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2/25/2019 Chamber

This Week at the Statehouse


What. A. Week. If last week we ended on a super high, this week took us to a much lower low. As most have read in the media, the bias crimes bill (SB 12) had an incredible hearing in the Senate Public Policy committee on Monday. The supporters of the bill that testified outnumbered those that opposed nearly 5-1 during the almost 4-hour meeting. The most prominent members of the business, civic, education, and interfaith communities came together to support a strong bill and it worked – the committee voted out the bill 9-1.

The following day, the bill moved to the full Senate, and Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) offered an amendment to the bill that removed the enumerated list of characteristics and reporting requirements and instead allowed for language that provides that a court may consider bias in imposing a criminal sentence – effectively gutting the bill. The bill passed out of the full Senate in this form by a vote of 39-10 – with the sole Republican no vote coming from one of the bill’s original authors, Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) who said he gave his word that he could not support a bill that did not include sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill now moves to the House, where the sponsors include Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Avon) who has not been supportive of a list, and Rep. Tony Cook (R-Hamilton Heights) who supports a fully-inclusive bill. The Speaker of the House has made his intentions clear in a press conference when he stated that “we will get off of the list, without a list.”

On the smoking front, there isn’t much better news. SB 425, authored by Sen. Randy Head (R-Logansport) seeks to increase the age limit of the purchasing of tobacco products passed out of Senate Health committee and was recommitted to the Senate Tax and Fiscal committee due to the $14 million price tag attached to the bill. Ultimately, this was the downfall for the bill – as that price tag caused the second committee not to hear the bill and the bill is now dead for the session. Essentially, by increasing the age of the purchasing of tobacco products would mean less smokers, which means less tax revenue going to the state’s general fund, and therefore the bill could not move. It seems like a ridiculous argument – but dollars speak in this tight budget season. The bill’s author hopes that there is an opportunity to amend the language into another omnibus bill moving in the second half of the legislative session.

The cigarette tax increase stand-alone bills did not move, and a cigarette tax increase was not put in the House Republican version of the budget. There was a Democrat amendment to increase the tax to the budget, authored by Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) that was also voted down. However all is not completely lost on the smoking reform front as Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) was able to successfully move HB 1444 which would allow for taxation of electronic cigarettes.
 
The good news is that we are only halfway through the legislative session. There are still two months left for businesses to have a voice in the pursuit of a bias crimes bill and legislation to decrease tobacco use in Hoosiers. We are only just now getting started.