Bills target Hoosiers with little income, farming and speed cameras
Monday’s legislative roundup
Farmland, speed cameras and low-income aid topped Monday's calender.
Hoosiers with a low or moderate income were the focus of several bills in the Statehouse on Monday, including tweaks to the state’s earned income tax credit, supplemental food benefits and preschool vouchers.
Additionally, legislators moved bills related to cataloging state farmland and permitting speed cameras – though lawmakers still have reservations about the latter.
Actions in Senate Committee
The Senate Family and Children Services Committee approved five bills unanimously on Monday, though some face an additional financial hurdle in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, cast one bill as a win-win for covering the expense of child care while simultaneously freeing up more parents to find jobs and alleviate the state’s workforce shortage.
Eligibility for On My Way Pre-K under Senate Bill 375 would expand from 127% of the federal poverty level, just over $35,000 annually for a family of four, to 200%, or $55,500 annually.
Families making up to 260% of the federal poverty level, roughly $72,000 per year, would still qualify for at least 25% of the subsidy. This would alleviate a benefits cliff that made parents ineligible for any funding when their income increased slightly.
“There’s a threshold and if you’re one dollar over or one percentage over, you are not eligible,” Rogers said. “This kind of graduates that (benefit).”
But Roger’s proposal didn’t include an increase in state funding for the program, nor did it include an expansion for the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF), which alleviates costs for older children. The bill did modify the reimbursement schedule for CCDF, narrowing the range of payments that vary county-by-county.
Though the bill passed with every senator’s vote, two senators – Sen. John Crane and Sen. Tyler Johnson – had reservations about the government’s role in funding childcare.
“Ideally, we shouldn’t have to do these kinds of things,” Crane, R-Avon, said. “I think we need to work harder on the private side to meet those needs.”
Increases under government benefit programs
Hoosier seniors in poverty will have an easier time maintaining their benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) while possibly lessening the state’s administrative burden.
The bill from Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, would simplify the process for Hoosiers ages 60 and older as well as Hoosiers with certain disabilities, extending their eligibility for 36 months with a requirement to report any income changes in that time.
Yoder said that Indiana is 31st in the nation for the number of seniors in food insecurity but only half of those Hoosiers utilize SNAP.
The federal government pays for 100% of the benefits distributed and splits the administration costs 50/50, meaning that Indiana could see a slight decrease in costs under this bill.
Roughly 6,000 children and 600 pregnant women will be newly eligible for Medicaid under another bill, authored by Sen. Stacey Donato.
Under Indiana law, the state’s newest Hoosiers – recently arrived and lawfully residing immigrants – must wait five years to qualify for Medicaid insurance coverage or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
“Whether you’re 60 or six weeks, five years is a long time to go without healthcare,” Donato, R-Logansport, said.
The Indiana Commission on Improving the Status of Children voted in October to recommend the statutory change.
State costs are estimated to increase between $3.8-5 million annually.
House action on EITC, farming
Half a million low-income Hoosier families could soon see an increase in their earned income tax credits and more could qualify under a new proposal, House Bill 1290.
“It’s a very simple bill, but it makes a huge difference to a lot of … families,” author Rep. Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville, said on the House floor Monday.
There are state and federal credits. The bill would let Hoosiers claim – as a state credit – up to 12% of what they received through the federal version.
It also “recouples” Indiana’s credit with the federal one, Goodrich said – the state’s is tied to an outdated federal version from 2010. That change would make it easier for parents to get the credit for foster children, ensures married couples filing jointly get as much as they would filing separately, and allows families with three or more children to get a larger credit.
Hoosiers who’ve claimed the federal credit may be eligible for Indiana’s earned income credit, as long as they’ve made less than $47,900, according to Indiana’s 2021 individual income tax booklet.
The House passed House Bill 1290 unanimously, 97-0, and now moves to the Senate.
The bill could cut into state revenue by $39.5 million to $46.1 million beginning in fiscal year 2024, and increase administrative expenses, according to the fiscal analysis.
House lawmakers also unanimously passed a bill creating an inventory of farmland lost in the last decade — whether to industry, housing, renewable energy or other developments.
“This is a food security bill,” author Rep. Kendall Culp, R-Rensselaer, said. “… Indiana is one of the leading exporters of food to other parts of the world.” And agriculture supports rural economies around the state, he said.
Culp, a farmer himself, has said he wants more data on lost farmland to see if it warrants some form of a farmland preservation bill in the future.
Speed camera bill gets a yellow light
The Indiana House advanced a bill 70-28 Monday that would allow the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to use license plate cameras to enforce speed limits in highway work zones.
Bill author Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, has backed the bill in the House for several years. Previous attempts to get such legislation passed were unsuccessful, however.
Pressel’s latest proposal would create a pilot program for speed cameras. The technology would ticket drivers going more than 11 mph over the speed limit in an active work zone. Only four cameras could be used statewide.
INDOT would also be required to enter into an agreement with state police to share information on the program.
“We have an opportunity to slow people down, to save some of our constituents’ lives, save them from injuries,” Pressel said Monday.
Under current Indiana law, motorists who exceed the reduced speed limit in a highway work zone by as little as 1 mph can be stopped by police and fined $300 for a first violation. The fine increases to $500 for a second violation and $1,000 for each subsequent violation. A driver also faces the possibility of losing their license.
But if a speed camera is involved a driver would receive a warning for an initial work zone speed limit violation under Pressel’s bill. Violators would then face a $75 fine for a second offense and a $150 fine for a third offense and beyond.
Construction workers also have to be present under the speed camera pilot.
The GOP-dominated supermajority has long resisted efforts to use camera technology for highway speed violations or passing of school buses. They’ve also been hesitant to enact policy around license plate readers used by law enforcement.
Republicans continue to be divided on Pressel’s bill, which now heads to the Senate. It has died there repeatedly.
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