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10/16 Torchbearer Weekly Policy Update

Welcome back! We hope you enjoyed your weekend. Thank you for allowing us to be your trusted source for news at the local, state, and federal levels.

Local, state, and federal highlights in this week’s memo include:

  • Hoosier Leaders Celebrate Hydrogen Hub Award, But Others Are Wary
  • Student Loan Payments Due for Nearly 1 Million Hoosiers
  • President Biden Signs Indiana Sen. Mike Braun’s Bill to Strengthen VA Spina Bifida Program
  • Crackdown on Junk Fees Continues
  • Early Voting Is Here
  • Indiana Lawmakers Push for Better Data on Higher Education Cost, Debt
  • 2024 Session Updates
  • Share the Torchbearer Newsletter with Your Network!
  • Important Dates

Let’s dive in.

Hoosier Leaders Celebrate Hydrogen Hub Award, But Others are Wary


What’s new: Indiana is among 16 states set to host assets for seven regional hydrogen hubs, with a grant of up to $1 billion from the Biden administration's $7 billion infrastructure law funding. The hubs aim to reduce carbon emissions and create jobs in industries that struggle to decarbonize. The hubs are also expected to create thousands of construction and permanent jobs. However, the use of 'blue' hydrogen and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) has drawn criticism from advocates who argue it is a false solution to climate change.

Why it matters: The hydrogen hubs initiative aims to cut emissions and create jobs in industries that have struggled to decarbonize, such as heavy-duty transportation and manufacturing. It represents a significant investment in clean energy infrastructure.

What they’re saying: “We are ecstatic that Indiana is a beneficiary of this monumental investment,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a Friday news release. “… This grant could propel forward this project as a critical piece of this new hydrogen ecosystem.”

The big picture: The Biden administration's funding for hydrogen hubs is part of a broader effort to transition to cleaner energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The hubs will use a combination of natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy to produce hydrogen.

What's next: The Biden administration plans to begin negotiations with the seven hubs and move forward with design and development. (Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Student Loan Payments Due for Nearly 1 Million Hoosiers

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More than 900,000 Hoosiers are making federal student loan payments for the first time in three years.

Driving the news: October marks the end of the pandemic pause on federal student loan payments.

Why it matters: After a three-plus-year break from payments, experts warn of a messy return to debt repayment for borrowers, Axios' Kelly Tyko writes.

  • Student loan debt will especially be tough on younger people, who typically have lower incomes.

Catch up quick: More than 19,000 Indiana borrowers are eligible to get their combined $933 million in debt erased following loan relief adjustments to Income-Driven Repayment plans implemented by the government in July.

Yes, but: That still leaves more than $29 billion of student loan debt for Hoosiers, most of which will be paid back starting this month.

Zoom out: More than 40 million Americans collectively owe more than $1 trillion in student loans.

Zoom in: Indiana has the 14th-highest number of borrowers in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Nearly half of those borrowers are under age 35.

What's next: Due dates for the first payments vary, but the Department of Education says borrowers will get a bill, with payment amount and due date, at least 21 days before the due date.

  • Borrowers can apply for the new federal SAVE Plan, an income-driven repayment plan that calculates monthly loan payments based on income and family size.
  • The Biden administration also created a yearlong "on-ramp period" during which borrowers won't be reported to the national credit rating agencies if they default on payments.

Be smart: Use this Axios explainer to figure out your student loan status. (Axios)

President Biden Signs Indiana Sen. Mike Braun’s Bill to Strengthen VA Spina Bifida Program


What’s new: A bipartisan bill championed by Indiana’s U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican running for governor, was signed into law by President Joe Biden last week.

Why it matters: The law addresses the long-term health impacts faced by Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The law strengthens accountability efforts for the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure children of Vietnam veterans born with birth defects, such as spina bifida, can access the VA's health care and benefits program. Additionally, Braun is one of five Republicans running in a crowded primary for governor.

What's next: The law will provide support and benefits to the children of Vietnam veterans with spina bifida for their entire lives, even after their parents pass away.

What they're saying: "This law will ensure that the children of Vietnam veterans born with spina bifida due to a parent’s exposure to Agent Orange will get the care and benefits they deserve for the rest of their lives," said Sen. Mike Braun. (Indy Star)

Crackdown on Junk Fees Continues


The FTC proposed a new rule today that would make businesses disclose all mandatory fees when listing a price, Axios' Ivana Saric writes.

