From the Field: Indiana General Assembly Session Ends with Mix of Wins and Setbacks for Housing Advocates

The Indiana General Assembly adjourned for the year on March 14, with a mix of victories and setbacks for housing advocates.

Like many states, Indiana alternates the length of its legislative sessions each year, with a longer four-month session taking place during odd-numbered years when state legislators must pass a state budget. The shorter session in non-budget years, like 2018, limits the scope of what can be accomplished. The shorter nature of the 2018 session, however, did not inhibit Prosperity Indiana, an NLIHC state partner, from advocating for a strong legislative agenda.

A notable victory of this legislative session was the repeal of a statewide ban on people with criminal records receiving SNAP benefits. The bill cleared the General Assembly as SB 11 and HB 1317, passing both chambers with wide margins, even with a supermajority of Republicans in both the State House and Senate.

Another victory came in the form of HB 1314, which requires the state board of education to study the educational outcomes of youth living in foster care or experiencing homelessness and to publish an annual report on its findings.   HB 1314 also cleared both chambers of the General Assembly with broad support and became law on March 21. Prosperity Indiana notes that advocates in the state currently do not have access to concrete data on this topic, and anticipates the new law will lead to stronger advocacy and policymaking.

The State Senate visited the question of land banks in SB 422, introduced by State Senator Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville). Land banks have been authorized in Indiana but have never received funding, prohibiting advocates and community development organizations from using the tool. SB 422 would have provided funding for land banks through a portion of county document recording and filing fees, but the proposal died in committee.

A top priority for Prosperity Indiana has been to clarify the tax-exemption status of nonprofit affordable housing properties and organizations. Current Indiana law is unclear on this matter, leading to a patchwork of differing tax liabilities for nonprofit housing developers and owners across the state’s 92 counties. Prosperity Indiana sought a clear and simple definition that standardizes the types of homes and organizations qualifying for tax-exempt status. State Senators Douglas Eckerty (R-Muncie) and Rick Niemeyer (R-Lowell) introduced SB 213 to do so. The bill passed the full Senate with broad support but then died in the House without a committee hearing.

Prosperity Indiana also sought to curb the growth of predatory payday lending by supporting a bill to limit the interest charged for payday loans in the state to 36%. Thirty-six percent is the interest-rate limit the U.S. Department of Defense has secured for active duty members of the military, and 15 states have required that rate limit as well. As in all states, predatory lending in Indiana disproportionately impacts low income and people of color. Prosperity Indiana conducted statewide polling that revealed 88% support for a 36% interest rate cap on new loans, research it used to advocate for the bill. State Senators Greg Walker (R-Columbus), John Ruckelshaus (R-Indianapolis), and Eddie Melton (D-Merrillville) introduced SB 325 to establish the 36% interest rate cap, but the bill failed to pass out of committee.

Simultaneously, Prosperity Indiana worked to defeat HB 1319, which would allow for the creation of a new loan product with interest rates up to 200% APR. The bill, introduced by State Representative Martin Carbaugh (R-Fort Wayne), narrowly passed the House by a vote of 53-41, but was then voted down in committee in the Senate.

Prosperity Indiana allied with a broad coalition of organizations in the state to advance hate crimes protection legislation, which entered the Senate as SB 418, authored by State Senators Susan Glick (R-LaGrange), John Ruckelshaus (R-Indianapolis), and Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores). Indiana is one of very few states without hate crimes protection laws on the books. SB 418 was not taken up for a vote in committee.

More information on Prosperity Indiana’s State Policy Agenda is online at: https://www.prosperityindiana.org/State-Policy

For additional information, contact Kathleen Lara, policy director at Prosperity Indiana, at: klara@prosperityindiana.org.