As the 2021 Indiana General Assembly gets underway, the unique circumstances and unknowns will undoubtedly figure into what and how things get accomplished.
We are hopeful for a productive legislative session because there are plenty of issues for lawmakers to address that are closely or tangentially tied to the pandemic and how it’s altered business and the workforce.
At the top of our priority list is protecting businesses and institutions from legal liability if someone contracts COVID-19 after returning to work or school or after visiting a health facility. These protections would be for those employers and places that have made a good-faith effort to follow recognized safety guidelines.
Two long-term goals have improved odds in 2021. Those are raising the cigarette tax and the state’s implementing a work share program.
Indiana’s smoking rate is the fourth highest in the country. A big reason is that our cigarette tax is the lowest in the Midwest and among the lowest nationally. We are advocating for a $2 per pack increase because it’s proven to be the one action to successfully reduce smoking and health care costs. It could also possibly bolster depleted state revenue.
Work share is a safety net during economic downturns such as the pandemic. Employers can reduce hours without full layoffs and then, over time, employees can be returned to full-time status once circumstances improve.
It’s unfortunate Indiana did not have such a program in place in 2020.
A new study by the Brookings Institution estimates Indiana lost as much as $100 million in federal unemployment insurance funding in 2020 because it was not a work-share state. Indiana simply can’t afford to be unprepared again.
Additionally, incentives around remote workers and further preparing all areas of the state for new technology are no longer an option but required. Broadband connectivity is becoming as important an infrastructure need as water and electricity.
We expect legislation to be introduced on all of these issues and will be advocating for them to be heard in committees and advanced to the House and Senate floors.
As the legislative session unfolds, the Indiana Chamber will update its online policy center at www.indianachamber.com/policy.
Kevin Brinegar is president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.