Supporting driving cards for undocumented immigrants, tax cuts for businesses and access to child care are among the top priorities of business leaders as Indiana lawmakers prepare to return to the Statehouse next year to pass a two-year budget.
Members of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce laid out their agenda during the chamber’s annual legislative preview luncheon on Monday. Party leaders from the House and Senate were also present to detail their goals for the 2024 session.
Lawmakers will meet Tuesday for their annual organization day at the Statehouse in advance of the 2024 session, which begins in early January and runs through the end of March.
Driving cards for the undocumented
The Chamber will continue to back a measure that has failed to gain legislative support in recent years, despite support from both political parties.
Several bills have been introduced to make available driving cards for undocumented immigrants in past sessions—including last year, when a bill from Sens. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen, and David Niezgodski, D-South Bend, failed to make it past the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Adam Berry, vice president of economic development and technology at the Indiana Chamber, said driving privilege cards will improve public safety and give undocumented residents of Indiana a greater sense of security. It would also allow undocumented immigrants to obtain auto insurance.
If passed, Indiana would become the 20th state in the nation to approve such a law.
“What we’ve seen in those states that have similar legislation are fewer hit-and-run accidents, better interactions with law enforcement, and 75% of the undocumented drivers in those states have auto insurance,” Berry said. “This is an issue that the Indiana Chamber has and will continue to champion for the foreseeable future.”
Early child care access
Last year, lawmakers took some steps to improve child care access in Indiana, including increasing family eligibility for the state’s On My Way Pre-K program and the child care development fund. They also initiated a third-party review of the state’s existing regulatory framework for child care.
In the 2024 session, business leaders plan to lobby for automatically allowing child care workers to qualify for child care vouchers and establishing child care as a free training option under the state’s Next Level Jobs program, said Jason Bearce, vice president for education and workforce development at the Chamber.
Century Foundation, a New York City-based progressive think tank, predicted that 49,000 Hoosier children will lose child care this year as federal grant funding expires.
College and career readiness
Business leaders hope to build on measures that were enacted as part of House Bill 1002, which created state-funded career scholarship accounts students could put toward technical coursework and credentials based on their career aspirations and interests.
Bearce said the Chamber wants employers to have a “greater voice” in that process.
A group of local leaders recently embarked on a trip to Switzerland to study the country’s apprenticeship system, which could serve as a model for K-12 schools in Indiana.
“What doesn’t get nearly as much attention is how they engage their employer community through state chambers of commerce and industry professional associations to make sure educators and parents have a good view of what could be the most in-demand skills and job opportunities down the road,” Bearce said.
The Chamber is also asking for more clarity on what qualifies as a regional intermediary organization, which will serve as a bridge between students and employers. Intermediaries can include workforce development boards—like Employ Indy, the Marion County workforce board—as well as industry trade groups such as the Indiana Manufacturers Association.
Groups such as the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest union representing public school teachers; the Indiana Coalition for Public Education; and the American Federation of Teachers of Indiana opposed House Bill 1002 during last year’s session.
Rather than adding more programs, Indiana should have done more to support existing career technical education programs, they argued.
Health care costs continue to be a major area of concern for Indiana employers.
The Chamber is backing increased Medicaid reimbursement rates to medical providers to offset the cost shift from government plans to commercial employer-sponsored plans.
Cost-shifting happens when health care providers charge commercially insured patients more than Medicaid or Medicare patients for the same service, a practice that is intended to offset shortfalls from public programs, which pay providers significantly less than commercial health plans, according to Greg Ellis, vice president for health care policy and employment law at the Chamber.
“Increasing the reimbursement rates would help correct this cost shift and stabilize employer sponsored plans,” Ellis said. “We recognize the budgetary impact this would have, but working toward addressing employer costs in the health care space has been an admirable goal of the Indiana General Assembly, and we look forward to continuing to work with them on this issue.”
The Chamber also supports a $2 increase in the cigarette tax, which hasn’t been raised since 2007. That would generate over $370 million in revenue in the first year, according to its calculations, which could then be used to help fund increasing Medicaid obligations.
They also argue that it would decrease Indiana’s adult smoking rate, which is the eighth highest in the nation.
Project labor agreements
The Chamber is asking lawmakers to do away with project labor agreements, which shut out non-union workers from participating in construction projects that are supported with taxpayer dollars.
Ashton Eller, vice president of health care and employment law at the Chamber, would like to see the practice stopped.
“Hoosier taxpayers deserve efficient and effective policies that will encourage all qualified contractors to compete to build long lasting quality projects at the best price,” Eller said. “Government-mandated project labor agreements discourage quality contractors—and many construction workers who could not join the union—from bidding and working on projects in their own communities.”
PLAs were nearly banned in the 2023 session, but a bill to restrict the agreements failed to make it out of committee.
Business personal property tax
Business leaders support increasing the threshold for the business personal property tax exemption, a perennial issue for the Chamber.
Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, introduced legislation last year that would have exempted companies that own machinery, equipment and other tangible goods that cost them, in total, less than $250,000, from paying the state’s business personal property tax. The current threshold is $80,000.
The bill was shelved as legislative leaders prioritized the creation of a state task force to review Indiana’s entire tax structure.
“It’s understandable that the Legislature would prefer to take a pause on tax legislation this year and allow the work of the state and local tax review task force to be completed,” said David Ober, vice president of taxation and finance at the Chamber. “However, it’s important that we don’t lose momentum.”