INDIANAPOLIS — The desperate need for childcare, renewable energy investments and a federal government vaccine mandate dominated the Indiana Chamber’s Legislative Preview for the 2022 session on Monday.
Representatives from each legislative caucus sat in a panel before business leaders and outlined their priorities for the upcoming session, which has its Organization Day on Tuesday. During Organization Day, new legislators tour the building and meet leadership during the first gathering at the Indiana Statehouse.
On the federal level, companies with over 100 employees must inquire about their employees vaccination status and provide proof that their employees are either vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus or pay for employee testing. Several states, including Indiana, have sued to appeal the mandate.
“I’ll say on the record that I prefer businesses to make decisions in that regard,” House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said. “I also said employers need to be cautious in how they honor religious exemptions and medical exemptions.”
The chamber had previously signaled its support for renewable energy in Indiana, saying it needs it available to attract new businesses to the state. A bill endorsed by the chamber that would have allowed for statewide siting standards for wind and solar farms, rather than piecemeal local standards, failed in 2021.
“I think there was strong support even within my caucus for the policy, a lot of people were just afraid to have the impact of limiting local control on the issue,” Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, said. “But I think long-term energy policy in our state (needs) some kind of a uniform, static standard.”
When it came to electric vehicles, Democrats acknowledged the role Gov. Eric Holcomb played in collaborating with neighboring states to establish a region-wide initiative for charging stations.
“I think we really need to pay some attention to (electric vehicles) and try to really ramp it up,” Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said. “I think the state can play a significant role.”
When it came to childcare, Austin said larger companies could afford to subsidize care and asked whether a conglomeration of smaller companies could achieve the same.
“Those of you who have children and infants probably know this already but it is actually more expensive to care for an infant than it is for a year of tuition at a four-year public institution,” Austin said. “It’s about $12,000 for one year of infant care and $9,000 for a full year of tuition.”
With recovery proceeding faster than expected and reserves so high that the state will issue a refund to eligible Hoosiers, Huston said his caucus would look at tax cuts.
“I’m looking at income taxes — whether that’s an income tax rate reduction or potentially tax credits — we’ll have a bill once we see what the December forecast is,” Huston said.
However, Messmer warned that senators may not be so inclined to consider tax cuts because 2022 isn’t a budget year and may wait to enact any provisions until 2023.
Kevin Brinegar, the chamber president and CEO, revealed takeaways from the organization’s annual surveys to Indiana business leaders, emphasizing the need for additional workforce training and skills building.
“Fully one-third of workers believe a high school diploma is all you need for a thriving career in Indiana but we know they’re wrong,” Brinegar said.
He highlighted some jobs numbers from March 2021, when the economy added approximately 916,000 jobs. Less than 1% of those jobs, around 7,000, only required a high school diploma. The vast majority of new jobs required a secondary education or additional training.