver's licenses are suspended for non-safety related reasons, thereby allowing them to drive to work and training programs.

Both SB93 Fair pay in Employment and HB1390 Equal Pay would have made discriminating pay practices based upon sex illegal. Neither the House or Senate advanced the bill beyond committee and allowed the bill to die. This is a disappointment, especially given the main focus of the General Assemble for the 2018 session has been workforce development. The gender pay gap is a persistent problem in Indiana, which requires discussion and the action of lawmakers to begin setting policies to close the gap. As a state we need to have policy conversations within General Assemble focused on addressing the pay gap as we work to advance the Hoosier workforce. 

By failing to hear SB308 Minimum Wage, policy makers passed on an opportunity to raise the minimum wage to more effectively keep pace with the rising cost of living in Indiana.  SB308 would have increased the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $11.31 per hour. "Even as Indiana’s economy emerges from the Great Recession, many of the longer-term trends continue, particularly stagnating wages, widening income inequality, and rising costs. As a result, many find that even with full-time jobs, they are unable to stretch their wages to pay for basic necessities. Indeed, in many places in Indiana, the gap between income and expenses has continued to widen, as the costs of food, housing, transportation, health care, and other essentials have risen—even during the Great Recession—while wages have not." (The Self Sufficiency Standard for Indiana 2016) Lawmakers passed up an opportunity to help raise many Hoosiers out of poverty by raising the minimum wage to a level which allows families to meet basic needs. 

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