Zay busy with a heap of legislation

Andy Zay
Andy Zay Photo provided.

One of the two senators representing Huntington County (District 17) at the Indiana Statehouse, Sen. Andy Zay (R), is busy at work this legislative session.

The deadline to file new bills has passed, and after a week-long break last week, Zay returned to the statehouse Monday ready to keep at it.

He has introduced a slew of bills during the 2021 session, on topics ranging from broadband expansion to small business initiatives.

Zay says Senate Bill 377 has taken up the bulk of his time this year.

He authored the bill, which would establish broadband programs to increase Internet access across Indiana.

He has been working over four months on the bill, and says he is still refining it.

It was authored “using the same concepts as broadband grants,” he explained, and his goal is to “expand (broadband) using existing infrastructure.”

Many folks in Indiana are families of free and reduced lunch students, or are living in poverty, he says, and these residents are not able to afford Internet access, or live in rural areas where broadband does not reach. 

Zay says the COVID-19 pandemic has made it obvious that everyone needs access to the Internet.

The bill proposes taxing social media companies, who he says are benefitting but not contributing to the broadband infrastructure.

From the proposed tax revenue, 90 percent would be used for rural broadband improvements and expansion and 10 percent would be allocated to the Online Bullying, Social Isolation and Suicide Prevention Fund.

Zay has authored and filed five additional bills:

• Senate Bill 139 is close to home. The bill would allow small businesses to create and offer health coverage of their own.

Zay noted that he is a small business owner himself, and as such, is privy to the challenges that small business owners face. He says he hopes the bill offers “some reflection,” showing that small business owners deserve better health insurance options.

• Senate Bill 50 would help bring more private investment dollars to small and growing Hoosier businesses.

Currently, Indiana’s venture capital investment tax credit is available only to tech companies, says Zay.

“I want to take the lid off and make it more broadly accessible to small business – beyond technology,” he adds. Zay hopes the bill would create high-paying jobs in the state for Hoosier workers.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy.

• Senate Bill 51 would allow Indiana schools to claim federal Medicaid reimbursements for providing Individualized Education Program (IEP) services and special education services.

Zay says this is the third time he has introduced this topic, and he hopes the legislation would “help subsidize things in our schools.”

Neighboring states currently collect $100 to $150 million more than Indiana in Medicaid reimbursement funds. The passing of this bill would help Indiana capture these reimbursements.

Collecting these funds would allow schools to increase teacher pay.

• Senate Bill 140 would prevent state government pensions from being invested in foreign entities that could post a threat to the U.S,including companies affiliated with the Chinese government.

Zay says Hoosier workers are the backbone of Indiana, and he hopes to protect their retirement from any foreign interference.

The bill would also require the creation of a system to provide an audited statement of compliance with this requirement. It has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Pensions and Labor.

• Senate Bill 137 proposes a new way to raise money for the Kids First Trust Fund. The bill, which is being considered by the full Senate, would allow the nonprofit to accept private funding, gifts and donations. The trust is currently funded with the sales of “Kids First” license plates alone.

The fund helps children in abusive homes and helps to educate parents on prevention. Zay hopes the bill will allow the fund to further its mission.

As he keeps an eye on his own legislation, Zay keeps up-to-date on the hot-button topics during each legislative session as well.

This year, big discussion will revolve around Senate Bill 1, which Zay says he gave input on.

The bill will protect businesses from being sued by patrons who claim to have been exposed to COVID-19 on their property or at an activity organized by the business – unless the employer or individual’s actions constitute gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Critics of the bill say it could give employers a green light to not properly protect workers from COVID-19 exposure.

Another controversial topic at the statehouse this year is legislation regarding law enforcement misconduct.

Zay says he has not personally done a lot of work on this legislation, which is in the House now.

He says he will continue to follow the bill as it moves into the Senate.

“Police are serving us every day,” he says, “at the end of the day they just want to go home and see their family.
“They deal with traffic safety to domestic abuse (day to day).”

Zay says while it is important to offer ongoing training for police officers, it is also a citizen’s duty to engage with the officer respectfully.

“As with any profession, we need to weed out the bad,” he added.

However, Zay says legislation has to be careful “not to go too far. There is a morale.”

He says it is important to show law enforcement respect, and give them the tools they need.

“It’s a big issue,” he says, “We all need to work on ourselves.”

Zay says another popular topic of discussion is legalizing marijuana use in some form, weather medicinally or recreationally.

In his opinion, “The appetite is not there right now in Indiana.

“You have to look beyond the obvious,” he adds.

He cited studies he says have been done in Colorado since they legalized marijuana and he says there is a poor impact on youth.
“There is a downside to it.”

He says the topic may get traction at some point, as he does believe it is a better option than opioids for pain relief.  

Zay says it would be nice to have federal guidance on the issue, as he believes the federal government should declassify marijuana before states move forward with legalizing its use.

Other things to look out for this year include redistricting and the passing of a balanced budget, says Zay.

The redistricting may be delayed due to census data reporting lags, Zay says, but it is important, as it is due time to redistrict the state.
“In Indiana you’re going to have a balanced budget,” Zay noted.

However, it will be more challenging to do so this year due to COVID-19.

“Everybody isn’t going to get what we want,” he notes. Zay also said a goal is to pay down pension debt.

He hopes Indiana, “Comes out of crisis (soon) with a balanced budget, which will let us be ahead of the game.”