INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WLFI)-The Indiana Chamber of Commerce laid out its top five priorities for the upcoming legislative session. The first and most important to the chamber is creating liability protections for Hoosier Businesses due to COVID-19. This way if an employee, customer, or other person contracts the COVID-19 virus after returning to work or visiting the business they will be protected.
The second is raising the state's taxes on cigarettes. The third would be to establish a work share program that will allow employers to maintain a stable workforce during trying economic times. The fourth is to increase incentives to attract remote workers. The chamber feels this would help mitigate the projected losses to its workforce over the next decade due to baby boomers retiring. The final priority is to invest in Indiana's digital economy by making broadband available to everyone.
Leaders in all four caucuses weighed in on the matters. While not all of the topics are top priorities for lawmakers. Legal liability protection for Hoosier businesses for COVID-19 is legislation both sides are willing to take action on.
"We need to be thoughtful, we need to get this done, we need to provide the protections necessary to get people back to work and back to work safely," said House Speaker representative Todd Huston.
"It should be written tightly and just to COVID issues only with regard to the immunity," said House Minority Leader Representative Phil GiaQuinta.
House and Senate leaders also agreed on increasing the cigarette tax. However, state lawmakers feel they need to decide how the extra tax dollars will be used before passing legislation.
"We want it to be directed very specifically to try and improve some of the health standards that we are most lacking here in the state of Indiana," said Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray.
"If you are fiscally responsible you better not think about using that as a source of revenue for the general fund because its fluctuating," said Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor
Lawmakers also discussed the possibility of creating a WorkShare program. WorkShare programs are an alternative to layoffs. Employees work reduced hours while collecting unemployment benefits to supplement their lower wages. Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray said it's something republicans would consider.
"Having an opportunity to really get that issue to a full hearing so the pros and cons can come out and we can decide as a body what that looks like and whether it's the right way for the state to go I think it's time to do that," said state Senator Bray.
Democratic leaders say this concept needs to be embraced, especially during trying economic times.
"Maybe not make up the whole 100 percent of what they are losing but supplement what they lost by going home,” said state Senator Taylor. “The business community could be a huge benefactor of that."
Another priority that lawmakers touched on was the budget, as well as the redistricting of the state. The senate will also be capping the number of bills a member can introduce to 10. That's because they anticipate work at the statehouse will take longer than normal due to the pandemic. To watch the full discussion click here.