Odd short session does more than expected, but leaves lots to do

When the 2025 session opened, Hoosiers were assured that lawmakers would conduct their required business quickly and it would be less “aggressive – because there really were no pressing matters to be addressed in the short session, and major issues would largely be reserved for the 2025 budget session.

Sine Die did come early, but everyone was surprised by the breadth and depth of issues considered, many seemingly solutions in search of problems. But, hey – Hoosiers did manage to secure the restoration of Happy Hour.

We’re not going to list winners and losers for you here – we never have, and don’t ever intend to get into that business because of the value judgments required. And even generally speaking, while supermajority Republicans had some items to boast about that disappointed Democrats, but even Democrats found a number of human services wins this session that earned them bragging rights as well.

Perhaps most unexpected was the deep dive into education-related issues. Even though the majority caucuses had listed some education bills on their respective priority agendas, no one anticipated the fight over definitions in the antisemitism bill that was not resolved until the final hours (and, despite the 144-1 aggregate final vote for it, there’s far less contentment than you might think with the final language); the lengthy policy debate over the reading retention measure; the partisan divide over the university tenure, teaching, and trustee bill (which is now attracting national attention); addressing truancy proved more nuanced than originally believed; there was perhaps less fuss than might have been expected over the student cell phone ban and school chaplain and religious education bills; and some higher ed advocates are still grumbling about expansion of postsecondary training dollars.

Virtually overlooked – as it was last year – was the continued overhaul of the administrative law process. In 2023, led by Rep. Steve Bartels (R) and Senate Majority Floor Leader Chris Garten (R), lawmakers effectively reworked the rulemaking process as well as the rubric for fees and fines. This session, Sen. Garten and Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R) – sometimes working with Democrats including Rep. Ed DeLaney (D) – took on the administrative appeals process, making major changes in process, burden of proof, administrative and appellate review and related items, with lawmakers learning at times that even the regulated community didn’t necessarily share goals (ag producers, meet manufacturers) and having to balance those interests.

We also saw the typical session-end controversy over language inserted into conference committee reports without much (or any) vetting; language believed dead reemerging; and lawmakers tweaking conference committee reports in response to public (or private) concerns . . .

Gaming-related language from the Senate that was killed in the House Committee on Ways and Means was also revived on the final evening in a conference report despite leadership laying down the law at the outset of session, insisting that gaming-related issues were off the table.

You saw a number of solons distracted by their earlier decisions not to return, freeing them from some constraints that they might have felt on some legislation, while the perennial diaspora of legislators focused on races for higher office also took its toll, with three senators and two House members otherwise occupied (after a few more were forced to make quick January decisions on running when two U.S. House seats unexpectedly opened, and then one open congressional seat suddenly wasn’t, which almost forced its own row of dominoes to cascade). The Senate also had four members effectively learning the ropes in their first session (with one facing election this year), and a few House members in the same straits.

Need we add that an extremely significant number of issues were left on the table to address in the next long session.

In other words, this was a fairly typical short session!

As is also usual, when we look forward to the coming session, here in 2025, there is a long list of items that either must or are likely to be on the agenda – with a new governor in charge (albeit with fewer formal powers now than the current governor enjoyed when he assumed office) and with at least eight (and likely more) new House members. While Senate turnover will likely be low (be sure to check back with us after the May primary to see how the three senators seeking to move up the food chain fared in their respective U.S. House primaries), even with no incumbents losing elections, there will still be at least five senators who have never navigated a budget session.

We’re also looking at a budget that will effectively be devoid of Covid relief dollars for the first time in four years, removing a good bit of flexibility that we previously enjoyed, and returning us to the same type of fiscal cliff we faced as a state when the federal stimulus dollars ran out following the global economic crisis of 2008-09 (and budget negotiators next year might want to look at how their predecessors handled trimmed-down revenues Back in the Day . . . channeling the mantra of former Senate Committee on Appropriations chair Bob Meeks (R) when he intoned, “There is no money – and I really mean it this time!”).

There’s lot to be done in 2025. Some of the major heavy lifts outside of straight budget issues we’ve heard discussed include an overhaul of the state tax system depending upon recommendations of the State and Local Tax Review Task Force (and whether an “Axe the Tax” gubernatorial candidate is elected); dealing with the major Medicaid shortfall that was just punted to next year; a reconsideration of the state road funding formula and major changes to K-12 education funding (including universal vouchers or scholarships and full-fledged education savings accounts; legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana; iGaming and VGTs; healthcare costs, savings, and provider and insurer issues; and more.

The “more” is a catch-all includes a comprehensive statewide water policy, addressing Indiana Economic Development Corporation governance and transparency policy, as well as guardrails for land purchase and conveyance deals . . . and what to do about the Boone County LEAP district and proposed multi-billion-dollar water pipeline. Chances are good that a candidate who is opposed to the pipeline and LEAP principles will be nominated (we told you about how all five of the GOP gubernatorial hopefuls who showed up at the CD 06 straw poll took aim at the deal – whose architect, former IEDC chief Bard Chambers (R) was conveniently otherwise engaged – although none has seemed to say just how they would handle the project if elected: send Eli Lilly & Company and another $50 billion potential suitor packing; scale down the project or effectively build it sans water and power; or simply swallow hard and allow it to be built out as envisioned and ensure that there’s never going to be a repeat?

You should also know that elected officials and lawmakers of both parties from the affected area (from the Illinois border west of Tippecanoe  County down along the proposed  pipeline route – countless communities and lots of legislative districts) are still hopping mad about the deal. This is a bipartisan issue that has galvanized units of government and which could be problematic for some lawmakers in the primary and general election. These legislators will be ready to LEAP into action on behalf of their constituents come January . . .  and may find themselves with a strong ally in 206 (and new leadership looking down from the IEDC offices across the street at One North Capitol.

Your guess is as good as ours as to how many legislative races will see any of these issues addressed in any depth or detail, and if that even occurs, whether it is part of the debate in a competitive race, primary or general. None of these concerns are amenable to being explored in one of those two-sided mailers or a 30-second radio or TV spot, but they can quickly be reduced to a common denominator and demagogued – as can just about any vote taken during this – or any other – session.

The state faces a number of both challenges and opportunities, and the 2025 session, under the guidance of our new governor (and the even broader penumbra of what happens at the federal level), will have a lot to say about where we’re headed.

Buckle up.