FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A day before the state legislature meets for Organization Day at the Statehouse, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce laid out its priorities for the General Assembly going into 2021.
In a virtual preview, the Chamber presented a power point explaining ways to make Indiana fiscally superior to other states, which will position the Hoosier state to be competitive in helping businesses and employees post pandemic.
Statehouse leaders who joined the meeting included Speaker of the House, Todd Huston (R-37th District), Senate President Pro Tempore, Rodric Bray (R-37th District), House Minority Leader, Phil GiaQuinta (D-80th District), and Senate Minority Floor Leader Greg Taylor, (D-33rd District).
The prioties were broken up into two categories: short-term and long-term.
Legal Liability Protection
The Chamber requested the General Assembly enact legal liability protection against COVID-19 related lawsuits. This will protect Hoosier businesses if an employee, customer or any other person tests positive for COVID-19.
“We can’t have employers, schools, or health care facilities being sued or bombarded with lawsuits because someone was in their facility, a week or two weeks ago and has now contracted COVID,” said Kevin Brinegar, Indiana’s Chamber president and CEO. “Now they are claiming they caught it at that facility, when we have no idea what other places and interactions that those individuals had since that time.”
Brinegar added that this is a priority for the federal level, and Indiana needs to enact this protection at the state level as an extra safety net.
Cigarette Tax Increase
A topic that was mentioned multiple times during the preview was the health of Hoosiers. Indiana currently has the fourth highest smoking rate of any state in the country and is at least 50 % higher than the national average.
The Chamber is asking the Statehouse to increase the tax on cigarettes, not only to help increase the state’s finances, but to discourage smoking and vaping.
“We need to improve our health matrix because that is a negative and strike against us when it comes to business expansion and development,” Brinegar said. “The proposed $2 per pack increase in cigarette tax proposed by The Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, which we are a member of, would raise nearly $500 million dollars a year of additional revenue for the state.”
Work Share Program
This priority will adopt a program that will allow employers to reduce worker hours instead of laying employees off entirely.
“They stay connected to their employer, they keep their employer provided benefits, particularly their healthcare, and they are allowed to draw partial unemployment benefits to help make up the compensation they lost in their reduced hours,” Brinegar said.
Brinegar said work share would give Indiana another tool in its toolbox to deal with the downturns in the economy, such as the pandemic induced recession.
“Indiana missed the boat when it came to work share and the CARES act that was passed back in March,” Brinegar said. “Had Indiana been one of the states that was already a work share state, the CARES act would have paid 100 % of the work share partial unemployment benefits from the time the act passed in March through the end of this calendar year.”
If Indiana were a work share state, the strain on the unemployment trust fund wouldn’t be as detrimental and the state wouldn’t have to borrow as much from the federal government.
Incentives for Remote Workers
To attract more remote workers, the Chamber is requesting incentives for remote workers, to help mitigate the projected loss to the workforce over the next decade.
“Indiana is prime to be the recipient of the individuals who want to get out of big crowded cities where the virus spreads really fast,” Brinegar said. “We have a lower cost of living with a higher quality of life.”
“Potentially broadband is increasingly becoming just as essential to folks as electricity and water,” Brinegar said.
He added that this was one of the biggest concerns from school officials and businesses. With COVID 19 spiking the number of remote workers, the Chamber is pushing for more enhanced, accessible, affordable and reliable broadband.
There is already a legislative task force working on developing and implementing a diversified energy policy, but the Chamber of Commerce will release its own energy study later this week. The study will show where the state has been, how Indiana has gotten where it is now, and what options and different paths the state can follow moving forward in the future.
The expected hot topic going into the 2021 session will be health care. The business advocacy group is asking that the Statehouse continues to make health care cost more transparent.
When it came to hospital charges for various various procedures “relative to Medicare reimbursement, we found Indiana was the sixth highest-cost state,” said Brinegar.
He added that the Chamber does not support the legalization of either medical or recreational marijuana, because of the bad public policy.
‘Employers are concerned about increased workplace injuries, automobile accidents, insurance rates going up and more,” Brinegar added.
For more information about the priorities, click here.