The Indiana Chamber of Commerce says its leadership has reached “no consensus” on a proposed amendment that would further define marriage in the state. The organization has weighed in on key issues facing the Indiana General Assembly during the 2014 session that begins next week. January 3, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As lawmakers on Monday begin the 2014 Indiana General Assembly session, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce is optimistic that critical public polices can and will get sincere consideration.
“While there's no doubt that time is a factor in a short legislative session (like we have in 2014), we only have to look back to 2012 to see that landmark results can be achieved. Indiana became a right-to-work state and passed a comprehensive public smoking ban that year,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.
Two public policies expected to take center stage this time are addressing the state's high business personal property tax and how Indiana can pay for some form of state-funded preschool. Both have received support from the Governor and legislative leadership, and also are key objectives of the Indiana Chamber.
“While the state's tax climate is good, the one area in which we stand out negatively is business personal property tax (of machinery and equipment). Some states don't tax it at all, and Indiana’s rate is among the highest in the country,” Brinegar explains.
“There is no doubt the tax greatly discourages new investment by businesses. This is a complicated issue because it directly provides substantial revenue for local governments, but options for replacement revenues and other reforms are available.”
Meanwhile, all four General Assembly caucus leaders have gone on record as welcoming a pre-school initiative. Brinegar believes it’s a much-needed step “for low income families as a way to help close the preparation gap for these students so they arrive in kindergarten and first grade on a more even playing field.
“If we want our graduation rates to improve and our dropout rates to decline, if we want students to graduate high school and be college and career ready, that means starting these students along the proper education road as soon as possible,” he concludes.
One high-profile debate that the Indiana Chamber hopes doesn't overshadow the rest is HJR 6. The proposed Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, if passed, would go to Hoosier voters in November.
“Some in the media have confused our Chamber with the Indianapolis (Indy) Chamber, which announced opposition to the amendment. However, the Indiana Chamber has taken no position on the same-sex marriage amendment.
“Extensive discussions took place among our organization's policy committee and executive committee members – with no consensus reached,” Brinegar notes. “These discussions reflected the passionate viewpoints on both sides of the issue.”
He adds: “This is the exact same vetting process we use for all of our legislative policies.”
On the health care front, the Indiana Chamber will be pushing for reform tied to tobacco use and the hiring process.
Currently, individuals are covered by what is termed the smokers' bill of rights for prospective employees. That means employers cannot ask them whether or not they smoke.
Brinegar says protecting tobacco use, which is a personal choice, to the same extent as discrimination based on race, gender and other inherent and common sense protections is arbitrary and without justification. Plus other voluntary actions like substance abuse or having a criminal record are allowed to be investigated in the interview/hiring process.
“This special right is simply unnecessary,” he asserts. “By repealing it, employers would be allowed to consider prospective (but not current) employees’ smoking or tobacco habits in the hiring process, and also be able to provide differential health care co-pays and deductibles for those who smoke.”
The Indiana Chamber's top legislative priorities (http://www.indianachamber.com/priorities) – to be distributed to legislators on Monday – also feature:
-Regulating the practice of lawsuit lending, in which a third party provides a plaintiff a cash advance loan while the legal case is pending. In turn, a plaintiff agrees to repay the advance (which is usually at a high interest rate) from the lawsuit proceeds.
-Establishing a work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns. Employers then could reduce hours without layoffs, enabling workers to keep their jobs – which hopefully could be returned to full-time status once economic circumstances improve. Also part of the equation: Unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours.
-Proposing a voluntary vehicles miles traveled (or VMT) pilot program as a potential replacement for existing fuel taxes.
-Expanding the patent-derived income tax exemption to the pre-patent phase.
-Maintaining high-achieving academic standards, such as the Common Core, and allowing the State Board of Education to determine student assessments.
-Implementing a water policy to stabilize our economic future and effectively compete with other states.
-Reinstating the wellness tax credit for businesses starting a wellness program.
-Adopting common sense simplification and reforms to local government structures and practices.
The Indiana Chamber partners with 15,000 members and investors – representing 2.6 million Hoosiers – to achieve the mission of “cultivating a world-class environment which provides economic opportunity and prosperity.”
Source: Indiana Chamber of Commerce