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10/30 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:

  • Mike Pence Drops Out of 2024 Presidential Race: ‘This is Not My Time’
  • New Speaker of the House
  • FSSA Announces $25 Million Grant to Address Working Hoosiers’ Child Care Needs
  • Indiana Chamber Survey Finds More Employers Optimistic About Indiana
  • Indiana September 2023 Employment Report
  • Lawmakers Grapple with Legal, Educational Implications of AI
  • Drainage Task Force Fumbles on Final Report
  • Indiana Lawmakers Eye Regular Pension Boosts for Retired Public Employees
  • New Performance Report Cards Go Live On Each Indiana School’s Website, Replacing A-F Grades
  • Indiana Budget Panel Approves New Autism Therapy Reimbursements, Despite Reservations
  • Indiana House Committees Update
  • Share the Torchbearer Newsletter with Your Network!
  • Important Dates

Let’s dive in.

Mike Pence Drops Out of 2024 Presidential Race: ‘This is Not My Time’


Breaking: Former Vice President Mike Pence announced that he is ending his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, citing the lack of likelihood for success.

Why it matters: Pence's decision to drop out of the race has significant implications for the Republican primary and the future of the party.

The big picture: Pence's struggles with fundraising and low poll numbers throughout his campaign made it difficult for him to qualify for the third Republican debate. Despite leaving the race, Pence emphasized his commitment to conservative values.

What's next: It remains to be seen how Pence's departure will impact the remaining presidential candidates and the overall dynamics of the Republican primary. Pence did not endorse any of the remaining presidential candidates, leaving the field open for other contenders. (Indy Star)

New Speaker of the House


House Speaker Mike Johnson — elected this afternoon after 22 days of chaos — is the least experienced representative to obtain the gavel in 140 years.

  • Why it matters: The fourth-term Louisianian's status as a relatively unknown figure outside Capitol Hill meant he had few enemies to derail his campaign.

The House floor vote ended on a tally of 220-209, with no Republicans voting against Johnson, Axios' Juliegrace Brufke reports.

  • All Democrats voted for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

🧮 By the numbers: It's a stunning rise to power for Johnson, a low-ranking member of the GOP leadership team who was first elected in 2016.

  • He has less experience serving in the House than any person elected speaker since John G. Carlisle in 1883, according to an Axios analysis.
  • Since the Civil War, speakers have spent an average of 18 years in the chamber before ascending to the top of the ladder.

🔎 Zoom in: Johnson was the fourth GOP nominee — following Reps. Tom Emmer, Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise — in the scramble to replace former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

  • "Mike is one of those people who gets along with everybody and he's well-respected," Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who opposed Jordan and Scalise, said on CNN.
  • When asked why Johnson won, Buck said: "Probably because he has the fewest enemies of anybody in the Republican Party."

Johnson is known to be a staunch ally of former President Trump, Axios' Sareen Habeshian writes.

  • He spearheaded an amicus brief, signed by 126 House Republicans, in support of a lawsuit that sought to overturn the 2020 election.

What's Next: The new speaker faces multiple pressing challenges, including a looming government shutdown and aid to Israel and Ukraine. (Axios)

FSSA Announces $25 Million Grant to Address Working Hoosiers’ Child Care Needs


The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning has announced the Employer-Sponsored Child Care Fund, a $25 million program aimed at mobilizing employers and communities to create or expand child care offerings for working Hoosiers.

Why it matters: This targeted grant program will boost Indiana’s economy and empower the state’s youngest learners with the tools they need to be successful in the future.

By the numbers: The program will provide grants of up to $750,000 to support employees' child care needs, including dependent care assistance plans, on-site or near-site child care, and child care tuition benefits.

The big picture: The Employer-Sponsored Child Care Fund is part of Indiana's broader efforts to strengthen the early care and education sector, supporting today's workforce and investing in tomorrow's.

What's next: Employers can apply until November 22 to receive funding and implement childcare solutions within the first year of the program. (FSSA)

Indiana Chamber Survey Finds More Employers Optimistic About Indiana


Indiana businesses are feeling more optimistic about their fortune and the future of the state, according to the annual employer workforce survey from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and its Institute for Workforce Excellence.

Why it matters: Nearly 70% believe the state is heading in the right direction, and about half of those employers believe they will increase their workforce in the next two years.

By the numbers: About 48% of all respondents expect their business to grow in size over that period.

The big picture: The biggest issue was finding and retaining talent, but this year’s survey shows improvement, with the number of employers identifying that as their main challenge dropping 10% to 42%.

What's next: As for negative factors affecting the workforce, the survey showed childcare, housing, transportation, lack of diversity, and quality schools as deterrents. (Inside Indiana Business)

Indiana September 2023 Employment Report


Indiana's unemployment rate for September stands at 3.6%, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Why it matters: This information is important because it provides insight into the state's current job market and economic conditions.

By the numbers: Indiana's labor force participation rate is 63.4% for September, higher than the national rate of 62.8%.

The big picture: Indiana's total labor force decreased by 3,237 from the previous month.

What's next: The state continues to see growth in private sector employment, with an increase of 7,300 jobs over the last month. (AM1050)

Lawmakers Grapple with Legal, Educational Implications of AI


Lawmakers in an interim commerce committee are scrutinizing the new technology of AI and how to best regulate it.

