April 23, 2021

Weekly Statehouse Update: Session Ends, Lawmakers Pass $37 Billion Two-Year Budget

Article origination IPBS-RJC
The Indiana Statehouse. - Brandon Smith/IPB News

The Indiana Statehouse.

Brandon Smith/IPB News

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approve a $37 billion state budget. Unemployment benefits will be taxed. And a ban on vaccine passports.

Here’s what you might have missed this week at the Statehouse.

Indiana’s legislative session came to an end Thursday, though lawmakers expect to return in the fall for redistricting.

Budget

The new, two-year state budget was bolstered by billions of dollars in the session’s final days, both with federal COVID-19 relief money and increased state revenues. That led to an unprecedented increase for K-12 education funding and long-awaited provisions meant to raise teacher pay. Across 150 lawmakers, only five voted against the budget, support not seen in recent memory.

Unemployment benefit taxes

Not included in the budget was a break for Hoosiers who received unemployment benefits last year. The federal government allowed some of those benefits to be tax deductible. Hoosier Republicans opted not to do the same for the state income tax, arguing Indiana has always taxed those benefits.

Vaccine passports ban

Hoosier lawmakers passed a ban on COVID-19 vaccine passports in the waning hours of the 2021 legislative session Thursday.

The legislation, HB 1405, simply bans the state or local governments from issuing or requiring COVID-19 vaccine passports, showing proof of immunization status.

Earlier language this session also implicated private businesses. But House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said he wanted the final product focused only on what the government could and couldn’t do.

Local Health Orders

It’s going to be a lot harder for local health officials to create and enforce temporary restrictions during a public emergency under legislation approved Wednesday.

The bill, SB 5, says local health officials have to get approval from their local legislative body – county commissioners or city council – to pass emergency rules that are stricter than anything the state puts in place.

So, for instance, if a county health officer wants to impose a mask mandate now that Gov. Eric Holcomb ended the statewide order, their county commissioners must vote to do so.

Pregnancy Accommodations

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order Tuesday giving pregnant employees in state agencies the right to reasonable workplace accommodations. But he also signed a bill into law that tells private employers they don’t have to grant accommodations when their employees ask.

The executive order tells state agencies they must provide pregnant workers with temporary accommodations like longer break times, the ability to sit or stand for comfort, and a private space for expressing breast milk.

Overweight Trucks

Thousands more overweight trucks could be headed to Indiana highways soon under legislation on its way to the governor’s desk.

Current law sets the weight limit for trucks at 80,000 pounds. However, if you’re hauling steel, paper or agricultural products, you can get special permits to haul 120,000 pounds.

Rep. Jim Pressel’s (R-Rolling Prairie) bill, HB 1190, would open up 120,000 pound truck weights to anyone.

Pressel said it’s about parity. The current system, he argued, picks winners and losers.

Water, Sewer Service

A bill that aims to help communities with failing septic systems connect to city water and sewer service is heading to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

According to the Indiana Department of Health, more than 20,000 septic systems in Indiana need to be repaired or replaced every year. Failing septic systems can leak wastewater into local streams and lakes. It can also get into drinking water wells and make people sick.

But hooking up to new water and sewer service is expensive. House Bill 1287 would allow a utility to waive the cost for that service for underserved communities and raise rates on its existing customers instead.

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