The Indy Chamber has released its legislative agenda ahead of the 2019 Indiana General Assembly. Priorities include early childhood education, hate crimes legislation and an increase to the state's cigarette tax.

The agenda was approved Wednesday as part of the chamber's annual membership meeting. The agenda is also putting a focus on new redevelopment incentives and regional economic development tools, as well as public health spending.

"The Indy Chamber represents thousands of businesses that are invested in our region and proud to call Indianapolis home," said Lisa Schlehuber, newly-elected chair of the chamber's board of directors. "That’s why we endorse action against bias crimes, to welcome more people and employers to our community. And it means we continue to push for more affordable, accessible pre-K, so more kids grow up prepared to take advantage of the economic opportunities we’re pursuing today."

The top issues for the chamber include:

Early Childhood Education: Invest in Indiana’s future workforce by making high-quality preschool accessible and affordable to low-and-moderate income families through ‘On My Way Pre-K’ in at least 40 counties, while protecting funding levels in currently participating communities; align pre-K budgets and policies to the ultimate goal of all Hoosier children entering kindergarten – at age five – ready to learn and succeed.

Bias Crimes:  Add criminal penalties for offenses motivated by individual characteristics, including race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity; embrace a diverse workforce and strengthen Indiana’s business climate and quality of life by protecting Hoosiers from bias crimes.

Healthy Workforce: Raise the state cigarette tax – now the lowest among surrounding states – by $2-per-pack to encourage Hoosiers to quit smoking, reduce the burden of high health costs and low productivity on Indiana employers, and generate new revenues to address public health issues like opioid abuse.

Interlocal/Regional Investments: Pursue policies that encourage local governments to work together on shared projects, make regional investments in economic priorities, and create a fiscal framework to fund essential services like public safety and infrastructure.

Redevelopment Incentives: Encourage brownfield redevelopment by expanding staff support, technical assistance and grant programs, and creating a targeted tax incentive to make underutilized properties more appealing sites for new employment and investment on the active tax rolls.

The chamber says it has identified productive reuse of brownfield sites in the city and says a new redevelopment tax credit for such areas would help attract new business and encourage expansion. 

"There are well over a thousand brownfield sites across Indiana, in rural and urban areas alike," said Melissa Proffitt, newly-elected board treasurer and chair of the chamber’s Business Advocacy Committee. "This means more than a thousand opportunities to rebuild our tax base, if we can accelerate the regulatory process and incentivize new investment and employment."

The chamber also elected its 2019 officers at the annual meeting. Schlehuber will chair the board. Dennis Murphy with Indiana University Health will serve as vice-chair. Proffitt will serve as treasurer and Jim Birge with law firm Faegre Baker Daniels will serve as secretary.