State lawmakers have reached the halfway point in this year’s short session, but debates over legislation remain, as do many unresolved issues.
Though Republicans have super-majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate, they are having disagreements over proposed bills about vaccine mandates and cuts to business taxes. The House has pushed the bills through to the Senate, where there is resistance among some senators.
Here’s a look at the status of some of the bills most likely to affect you.
Vaccine mandate bill debated
Bills aimed at vaccine mandates and ending the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic are likely to pass this session, though both chambers are at an impasse on how to do so.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has strong support for the administrative steps needed to end the emergency, but the question of whether the state should limit businesses from imposing workplace vaccination requirements has delayed any action. House Bill 1001 passed in a 57-35 vote, and would restrict employers who require the COVID-19 vaccine by also requiring them to grant medical or religious exemptions to anyone who requests them. It would also put measures in place to allow the state to continue to receive additional federal funding after the emergency ends, the bill says.
Business groups and health experts opposed the House bill, saying it would interfere with their business decisions. Aspire Johnson County, the county’s chamber, has advocated for the freedom of businesses to create health and safety standards that work for them. Employers are equipped and informed to decide how health and safety guidance best fits their businesses, customers and employees, Aspire says.
Last month, local lawmakers said they were aware of the concerns businesses have and were discussing how to address them. They were adamant the bill is not a prohibition on mandates, and would give employees different rights and other options compared to a mandate, State Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, said during a January Aspire event.
The government’s role is to provide the best information possible about the vaccines so Hoosiers can decide for themselves. It’s an individual choice that could have consequences, but it’s a choice people can weigh themselves, State Rep. John Young, R-Franklin, said last month.
The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 3, would do essentially the same thing without restricting a business’ right to impose vaccination requirements. It passed the Senate in a 34-11 vote.
Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, had said he wanted a “clean” emergency order bill, without the controversial vaccine mandate language he said made it a “heavier bill.” Following the House’s passage of HB 1001, Bray told the Indianapolis Business Journal his caucus wants to have further discussions about finding the right balance between letting people make their own decisions about their health, and allowing businesses to decide what’s best for their workplaces.
HB 1001 has been assigned to the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee, where it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. SB 3 has been assigned to the House Public Health Committee, where it also had not been scheduled for a hearing as of Monday afternoon.
Business tax change bill in doubt
Senate Republicans remain resistant to the House GOP’s plans for broad cuts to Indiana’s business and individual income taxes.
HB 1002, which passed the House 68-25, would cut the state’s business personal property, individual income, sales and utility receipts taxes. Lawmakers say it could cut more than $1 billion a year in various taxes, but Holcomb and local governments are concerned about how it will affect the economy down the line.
The bill would also expand the number of Hoosiers who would typically be eligible for a tax refund, which would allow more Hoosiers to get the $125 payment state lawmakers are adding to refunds from the state’s budget surplus this year. But a change to how business personal property taxes are assessed on new equipment would cost Johnson County taxing units millions, local officials say.
The proposal would give business owners a 10-year tax holiday beginning in 2024, from the 30% maximum depreciation floor for all new equipment that qualifies under the Business Personal Property Tax. These are typically large pieces of equipment purchased to facilitate manufacturing, sorting or warehousing functions at large businesses.
State Rep. Chris May, R-Bedford, said last month eliminating the tax would encourage investment and allow businesses to pay an amount more closely based on the true value of the equipment. Lawmakers also planned on ensuring that homeowners and schools aren’t negatively impacted by the reduction in revenue, he said last month.
Local governments are concerned the bill would cause them to lose tax revenue, forcing them to shift the burden to homeowners. Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, an organization representing cities and towns across the state, says taxing units could lose $1 billion. The cities of Franklin and Greenwood joined AIM in asking for changes to the bill, including any cuts to include full replacement of revenues.
HB 1002 has been assigned to the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, though its future is uncertain. A similar bill, SB368, was pulled due to similar concerns regarding its impact on local government funding.
Changes coming to current laws
Three likely-to-pass-bills this session would see changes to the state’s turn signal law, revise the legal definition of rape and remove the handgun permit requirement.
SB 124 would remove a requirement for Hoosier motorists to signal at certain distances before changing lanes. The bill would repeal a law requiring Indiana drivers to issue their intention to turn at 200 feet, or to change lanes at 300 feet in a 50 mph or higher zone.
The bill, if it becomes law, would take effect Jan. 1, and would also require that motorists signal turns and lane changes within “a reasonable time” before completing them. SB 124 also requires Hoosiers who are subject to both an administrative and court-ordered license suspension file a petition for specialized driving privileges in the court that ordered the suspension, the bill says.
HB 1079 would close a loophole in Indiana law to legally define what consent is when it comes to rape. The legal criteria for rape would be expanded to include situations where a person engages in sexual activity with another person under the belief they are someone else the person knows, and where the belief is intentionally caused by any sort of pretense or concealment by the subject. The definition would also be expanded to include situations where a person engages in sexual activity with another person and the person has expressed a lack of consent, either verbally or through conduct, to sexual activity, the bill says.
HB 1077 would remove the requirement that adults apply for a handgun permit, and would allow anyone 18 or older to carry a handgun except for reasons such as having a felony conviction or a dangerous mental illness. But those who want a handgun will still need to complete a form with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Additionally, the bill would move theft of a firearm from a Level 6 Felony to a Level 5, which carries a sentence of 1-6 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, the bill says.
SB 124 passed the Senate unanimously, and has been assigned to the House Roads and Transportation Committee. HB 1079 passed the House 86-3, and is now before the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee. HB 1077 passed the House 64-29, and has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. All three bills were awaiting hearing dates Monday afternoon.
The legislative session is scheduled to end by mid-March.