INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana Chamber of Commerce announced Monday enactment of a right-to-work law is its top legislative priority for 2012, though the state's largest business group also will push for an indoor smoking ban, local government reform and changes in tax law and education policy.
"Passing a right-to-work law is the single most important action our lawmakers can take to put more Hoosiers back to work," said Chamber President Kevin Brinegar. "A right-to-work law would open the door to attracting new and expanding companies and the numerous jobs they bring."
The Chamber claims businesses selecting among states in which to locate often will not consider Indiana because it does not have a right-to-work law, which exempts nonunion workers at an union workplace from paying fair share fees for services they receive from the union, such as collective bargaining.
"Indiana is automatically out of the running in far too many instances," Brinegar said.
Critics of right-to-work claim the labor policy leads to reduced wages and benefits for union and nonunion employees, which hurts small businesses by taking money out of their customers' hands.
"All of the people out there who are just so quick to follow the Chamber of Commerce's argument ought to start thinking about, 'How is my business going to be affected by this?'" said Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville.
While leaders of the Republican majorities in the Indiana House and Senate have both endorsed right-to-work, Democrats are expected to fiercely oppose the proposal, which could jeopardize action on the rest of the Chamber's agenda.
The business group told its members Monday it will once again support passage of an indoor workplace smoking ban. State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, has led the effort for a statewide smoking ban for years and is likely to do so again next year.
The Chamber also wants changes in local government to eliminate nepotism and prohibit employees of a local government from serving as an elected official of the government they work for.
On tax issues, Brinegar said the Chamber will encourage lawmakers to phase out Indiana's inheritance tax and eliminate the business personal property tax.
The Chamber also will work to protect the state's education reforms enacted earlier this year, including state vouchers for private school tuition and expanded charter schools, but will seek to eliminate the dues check-off for members of teacher's unions, which would force unions to collect dues directly from teachers rather than through a paycheck deduction, Brinegar said.
The Indiana General Assembly will meet Tuesday for its ceremonial Organization Day session. Regular meetings of the 100-member House and 50-member Senate begin Jan. 4 and continue through mid-March.