What will Indiana lawmakers accomplish in special session?
The anticipated multi-week special session could cost taxpayers more than a quarter-million dollars
The Indiana Senate chamber will be busy again when lawmakers return for a non-budget related special session July 25. (Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)
Indiana lawmakers will wait until late July to reconvene for a special legislative session, raising additional questions about what consensus they might reach on inflation relief and abortion restrictions.
The anticipated multi-week special session — which could cost taxpayers more than a quarter-million dollars — was originally called by the governor to trigger a second wave of tax refund payments and was to start Wednesday.
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey rulings, lawmakers are now expected to pass legislation to further restrict access to abortions, too.
Though more than 100 Republicans in March asked for a special session – and with the benefit of a leaked draft opinion – GOP Statehouse leadership didn’t have any draft abortion bills ready to go.
Legislative leaders said they would push back the start date to “minimize logistical issues.”
The hold-up means tax refunds might not reach Hoosiers until fall. Any new abortion laws could take effect as soon as the General Assembly closes out the special session, however.
Holcomb announced his plan in June to dip into the state’s growing budget surplus and send $225 in payments to taxpayers to provide inflation relief. To do so requires approval from the state legislature. He initially wanted that done by July 4.
The General Assembly’s delay could mean taxpayers won’t see refund checks for several more months. Many Hoosiers are still waiting for the first $125 refund checks that started going out in May.
The governor said he’s “anxious” to “give at least a billion dollars back to Hoosiers” as soon as possible. Doing so could require additional legislative responses, he said, such as paying down more state debt.
“I want to make sure that Hoosiers are directly the beneficiary of (the state’s) additional growth that we did not plan in this past budget session,” Holcomb told reporters last week. “You’ll be hearing a lot more from me on that front.”
I think the taxpayers want to make sure that the services we promised to provide are being provided and being provided adequately.
– Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne
When asked whether the $1 billion in relief could prolong the impact of inflation, Cris Johnston, Indiana’s Office of Management and Budget director, said the comparably small amount — 0.2% of the state’s $430 billion GDP — wouldn’t be enough, however.
“You’re assuming all of this money is going to be spent in-state… people are either going to save it or pay down debt,” Johnston said. “I think that mitigates that risk.”
Republican Sen. Liz Brown of Fort Wayne noted that the state budget committee spent four hours in late June listening to cost increases incurred by various agencies and discussing Indiana’s existing $9 billion pension debt.
“We haven’t even looked at the next budget cycle,” Brown said.
The General Assembly will convene for the 2023 session in January to draft the state’s two-year budget, but agencies haven’t formalized their funding requests.
“And yet we’re proposing to roll this out,” Brown said. “I think it’s a little disingenuous to say, ‘when our GDP is $400-and-some-odd billion that $1 billion isn’t going to do anything’… we truly do have significant financial demands within the next few months.”
In addition to agency increases, the state’s reimbursements for foster children, adoption, the disabled and a myriad of other social services weren’t sufficient and could be increased, Brown continued.
“I think the taxpayers want to make sure that the services we promised to provide are being provided and being provided adequately,” she said.
Holcomb said Indiana lawmakers waited for the official ruling before drafting legislation.
“It was a hypothetical — it was a ‘may,’” Holcomb said. “We did not know how they would go. So now is the time, and we have ample time between now and the end of the special session for the full airing of ideas about how to progress, and that progression is … where I will inject myself into the legislative process here.”
Holcomb said last week he has “no red lines” on abortion restrictions, saying that at this point, he expects to sign whatever bill comes across his desk.
House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray have signaled support for new restrictions — possibly even an outright ban on abortions — but lack specifics.
Individual members of the majority caucus have hinted at support for potential elements of a new law, including Republican Rep. Tim Wesco of Osceola, who called for the General Assembly to establish a $100 million adoption fund to cover fees for families during the upcoming special session.
Democrats have pushed back on any potential abortion-restricting actions. They called for lawmakers to hold committee hearings for any proposed measures, and to allow public testimony as part of the special session discourse.
The governor, along with other Republican leadership, have promised to vet bills “through the full legislative process.”
What a special session means for taxpayers
House and Senate officials provided Indiana Capital Chronicle with data on the cost of a special session, which largely involves a per diem for legislators as well as travel expenses.
If the session goes two weeks as expected, the per diem costs would be about $246,000 plus two weeks of travel at about $35,000. That means a two-week special session could cost around $280,000.
Senate Spokeswoman Molly Fishell also pointed out the regular session ended five days early — saving Hoosier taxpayers money.
The General Assembly last convened in a one-day special session in May 2018. That was after a chaotic finish to the 2018 legislative session left several of the governor’s priority issues without votes before the clock ran out on the regular session.
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