Legislative Update for 5.1.15 - Final 2015 Report

Legislative Update for May 1, 2015

Late Wednesday night, the 2015 General Assembly finally adjourned for the year – and not a moment too soon. This legislative session was a brutal one, not only for Indiana’s reputation but for all working families in Indiana.

The Republican Supermajorities and Governor Pence went after workers’ wages, public education and attempted to condone discrimination in Indiana – providing a stark reminder of why voting and voting for leaders who actually represent our best interests is so critically important.

While much of the dust is still settling, below are recaps of some of what happened to the various pieces of legislation the Indiana AFL-CIO and our affiliates were working on this year.

STATE BUDGET: In one of the most confusing budget writing sessions in recent memory, the state budget (HOUSE BILL 1001) was worked on and reworked over and over until shortly before Wednesday’s midnight deadline because the Republican super majorities in the General Assembly and the governor could not come to terms. Among other items, the budget increases funding to some schools but slashes it for others – especially urban schools (click here to see your school district’s funding); it increases the amount of state tax dollars used to support privately run Charter schools and expands the state school voucher program; it provides a small stipend (known as the 13th check) for retired public employees; and gives the governor more authority over funding the Hoosier State Line. The governor also attempted to take responsibility for operating the school voucher system away from the Department of Education, but that attempt was scuttled at the last moment. your own district’s funding

REPEALING THE COMMON CONSTRUCTION WAGE LAW: As reported earlier, House Bill 1019 was passed by both the State Senate and House of Representatives earlier in the session and awaits Governor Mike Pence’s signature. It will go into effect July 1, 2015.

PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PENSIONS: With various bills floating around the Statehouse throughout the session impacting public employee pensions, most were consolidated into House Bill 1466 which was approved by both chambers of the General Assembly. The bill is a positive outcome for current and future retirees and will help to stabilize the retirement system. The Indiana AFL-CIO, AFSCME, AFT Indiana, the Professional Firefighters Union of Indiana and other members of the Public Pensions Coalition worked hard to shepherd this legislation through the session – and are preparing for more attempts to privatize retirement funds in next year’s session.

COMPANY STORE/WAGE THEFT: As reported earlier, House Bill 1469 was approved by the General Assembly and will be signed by Governor Pence soon. After much work on the bill, its final version is much improved – but still unworthy of becoming law. A conference committee adjusted language in the bill to ensure it conforms with federal law. As passed, the law allows an employer to take the lesser of $2,500 per year or 5% of the employee's weekly disposable earnings for the purchase, rental, or use of uniforms or equipment necessary to do their jobs. It also weakens the wage theft statute by requiring employers to pay the wages due, court costs and other related fees for the employee's attorney only if it can be proved they acted in “bad faith.”

PUBLIC EDUCATION: Several bills organized labor watched throughout session that impact public education were approved in the final hours of the legislature. Among them were House Bill 1009, which merged the Governor’s “Freedom to Teach” bill and the Senate’s Innovation Network Schools concept and results in new avenues to undermine teacher’s voices on the job. House Bill 1638 allows the appointed State Board of Education to vote to takeover failing schools after four years of subpar standards but maintains the collective bargaining rights of teachers in those schools. And, Senate Bill 566, which creates an interim study committee on state testing issues, establishes a path for STEM instructors to be licensed as teachers and mandates that taxpayer funded letters be sent to all teachers informing them of rights, including their option not to pay union dues.

SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION: Senate Bill 1, which seeks to remove the elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction as chair of the policy setting State Board of Education was also approved this past week. The bill, which went through significant changes, now removes the Superintendent as head of the board following the 2016 elections. It keeps the number of board members at 11, but allows the leaders of the General Assembly to appoint one member each while the governor appoints 8 members. The legislation also gives the appointed board more power over monitoring education data and student testing that was previously the responsibility of the elected Superintendent and Department of Education. And, in the state budget, the State Board of Education is provided a $2.5 million annual budget and given permission to hire staff – setting up another competing state education agency.

PROTECTIVE ORDERS: Language in House Bill 1159 was stripped out in the final days of the General Assembly and combined into a similar Senate bill, paving the way for new language to be inserted into the bill specifying that employers can no longer fire employees who are being protected by a court issued protective orders. This legislation, if signed by the Governor, will help workers who are being threatened or stalked maintain their employment.

Other key bills:
HB 1101 – Broadband Ready Communities
HB 1182 – Fire Training Academy
HB 1186 – Unemployment Insurance
HB 1483 – Various Education Issues
HB 1497 – Reemployment Services for Unemployment Recipients
HB 1562 – Professional Licensing Matters
HB 1601 – Various Workforce Development Matters
SB 27 – Obstructions at Railroad Crossings
SB 33 – Worker’s Compensation

For a full list of bills the Indiana AFL-CIO and our affiliates were tracking throughout the 2015 General Assembly session and where they ended up, please sign up for our legislative update here.

In Solidarity,
The Indiana AFL-CIO

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