Monday Feb. 10, 2014
The 2014 legislative session passed the half-way mark last week, as good a time as any to take stock of what's been going on at the statehouse in Indianapolis.
Here's a look at where a few key bills stand and where Elkhart County's all-Republican delegation stands on them:
BUSINESS PROPERTY TAX: The House and Senate each approved measures to trim business property taxes in Indiana, inspired by Gov. Mike Pence's call to completely do away with the tax, which applies to machinery, equipment and other business property. Many local government officials are leery of the legislation, worried it'll reduce yet again the tax funds flowing into local coffers.
Senate Bill 1 would eliminate the business tax, which generates around $1 billion a year total, on smaller businesses, those with less than $25,000 in machinery. It would also reduce the corporate income tax rate from 6.5 percent to 4.9 percent by 2019. Sens. Carlin Yoder of Middlebury, Joe Zakas of Granger and Ryan Mishler of Bremen all voted for it.
House Bill 1001 would eliminate the business property tax only on new equipment and only in counties where officials agree to such change. Reps. Tim Wesco of Osceola, Wes Culver of Goshen, Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse and Dave Ober of Albion voted for it. Rep. Tim Neese of Elkhart voted against it.
If something's to ultimately become law, the House and Senate will have to reach some sort of middle ground on the two proposals.
MARRIAGE AMENDMENT: House Joint Resolution 3 would define marriage in the Indiana Constitution as the union of one man and one woman, prohibiting same-sex marriage. Wesco, Culver, Ober and Neese backed the measure in the House while Kubacki opposed it.
Neese and Kubacki backed an amendment, ultimately approved, that removed a provision of HJR 3 that would have prohibited civil unions. Wesco, Culver and Ober opposed that amendment.
Now the Indiana Senate takes up HJR 3. Yoder and Zakas have expressed support for the measure, which would ultimately have to be approved by voters in a referendum.
DRUG TESTING OF WELFARE RECIPIENTS: House Bill 1351 passed 71-22 and Culver, Kubacki, Neese, Ober and Wesco all voted for it and it now goes to the Senate for consideration. Kubacki, Culver and Neese are co-authors in the House and Yoder is a sponsor in the Senate.
The proposal, echoing a similar measure that ultimately failed last year, would create a drug-testing program for those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare benefits, or TANF. It also creates new guidelines for food and beverages purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding, better known as food stamps.
PRE-SCHOOL VOUCHERS: House Bill 1004, to create preschool vouchers for eligible students, passed the House 87-9, with the support of Kubacki and Neese. It goes to the Senate. Culver, Ober and Wesco opposed it.
COMMON CORE: Senate Bill 91 would effectively eliminate implementation of national Common Core educational standards in Indiana schools. It passed 36-12 in the Senate with backing from Yoder, Zakas and Mishler and now goes to the House.
The national educational standards are seen as an intrusion by some conservative critics and the bill calls for implementation of standards developed in Indiana.
GUN BUYBACK: Senate Bill 229, which would prohibit law enforcement agencies from destroying firearms acquired in buyback programs, passed 28-21 with the backing of Mishler and Yoder. Zakas opposed it.
The measure, which doesn't apply to weapons with serial numbers removed, goes to the House.
ADOPTION: A measure authored by Kubacki that would create a state tax credit for those adopting children, House Bill 1222, passed unanimously in the House, 94-0. It goes on to the Senate.
LOCAL OPTION INCOME TAX: A proposal sought by Elkhart County officials that would have created another mechanism to increase the local income tax to offset losses due to property tax caps has faded.
House Bill 1405, authored by Wesco, would have created a means for individual counties to raise the local income tax enough to offset 75 percent of tax cap losses, up to 1 percent. It never made it out of committee and Wesco said Friday that it hasn't gained traction.
SMOKING: House Bill 1029, authored by Culver, would have allowed employers to hire and fire based on whether someone smokes or not. It never made it out of committee.
INCOME TAXES: House Bill 1281, also authored by Culver and sought by many local leaders in Elkhart County, stalled in committee.
It aimed to make sure counties get all the income tax revenue they're due from the state. Locals complain that they don't get all the revenue they should after employers send employee withholding taxes to Indianapolis.
Though the measure, echoing a similar proposal last year, stalled, Culver said the Indiana Department of Revenue progresses in efforts to better track income tax revenue coming in from Indiana counties.
RV SALES TAX: A measured co-authored by Neese that would have eliminated the sales tax on recreational vehicles sold to out-of-state buyers, House Bill 1109, never made it out of committee.
Look here and here for more information on pending bills.
Tim Vandenack is a reporter at the Elkhart Truth newspaper. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-296-5884. Visit him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack.