We have now completed the third week of the 2014 legislative session. Twenty bills have received final passage, all with bipartisan support.
As I shared with you a couple weeks ago, one of the main items in the House Republican Agenda focuses on addressing the skills gap. This week, we were able to dive into this issue and explore it in greater detail. While Indiana’s unemployment rate (7.5 percent) is slightly above the national average (7.3 percent), our biggest challenge, surprisingly, is not only in job creation; it is finding qualified workers to fill the jobs that we already have available.
Economic experts agree that workforce quality is a top factor that determines where a business will locate or expand. To ensure Indiana’s future success, we must find a way to bridge this skills gap. House Bill (HB) 1003 does this through three main steps: focusing on the present by training the current unemployed, focusing on the future workforce by providing the skills today for the jobs of tomorrow and focusing on both the present and future workforce by creating a data capability system.
On Wednesday, this bill passed out of the committee on Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development by a 10 to 1 vote. Specifically, the bill would allow the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) to provide grants to school corporations and charter schools for developing and implementing partnerships with businesses. These partnerships would include initiatives such as internships and apprenticeships that put students on career pathways to higher incomes and in high demand fields. The bill would also allow the IEDC to provide tax credits to businesses that hire employees who have gone through this cooperative program.
One of the bills that I authored this session, HB 1387, had its hearing in committee this week as well. Indiana may not be well known for its wineries, but as was discussed during the Economic Development Interim Study Committee, they contribute a significant amount to the state’s economy. In fact, our state has over 70 wineries, contributing $70 million in economic output each year.
Currently, Indiana restricts wineries from selling wine directly to retailers. They must go through either a wholesaler or micro-wholesaler. During the interim, I heard testimony from the Indiana Winery and Vineyard Association, among others, on this very issue. Wholesalers don’t want to deal with small wineries because the wholesaler loses money in trying to deal with the small volumes and small margins there are to work with. They explained that although the actual micro-wholesaler permit only costs $100, the farm winery owners can’t own the permit, so along with insurance costs and legal fees to set it up, the end cost for wineries is approximately $3,000-$4,000. This is simply cost-prohibitive and not realistic for many smaller wineries.
HB 1387 will allow a farm winery to sell directly to a permitted wine retailer or wine dealer with a limit of 5,000 gallons of wine per permit year. Farm wineries already pay the excise taxes on their products to the State, so tax collections would not be impacted by allowing them to sell directly to retailers. I believe this is a win-win for Indiana as it will allow smaller wineries to be more productive, retailers to have more options to buy local, and the industry as a whole to be more competitive.
While it is important for us to address issues such as these, we cannot lose sight of the non-legislative issues currently ailing our state. Last year, over 35,000 Hoosiers heard the words “You have cancer.” Each one of these individuals is a husband, wife, brother, sister, friend or co-worker. With this in mind, on Thursday I wore sneakers with my suit as part of a cancer prevention campaign put on by the American Cancer Society.
The American Cancer Society reports that every one in three cancer deaths is caused by issues related to nutrition and physical activity. Suits and Sneakers brings attention to this fact and urges people to consider their health. Through this effort, I hope we can bring greater awareness to cancer prevention, and protect our loved ones from this tragic disease.
I am very pleased with how session has gone so far, and I know that we will continue to work for the good of all Hoosiers. To keep up-to-date with the happenings at the Statehouse, please visit www.iga.in.gov.