Short Session Long on Achievement

The following is a message from Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar:

It was the tale of two sessions in 2012. Act one centered on making Indiana the 23rd right-to-work state, giving current and future Hoosier workers the right to choose whether or not to join a labor union. Act two set the stage for such vital public policies as a statewide smoking ban, protection of our water rights and the inheritance tax elimination to become reality.

The passage of right-to-work (HB 1001) was truly monumental. Now, Indiana has further distinguished itself from neighboring states and given companies another big reason to bring their business and jobs here – and not there. In the short time since it passed, there has already been documented interest from several companies now putting Indiana at the top of the list for their business relocation or expansion. And it’s only just beginning!

Under the state’s new smoking ban law (HB 1149), Indiana will now protect 95% of people while at work and also allow citizens to eat at any restaurant in the state without having to encounter cigarette or cigar smoke. That will make a huge difference in all parts of the state. Many Hoosier towns are not part of a metro area and did not have a non-smoking ordinance previously in place. This new state law will protect residents in those locations.

Also now covered are companies that wanted to make their workplaces smoke-free but couldn’t due to existing labor agreements. Meanwhile, local governments still can enact stricter ordinances and the ones already passed remain in place. Sure, an even more comprehensive ban would have been preferred. What passed, however, was the strongest possible that could be done at this time and nothing short of a major accomplishment.

You can also count the inheritance tax elimination (SB 293) as a big victory. This tax only amounts to 1% of the total state revenue but made things unnecessarily difficult for so many Hoosiers. For a small family-owned company, the inheritance tax was often a tremendous hindrance to even staying in business after the death of the owner.

Effective at the end of the year, the more favorably-treated Class A category of inheritors expands (to include stepchildren and children’s spouses) and the amount excluded from the tax increases from $100,000 to $250,000. Beginning next year, the inheritance tax will be phased out equally over nine years – going away completely in 2022.

One bill that didn’t get a lot of press, but was among the most important to pass involves the state’s water supply (SB 132). Now water utilities are required to report usage to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission; only 15% of utilities previously did so. It also clarifies the water usage laws to confirm that private property owners, not municipalities, have control of the underground wells on their property. Both are needed steps toward a statewide plan for the protection and effective regulation of Indiana’s water resources.

In the local government arena, a multi-year effort to eliminate nepotism and conflict of interest for local government office holders and employees (HB 1005) finally made it across the finish line. There are too many examples where taxpayers pay for excessive costs because an employee also serves on the legislative body that approves that local government unit’s budget.

The grandfathering in of current employees is too generous, but nonetheless was a positive step that new local government employees will have to abide by.

We thank House and Senate leaders, along with Gov. Daniels, who took on several high-profile, emotional issues this session and guided them to passage. It was a fitting conclusion for Daniels’ final legislative session, with accomplishments that will leave a lasting positive impact on Hoosiers for generations to come.

See the full 2012 Legislative Report and Scorecard.