  • It would have "enforcement teeth" by allowing the FTC to get refunds for consumers and seek penalties against offending companies, the agency says.

The big picture: It would level the playing field for businesses, encourage competition on pricing and make it easier for consumers to compare offers, the agency says.

  • It estimates consumers would save "more than 50 million hours per year" trying to decipher total prices in live ticketing and short-term lodging alone.

The other side: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that regulating these fees would be "government price-regulation and price-setting by a different name" and would hurt consumers. (Axios)

Early Voting Is Here


Early voting started October 11 for dozens of races on Nov. 7 municipal election ballots around central Indiana.

Why it matters: Voters in Indianapolis will elect a mayor and City-County Council members, while a changing of the guard is taking place in Hamilton County as longtime mayors in Carmel and Westfield are leaving office.

How it works: Registered voters can start casting ballots at the City-County Building.

  • The CCB is open for early voting from 8am to 5pm, Monday-Friday until Oct. 27 and open until 6pm from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.
  • Beginning Oct. 28, it's also open 11am to 6pm Saturdays and Sundays.
  • The last hours of early voting are from 8am to noon Nov. 6.

Plus: Eight other early vote centers will be open Oct. 28 through Nov. 5, from 11am to 6pm.

Of note: Registered voters can cast ballots at any Marion County vote center.

Not sure if you're registered? Check here.

Be smart: Find out what's on your ballot before you head to the polls by checking your sample ballot.

Don't forget: Your ID.

  • Indiana law requires voters to present a government-issued photo ID.

Voters in other counties can find early voting information here:


Indiana Lawmakers Push for Better Data on Higher Education Cost, Debt

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Indiana lawmakers at a fiscal policy interim study committee reviewed the results of a 'first-of-its-kind' request for higher education cost and debt data and found it lacking.

Why it matters: Policymakers should reframe their requests and allot more time for data collection, said the nonpartisan agency tasked with conducting the analysis.

The data was riddled with holes from institutions unable to submit the desired data in the correct format or within the narrow time frame allowed, and peppered with limitations.

What they’re saying: The data did show that the average Hoosier higher education student owed less in debt in 2022 compared to a decade prior, even without accounting for inflation.

What’s next: The committee adopted a recommendation to have stakeholders convene and settle on parameters for data collection, and to hopefully have that data before the group meets again next spring. (IBJ)

2024 Session Updates

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  • Bill request deadline this year is December 12, 2023
  • Language finalizing deadline is January 1, 2024
  • Anticipated first day of Session is January 8, 2024 (not officially posted yet)
  • The Senate has a 5 bill filing limit this year

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Important Dates

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Wednesday, October 18th - Roads and Transportation Interim Study Committee @ 9am

Wednesday, October 18th - Child Services Interim Study Committee @ 11am

Wednesday, October 18th - Code Revision Commission @ 11am

Wednesday, October 18th - Public Health, Behavioral Health, and Human Services Interim Study Committee @ 1pm

Thursday, October 19th - Health Care Cost Oversight Committee @ 12:00pm

Friday, October 20th - State and Local Tax Review Task Force @ 10am

Monday, October 23rd - Legislative Council, Audit and Financial Reporting Subcommittee @ 1pm

Tuesday, October 24th - Pension Management Oversight Interim Study Committee @ 1pm

Wednesday, October 25th Commerce and Economic Development Interim Study Committee @ 9am

Wednesday, October 25th - Corrections and Criminal Code Interim Study Committee @ 11am

Wednesday, October 25th - Drainage Task Force @ 2pm

Wednesday, November 1st Commerce and Economic Development Interim Study Committee @ 9am

Wednesday, November 1st Government Reform Task Force @ 1:30pm

Monday, November 13th - Health Care Cost Oversight Task Force @12:00 pm

Tuesday, November 14th - Land Use Task Force @ 9am

Wednesday, November 15th - Funding Indiana’s Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow Task Force @ 10am

Wednesday, November 15th - Medicaid Oversight Committee @ 2pm

Monday, November 20th - State and Local Tax Review Task Force @ 10am

Tuesday, November 21st - Organization Day

Monday, January 8th - Anticipated 2024 legislative session start date

Interim Study Committee Calendar

Senate Session Calendar

House Session Calendar