By Mark Lawrance, vice president of engagement and innovation policy

In 2018, the Indiana Chamber championed several key economic development and technology bills to further Indiana’s progress with tech, innovation and business growth. An obvious victory was Indiana’s move to become the fourth state in the country to eliminate taxation of software as a service (SaaS) (see Bill Waltz’s write-up of SB 257 in the tax section). There were a couple other wins; however, most legislation was either cast aside or morphed into summer study committee topics because of the lack of desire to open up the state budget.

Broadband Speed and Availability Initiatives Enacted

House Bill 1065, Broadband Grants and High-Speed Internet, authored by Rep. David Ober (R-Albion), started with the Chamber opposing a key provision concerning which agency is responsible for overall supervision of broadband deployment in Indiana. That provision of the bill was changed (jurisdiction remains with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation) and the legislation was broadened in the Senate to include a rural broadband grant program.

The bill updated the definition of qualified broadband service to more current standards and requires the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to study and submit a report of broadband deployment to the Legislature later this year. The Senate amended the bill to provide grants and guidelines for underserved rural areas of Indiana.

We expect this measure to more fully connect the digitally underserved areas of the state. The Chamber appreciates the leadership of retiring legislator Rep. David Ober (R-Albion) on this issue over the past several years, as well as Sen. Erin Houchin (R-Salem) for her work on the rural broadband components of this bill.

The other measure to cross the finish line was HB 1050, Small Cell Wireless Structures, authored by Rep. Ober. It corrected a drafting error in last year’s SB 213 to streamline deployment of 5G technology, which allowed communities an unintended two-week window to pass local ordinances or resolutions to exercise authority on small cell structures. This was counter to the law’s intent of streamlining the deployment of small cell technology.

House Bill 1050 provided authority for local governments to prohibit placement of new wireless structures in residential right-of-ways within an area designated strictly for underground utilities. The Chamber supported this bill throughout the process and appreciates the leadership of Rep. Ober and Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) for getting this language corrected.

Rough Road for Autonomous Vehicle Bill, But Truck Platooning Passes Elsewhere

During the waning days and hours of session, House Bill 1341, Autonomous Vehicles (AV), hit a rough patch and failed to pass. The Senate approved the agreed upon conference committee report for Rep. Ed Soliday’s (R-Valparaiso) bill, but the House ran out of time to vote on it. The AV portion of the measure died.

A point of contention was the requirement for manufacturers to register an AV with the state in order to drive on Indiana roads. The House version required registration while the Senate version didn’t as long as the vehicle met applicable state and federal laws. What we worked with legislators to achieve throughout the session was a reasonable balance between public safety and innovation. In the very near future, AVs will become part of our daily lives and how we move people and goods. Indiana has the technological and vehicle manufacturing capabilities that can be leveraged in the development of AVs, and the state needs to not be left behind in these developments.

On a positive note, the truck platooning language was previously inserted in HB 1290 and passed.

The Chamber appreciates the work Rep. Soliday put into the AV effort. We don’t foresee the issue will be taken up during the May special session, but it could be addressed by an executive order from Governor Holcomb, who prioritized this policy, or during the 2019 legislative session.

Regional Development, Certified Tech Park Tax Credits Get Study Committee Treatment

Senate Bill 353, Regional Development Tax Credit, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), originally would have created a more useable economic incentive for community “place-making” projects. Added to the study committee version of SB 353 is the study of how to enhance the activity of successful Indiana certified technology parks. The Chamber appreciates the opportunity to have both topics further explored to better educate legislators on their possible impact to enhance regional economic growth opportunities.

Bill to Dampen Establishment of Local Economic Improvement Districts Passes

House Bill 1278, authored by Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville), will now make it more difficult to establish an Economic Improvement District (EID) within a community. An EID is a financing mechanism for a defined district to provide revenue for a variety of local improvements and services. The Chamber opposed this bill in committee as it raised the threshold to establish an EID from a simple majority (50% + 1) to 60% of property taxpayers AND assessed valuation in each district. It also put a 120-day time restriction to get a petition signed by the necessary taxpayers. Communities in Indiana are seeking solutions to fund needed services to enhance their attractiveness; this effort makes it much more difficult to accomplish that.

There’s Always Next Year

The data center tax credit measure (HB 1340), authored by Rep. Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie), would have provided a sales tax exemption for equipment purchases and electricity use for data centers in Indiana. It required a $10 million floor of data equipment in one location to be eligible for the 10-year exemption. The bill was never heard; the hope is it will gain traction during the 2019 session.

House Bill 1080, authored by Rep. Justin Moed (D-Indianapolis), would have allowed light rail to be considered in transportation options for central Indiana. Unfortunately, it did not pass in the Senate in large part because of a poison pen amendment from Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel). As companies like Amazon consider where they wish to locate, mass transit can be an important consideration in their decision.

Resource: R. Mark Lawrance at (317) 264-7547 or email: [email protected]