Not Content with Happy Hour: A Legislative Review

Not Content with Happy Hour 

By Zia Saylor and Erin Macey 

The following is an op-ed originally published in the Indiana Capital Chronicle on April 1, 2024. 

Hoosiers from New Albany, Gary, and everywhere in between all want Indiana to be a great place to live, work, and grow. To achieve this vision, we need policies that provide all Hoosiers the opportunity to thrive. Unfortunately, in this legislative session, good ideas were dismissed and bills that passed are deeply out of touch with what Hoosiers need. This pattern needs to change.

At the Indiana Community Action Poverty Institute, part of our mission is to learn from Hoosiers about the challenges they face. On a fall 2023 survey we conducted, thousands of Hoosiers told us the top needs in their communities are housing, food assistance, and good jobs. Yet while bills eliminating local protections for puppies and restoring happy hour to its former glory sailed through the legislature, legislative proposals to advance the wellbeing of Hoosiers in these and other critical areas were struck down. 

The Indiana General Assembly passed on multiple opportunities to address housing, despite rising costs and egregious examples of issues with housing quality. Senate Bill 243 would have made housing safer by closing legislative loopholes that allow landlords to relist a rental property without addressing cited issues; Senate Bill 277 would have protected tenants from unscrupulous landlords in Indiana by joining 44 other states that provide tenants legal recourse against unresponsive landlords. Neither bill made it to a vote by the whole Senate.  

Hoosiers tell us that good jobs have family-sustaining wages, benefits like health insurance, paid leave, and retirement savings, and opportunities to advance. Instead of raising job quality standards or better protecting Hoosiers in the workplace, the legislature reduced standards for child labor – in spite of record high violations. Institute Policy Analyst Lauren Murfree testified before a legislative committee, recounting her own experiences of being injured on the job and experiencing wage theft as a youth worker, yet despite this stirring call to recognize the necessity of child labor protections, the legislature reduced barriers to the exploitation of children.

Financial drains like payday loans and medical debt – which affect Hoosiers’ abilities to secure housing and meet basic needs – remained untouched. House Bill 1171, a bill to cap the exorbitant interest rates on payday loans, did not get a hearing, while a scheduled hearing on Senate Bill 276, which would have alleviated the medical debt that one in five Hoosiers face, was removed from the calendar. Individuals impacted by medical debt didn’t even have the chance to testify but we preserved several of their powerful stories online so that even if the legislature wouldn’t hear them, others still can. 

Instead of addressing financial drains, the state legislature did manage to pass not one but two laws to grant new leeway to banks and credit unions: Senate Bill 188 harms consumers by limiting their recourse against excessive bank fees and House Bill 1284 allows banks to change account terms with little notice and without good faith. Neither of these bills does anything to help bank customers, but were explicitly justified by the legislature’s desire to have banks escape legal liability. 

We can and should do more than hope that our legislators will do better in future sessions – we can begin working now to ensure that they will. If you aren’t satisfied with the legislative gift of a happy hour — where your tipped server is still paid $2.13/hour by their employer and an 18-year-old can now serve your drinks — we hope you will commit to taking action with us to transform Indiana.

Telling your legislators what you think of their votes, knowing your legal rights around voting, and stepping up to the ballot box this fall are all ways you can create a difference. We haven’t given up on the dream of an Indiana where we are all able to thrive — we are all just going to have to work a bit harder to get there.

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