(INDIANAPOLIS) — Closing the skills gap to enable more jobs to be filled and ensuring the state’s tax environment is ripe for business expansion are top priorities for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in the upcoming 2018 legislative session.
These initiatives and more were announced today at the organization’s annual legislative preview in Indianapolis, where six state legislators were also honored as 2017 Indiana Chamber Legislative Champions.
“As we increase the number of jobs in the tech sector, it becomes even more important to have additional STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) offerings for K-12 students – especially computer science,” stated Caryl Auslander, Indiana Chamber vice president of education and workforce development.
“Currently there is not a computer science requirement for graduation; we believe that needs to change. All students should have access to fully explore skills like this that are in demand.” Auslander also noted that these goals align with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s agenda item to have all schools offer computer science courses by 2021.
Additionally, the organization wants to see more coordination between the state’s education and workforce programs and with the business community. Auslander offered: “This would result in more Hoosiers being educated, trained and subsequently employed in higher-wage jobs that are available but too often are going unfilled.”
Another area of focus for the Indiana Chamber is to clarify how taxes should be calculated for software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud-based services.
“This item is important not just for tech companies, but for those who do business with them. There is too much inconsistency and ambiguity relating to the exempt status of software services. Having clarity around that would help to grow Indiana’s software development economy, as well as prevent onerous taxation of other necessary business expenses throughout the business community,” explained Bill Waltz, vice president of taxation for the Indiana Chamber.
There were several repeat items on the group’s priority list, but most come with new twists.
With the upcoming session being a non-budget year, the Indiana Chamber likely will not be pushing for a cigarette tax increase as part of its agenda to reduce the state’s smoking rate. Instead the focus will be on raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 and enabling employers to ask prospective employees if they are smokers.
The Indiana Chamber also “hopes to finally see some movement on township government reform by targeting items where there may be some common ground with groups previously opposed to more wholesale efforts,” Waltz stated. “This includes reducing the number of townships through mergers in low population areas and providing enhanced oversight of fiscal matters.”
The Indiana Chamber’s Top 9 legislative priorities:
• Making computer science coursework a high school graduation requirement for Hoosier students
• Better alignment of the state’s various education and workforce programs, with overall efforts inclusive of business needs
• Clarifying software-as-a-service tax exempt status for software and cloud-based businesses
• Maintaining and enhancing our attractive tax climate, with particular attention on reducing government reliance on business personal property tax and thus lessening the burden to businesses
• Transparency in asbestos trust claims so it’s known if a claimant has already been awarded money from a trust before a monetary judgement for the same health issue is made against the business
• Decreasing the state’s smoking rate through raising the legal age limit for smoking and purchasing cigarettes, as well as removing the state’s special protections given to smokers
• Increased water resources management and, ultimately, a statewide water policy to assure future resources and our economic prosperity
• Meaningful township government reform, with a focus on township mergers in low population areas
• Establishing a state work share program, which will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns
A detailed rundown of the Indiana Chamber’s 2018 key legislative initiatives (top priorities and additional areas of focus) is available at www.indianachamber.com/priorities.
Chamber Honors Legislative Champions
At the luncheon, six state legislators were named Indiana Chamber Legislative Champions “for their work on key pro-jobs, pro-economy polices to better Indiana.” This award is based on voting and advocacy during the past legislative session.
“These legislators took on tough asks and worked diligently to see much-needed policy cross the finish line or at least have meaningful debate started. Their support and extra effort is much appreciated by the business community,” said Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar.
The 2017 Indiana Chamber Legislative Champions are:
• Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Centerville) from District 27 – Raatz guided much-needed legislation on school administration efficiency, which had been stalled until he took up the measure. He was also a key sponsor of the legislation to expand the state’s pre-kindergarten program.
• Rep. Cindy Kirchhoffer (R-Beech Grove) from District 89 – Kirchhoffer chairs the Public Health Committee and marshalled a strong reform package to reduce smoking in the state through that committee and then on the House floor.
• Rep. Karlee Macer (D-Indianapolis) from District 92 – Macer was a key supporter of the long-term road funding measure, the Indiana Chamber’s top priority in 2017, and was poised to be a champion for the work share policy had the bill gotten out of committee.
• Rep. Justin Moed (D-Indianapolis) from District 97 – Moed proved to be a great ally on legislation expanding the state’s pre-kindergarten program. He voted for the measure from the start and helped rally his caucus members to get on board for the final vote.
• Rep. David Ober (R-Albion) from District 82 – As the new chair of the Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee, Ober presided over several major pieces of complex legislation that are now law. The topics include a broad energy policy, water resources sustainability and the expansion of small cell towers for 5G technology.
• Rep. Holli Sullivan (R-Evansville) from District 78 – Sullivan was a passionate voice for expansion of pre-K education and worked tirelessly for the measure – even though she wasn’t a member of the governing committee. She helped bring the program to more at-risk students by advocating to significantly increase the dollars and number of counties served.
The Indiana Chamber partners with 25,000 members and investors – representing over four million Hoosiers – to achieve the mission of “cultivating a world-class environment which provides economic opportunity and prosperity.”