Business lobbyists returning to the Statehouse after the mid-session break will focus on shepherding two key issues—delaying a hike in unemployment insurance taxes and reforming local government.
Bills on those issues easily cleared their chambers of origin by the Feb. 3 deadline. However, representatives of the Indiana Manufacturers Association and Indiana Chamber of Commerce didn’t want to take success for granted, especially for bills that began in the GOP-dominated Senate and now are moving to the Democrat-controlled House.
Pat Kiely, president of the manufacturers association, said he’s already set up a meeting with House Speaker Pat Bauer to talk about unemployment taxes.
The Senate passed a bill that would delay for one year a planned 70-percent increase in the amount of unemployment taxes paid by employers. The bulk of the burden, an estimated $400 million, was expected to fall to manufacturers and the construction industry.
The House did not have its own version of the bill.
“It’s really in their hands,” Kiely said. “So far, they’ve been working with us. Conversations are cordial.”
After meeting with organized labor, Kiely was optimistic that House Democrats will look favorably on the bill.
“That’s who’s going to get hit by this,” he said. “It will have implications for their members and the companies they work for.”
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce joined the effort to delay the unemployment tax hike, while also pushing to eliminate township governments.
The chamber so far hasn’t gotten the sweeping township government reform its members hoped for, but President Kevin Brinegar was glad to see the issue getting traction in both the Senate and House.
“It’s not exactly in the shape we want it in, but we’re pleased,” he said.
The House bill would have voters in each township decide by referendum whether to keep township trustees and advisory boards.
The Senate bill would eliminate township boards and hand budgetary oversight to county councils. The chamber is asking members to back the Senate version.
The session is anything but an across-the-board win for business interests.
Despite disapproval from the chamber and the manufacturers association, both the House and Senate passed bills that bar employers from making policies against workers keeping firearms in their vehicles while parked on company property.
“The Second Amendment protects you from your government, not your employer—that’s what we tried to argue,” Kiely said.
Representatives from Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins Inc. testified against the National Rifle Association-backed initiative, but to no avail.
The chamber expects a gun-rights bill to land on the governor’s desk and has begun urging members to voice their concerns to Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Stakes were high this session for those who make a living on drink and gambling.
Indiana-based alcohol distributors hoped lawmakers would shore up their defense against Southern Wine & Spirits. The Miami-based wholesaler is trying to enter the market and has challenged an Indiana law that requires alcohol distributors to have their headquarters in the state. Senate Bill 244 reiterated that post-Prohibition-era residency requirement, but it failed to get a vote last week.
Keeping the state’s casinos competitive was a high priority for this session.
The Senate passed a bill that many members felt would do the job without expanding casinos’ geographical footprint, but that probably didn’t satisfy everyone, said Indiana Gaming Insight Publisher Ed Feigenbaum.
The Senate bill ignored a high-profile study committee’s recommendation to allow land-based casinos, which would pave the way for a new casino in northwestern Indiana, and possibly one near Fort Wayne.
Feigenbaum expects that issue to be revived in the House or possibly in conference committee, but he said it won’t be resolved easily.•