2014 Indiana General Assembly

Lots left to do with little time remaining in legislative session

2014-03-09T01:00:00Z 2014-03-10T11:35:11Z Lots left to do with little time remaining in legislative sessionBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com

INDIANAPOLIS | The Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly is likely to wrap up its work this week a day or two ahead of Friday's mandatory adjournment deadline.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he's hoping to "sine die," or adjourn for the year, on Wednesday, though he expects it probably will be Thursday night before he slams down his gavel to close the 2014 legislative session.

Lawmakers are unlikely to meet Friday, even though legally they can, because most senators and representatives are losing their discounted downtown Indianapolis hotel rooms Thursday morning to make room for (full price) visitors attending the Big Ten men's college basketball tournament that tips off Thursday night a few blocks from the Statehouse.

Here's a look at some of the most significant proposals the House and Senate have yet to reach agreement on, and eventually must approve in identical form before adjourning if the measures are to go to Republican Gov. Mike Pence for his signature or veto.

Business tax cut -- House Bill 1001 and Senate Bill 1 take different routes in starting Indiana toward Pence's goal of phasing out the business personal property tax, a levy on business and industrial equipment that provides $1 billion a year for schools and local governments.

The Senate wants to exempt businesses with less than $20,000 in equipment from the tax altogether. Under that plan, nearly half of Hoosier companies no longer would pay the tax, but the statewide revenue hit to locals only would be about $7 million.

The House is seeking to give counties the option of eliminating the tax or localities the choice to abate the tax for up to 25 years, instead of just 10.

Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said negotiations between the House, Senate and governor's office are focused on "more of an option-driven concept."

Both plans cut the corporate income tax rate from 6.5 percent in 2015 to 4.9 percent by the early 2020s. That cut would reduce state revenue by $136 million a year when fully implemented.

Road funding -- House Bill 1002 may allow Pence to spend up to $400 million set aside in last year's budget for transportation projects, such as adding a lane to Interstate 65 between Merrillville and Lowell.

The House authorized using all $400 million now, with $25 million going to local road projects.

But the Senate voted to limit spending to $200 million on state road projects only, and gave Pence the option of transferring the other $200 million into the state's general fund to avoid the budget cuts likely needed to make up for lackluster state revenues.

"We want to look at any kind of funding with an eye toward making sure that we have proper reserves in place," Long said.

Preschool -- House Bill 1004 initially created a pilot preschool voucher program to pay for up to 1,000 low-income 4-year-olds in five to-be-determined counties to attend prekindergarten classes starting in fall 2015.

The Senate rejected the House-approved and Pence-backed preschool plan, and its projected price tag of $20 million, and substituted a study of the state's preschool needs.

South Shore -- Senate Bill 367 closes a Lake County tax loophole and redirects the $4 million in annual savings to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority "to establish or improve public mass transportation systems in Lake County."

That money is expected to be combined with revenue from Lake County cities and towns to create the local match necessary to obtain federal funds to expand the South Shore Line to Dyer.

State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said it will be going to a conference committee this week, but he expects the Lake tax fix and South Shore funding will remain in the compromise.

Lake County tourism -- House Bill 1380 requires the annual budget and any spending by the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority be approved by the Lake County Council.

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said he will ensure that provision stays in the legislation, which addresses various tax and administrative issues.

Rental inspection -- House Bill 1403 limits the ability of local governments to require registration and inspection of rental properties. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. calls it the "Slumlord Protection Act." State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, is a member of the conference committee tasked with shaping its final form.

Guns -- Senate Bill 229 permits licensed handgun carriers to bring guns onto school property so long as the guns are concealed in a locked vehicle. It also allows municipal gun buyback programs to continue if they're not funded by federal, state or local tax dollars.

Common Core -- Senate Bill 91 proposes to terminate Indiana's use of the Common Core educational standards adopted by 45 other states, and replace them July 1 with Indiana-developed standards required by law to be "the highest standards in the United States."

Others -- Include finalizing reforms to the state's criminal code (House Bill 1006), deciding whether to drug test some welfare recipients (House Bill 1351), permit farmers to grow industrial hemp (Senate Bill 357), impose a moratorium on new nursing home beds (Senate Bill 173) and set the interest rate paid to retired government employees who invest their retirement savings in a state-managed annuity (House Bill 1075).

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