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Much to Do in a Short Amount of Time

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Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Today (January 3), the Indiana General Assembly will kick off its 2018 legislative session. This year is a short session, scheduled to wrap up in early March. That means legislators will get right to work in anticipation of the early ending. Short sessions also mean no fiscal issues will be considered; those will have to wait for 2019.

But what exactly will they work on? That’s anybody’s guess and will likely come into better focus in the coming weeks. In recent years, the legislative sessions have been marked by big, defining issues like last year’s road funding discussion, or previous sessions’ action on items such as property tax caps, or even years ago on Daylight Saving Time.

Generally, the work of the General Assembly has netted some positive results. Action in recent years has helped vault Indiana to the top of those business climate lists, ranking tops in the Midwest and one of the tops in the nation. What’s next to make Indiana an attractive place for businesses and people?

Workforce issues may garner the most attention this year. You can’t go anywhere without hearing employers lament about their challenges with finding and retaining top talent to meet their workforce needs. This is more of a national phenomenon, rather than a regional or state-specific problem. But is there a legislative fix? Likely not, but the General Assembly will certainly look closely at potential solutions that attempt to ease employer concerns.

Alcohol sales have grabbed many early headlines as the legislature once again takes up the debate about whether consumers should be allowed to buy alcohol on Sundays. The consumers seem to be demanding it, but are the members of the General Assembly hearing them? Probably not. Every year about this time it comes up, and every year about this time it goes away, to be considered again at an unnamed time and date well into the future.

For the business community, the issue with alcohol sales is more about the message it sends to people about Indiana than it is about alcohol. Forty-nine other states have allowed this, while Indiana seems stuck with Prohibition-era laws. At a time when businesses are trying to sell people on the merits of Indiana — the positive business climate, the great quality of life — something as simple as this sends a loud message that Indiana is not progressive and is behind the times.

The opioid epidemic is also likely to grab legislators’ attention. It has far-reaching impacts on communities. Like the workforce issue, there is not an easy or magic fix. But the General Assembly is certain to take a closer look at where Indiana law might be able to help combat the epidemic.

The major metro areas of Indiana have a Regional Development Tax Credit on their legislative agenda. This is the follow-up to the Regional Cities Program and could help provide a needed incentive to fill a gap on development projects that enhance the quality of place within communities. We believe this tool can be critical to efforts to develop and redevelop our urban areas.

The business community has a strong interest in local government modernization and will keep a close eye on that issue this session. Locally, the full implementation of property tax caps in 2019 will put additional pressure on the budgets of our school corporations and local government units. We support initiatives to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs in preparation for the budget crunch that will soon follow.

The session will move fast. Follow it closely at www.iga.in.gov and be sure to let your representatives know what you think about the issues being considered.

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