Why it matters: Regulation is needed to ensure the safe and responsible development and use of AI.

The big picture: AI has become increasingly popular and powerful, but there are concerns about biases, disinformation, cybersecurity, and surveillance. Regulation and guidelines have not kept pace, prompting lawmakers to act quickly.

What's next: The committee will meet on Nov. 1 to discuss draft recommendations for the General Assembly, including the application of current laws to AI, addressing election issues, and incorporating AI into classroom learning. (Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Drainage Task Force Fumbles on Final Report


In a lengthy meeting, members of the committee on drainage debated and approved recommendations and preliminary drafts of legislation, but ultimately failed to provide any recommendations in their final report.

Why it matters: The committee's inability to produce recommendations is disappointing considering the time and effort invested in the process.

The big picture: The committee's co-chair expressed frustration and embarrassment at the lack of a committee recommendation report, despite the extensive hours spent on expert testimony and constituent issues.

What they’re saying: “It was the most miserable task force or interim committee meeting I have ever been a part of — and, unfortunately, I was co-chair of it,” said Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg).

Yes, but: The committee's attorney announced that the final report would only be an informational document with no recommendations or findings.

What's next: It is unclear how the three preliminary drafts of legislation approved by the committee will be included in the informational report. (Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Indiana Lawmakers Eye Regular Pension Boosts for Retired Public Employees


A legislative study committee is recommending Indiana implement a sustainable annual increase to the pensions paid to most retired state and local government employees, including teachers.

Why it matters: The recommendation aims to address the struggle of retired government workers to keep up with the rising prices of essential goods and services.

By the numbers: The committee suggests a 13th check each year for retired public employees and a 1% compounding cost of living adjustment for future retirees.

The big picture: The measure seeks to guarantee financial stability for retired public employees and future retirees.

What's next: The recommendation will be considered by the General Assembly in the upcoming session starting in January 2024. (NWI Times)

New Performance Report Cards Go Live On Each Indiana School’s Website, Replacing A-F Grades


To increase transparency around Indiana students’ education performance, new report cards issued by the state education department are now required to be posted on nearly every Hoosier school’s website.

Why it matters: The new school performance reports will provide additional transparency around key data points, like test results, attendance rates, and career readiness.

By the numbers: The performance reports cover the 2022-23 and 2023-24 academic years and include pass rates for literacy and statewide exams, chronic absenteeism rates, and per-student funding.

The big picture: The reports replace the state's previous accountability system of assigning A through F grades and aim to help parents, families, and communities better understand what's happening in their schools.

What's next: The Indiana Department of Education will issue null grades for each school for the next two years and provide future accountability recommendations to the Indiana General Assembly by Dec. 1, 2024. (Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Indiana Budget Panel Approves New Autism Therapy Reimbursements, Despite Reservations

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Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) has been granted approval to set new reimbursement rates for autism therapy services for Hoosier children with Medicaid. The new rates, which will take effect on January 1, have been increased to $68 an hour, reflecting a larger reimbursement for administrative overhead costs and additional funding for time that supervisors can't bill for.

Why it matters: The approval of the new rates is important as it ensures that therapy providers can continue to offer services without laying off staff, reducing services, or shutting down altogether.

The big picture: The increase in reimbursement rates addresses concerns raised by families, state lawmakers, and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch about the initial proposal of $55 an hour. However, some Democrats on the State Budget Committee remain skeptical about whether the new rate will be sufficient to meet the needs of Hoosier children.

What's next: Moving forward, Indiana's FSSA is committed to conducting rate-setting activities in a transparent and provider-informed manner. The agency will continue to work on adopting and applying clinical criteria to ensure that adequately trained individuals are providing services to children. (Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Indiana House Committees Update

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  • With Rep. Jerry Torr (R), who has chaired several different committees during his tenure, opting against a 2024 re-election bid, Rep. Chris Jeter (R) will move up to chair the House Committee on the Judiciary, restoring an attorney to the chair, while Rep. Torr, a fellow Hamilton County resident, will assist in the transition by serving as vice chair.
  • With the abrupt retirement of Randy Frye (R) from the House, another military veteran, Rep. Steve Bartels (R) will serve as chair of the Committee on Veterans Affairs and Public Safety, while Rep. Joanna King (R) will join the panel and serve as vice chair, a role that had been held by Rep. Jim Lucas (R) who fell further out of favor with leadership after his guilty plea to two misdemeanors connected to his late May arrest for driving under the influence (he had earlier been shunned from any interim study committee appointments).
  • Rep. Chris Judy (R) is promoted to vice chair of the Committee on Family, Children and Human Affairs, replacing Ann Vermilion (R), who stepped down at the end of the session.
  • As Rep. Donna Schaibley (R) decides not to seek re-election in 2024, she moves out of her post as vice chair of the Committee on Courts and Criminal Code in favor of Rep. Jennifer Meltzer (R), an attorney.
  • Rep. Lori Goss-Reaves (R), who replaced Vermilion, will serve on the Committee on Public Health; the Committee on Family, Children and Human Affairs; and the Committee on Insurance.
  • Rep. Alex Zimmerman (R), selected to replace Frye, joins the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Public Safety; the House Committee on Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications; and the House Committee on Roads and Transportation. (Indiana Legislative Insight)

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