By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS  — Remember those cartoons of yore when Bullwinkle tells Rocky he’s going to pull a rabbit out of his hat? Except, sometimes instead of a rabbit, Bullwinkle ends up pulling out a scary creature.

House Ways & Means Co-Chairman Todd Huston appears to be this session’s Bullwinkle. Out of the blue last month he came up with a $100 million relocation fee to move one of the Gary casinos to Terre Haute. And then after a committee hearing this week, it became $50 million.

A either level, none of this was on the table when Spectacle began talks to purchase the two Gary casinos and in subsequent talks with the state to move one of them south.

Huston found something else in his top hat: A potential 13th casino license when Huston proposed merging the two Gary licenses into one, then setting up a competitive bidding process for a Gary casino to move to Terre Haute. That could constitute an equally scary “expansion of gaming.”

As Dan Carden of the NWI Times reported: “Ongoing, that’s a positive for the state and the local community, but at the expense of the operator,” Huston said. “We felt like we needed to acknowledge that, and that’s being acknowledged in the reduction from $100 million to $50 million.” The money would have to be paid to the state’s general fund in two equal installments: $25 million when the relocation is approved by the Indiana Gaming Commission; and the second $25 million exactly one year later. Spectacle also still would be required to surrender the second Gary gaming license, without compensation, as a condition of receiving state approval to move off Lake Michigan. “We’ve separated the Terre Haute discussion from the Spectacle discussion,” Huston said. “If the operator in Gary wants to move, that’s their decision based upon the parameters that we provide within the legislation.”

The IBJ reported that if Spectacle does proceed with the new Gary casino, the second license would be surrendered to the state and essentially dormant. Any future use of that license would require approval from the Indiana General Assembly.

Gov. Eric Holcomb seemed to suggest in an Indianapolis Star interview that moving a casino should occur within the existing footprint. “I’ll need to take a deep dive into all the details, because of how the conversatoin has expanded and what is all included,” Holcomb said. “I’ll be doing that in the coming days, now that it is hot off the presses at the 11th hour. Every action has a greater reaction somewhere else. We need to be very mindful of that. I’m not opposed to looking at new ways with existing license, but this bill is far beyond that. I need to do a lot more digging before I weigh in.”

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett was also surprised at what came out of Bullwinkle’s hat. “That just seemed very exorbitant because that’s $100 million for Gary and whoever gets the license in Terre Haute it’s a $50 million fee,” Bennett told Indiana Public Media’s Joe Hren. “And Spectacle has to give up their license in Gary. So wow, that’s a big change to the bill. I still feel good about it moving forward. My guess most of this will get worked through a conference committee once it gets through the house.”

Asked if it could be a deal-breaker, Bennett added, “It could be, because they just purchased those two licenses, did not know anything about these fees, and you add that on top of their initial investment plus what they’re going to have to do to build the new casinos, they’re talking about spending $450 million to build two new casinos. It’s a significant amount of money. The state will benefit greatly, and from the business perspective casinos are different anyway because the state controls that business, but you have people that want to invest.”

The bigger picture, of course, is that the original proposal was to help cash-strapped Gary set up a new intermodal port in Buffington Harbor by moving the casinos, and cash-strapped Terre Haute would get a casino. If Spectacle were to just walk away, perhaps the top hat will end up filled with eggs.

Senate set to act on budget

Indiana Senate Republicans are set to advance a state budget plan that will show whether they’ve found more money to boost school funding (AP). The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on sending its version of a proposed two-year budget to the Republican-dominated Senate. School funding would increase by just over 2% each of the next two years under a proposal approved in February by the Indiana House. Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders have touted the importance of addressing Indiana’s lagging teacher salaries , but education advocacy groups estimate a 9% funding increase is needed to boost average teacher pay to the midpoint of Indiana’s neighboring states.  

Holcomb signs bills

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a dozen bills Wednesday (WTHR-TV). Two of them created study committees to look into a couple of issues concerning Hoosiers: prescription drug pricing and reckless homicides. Another law requires the State Department of Health to set a list of best practices for schools to follow when it comes to radon testing. Here are all the legislation Holcomb signed, 

SB 198 - Makes substance abuse on penal or juvenile facility property an enhancing circumstance.

HB 1029 - Assigns committee to study issues consumers face regarding prescription drug pricing, access and costs.

HB 1051 - Assigns a study committee to look into reckless homicide.

HB 1053 - Specifies new elements for a new design of the disabled Hoosier veteran license plate.

HB 1057 - Allows a Vanderburgh County circuit court judge to appoint an additional magistrate.

HB 1080 - Makes a correction concerning the deprivation of earned good time credit for inmates placed in a community corrections program.

SB 004 - Establishes storm water management task force to study storm water management systems.

SB 191 - Specifies “person”includes nonprofits for purposes of the historic preservation adn rehabilitation grant program.

SB 271 - Eliminates state requirement that manufacturers must include certain information on an e-liquid container.

SB 324 - Requires BMV to design a parking placard designating a person who has been deemed eligible to receive a disabled Hoosier veteran plate.

SB 375 - Notes after June 30, 2019, local government may not enact an ordinance requiring a solid waste hauler to collect solid waste management fees.

SB 545 - Requires executive director of Indiana public retirement system and the trustee of the Indiana state police pension to report to the committee overseeing stress tests or sensitivity analyses.

SB 632 - Requires ISDH to distribute best practices for managing indoor air quality at schools.

Payday lending bill moves in House panel

A controversial lending bill that narrowly passed out of the Senate is on its way to the House floor with a few changes. The amendments approved in committee Tuesday were not released until an hour prior to the meeting (Horton, Indiana Public Media). The House Financial Institutions Committee took no public comment on the bill, which changes rules for high-interest, short-term loans. One of the amendments lowers the interest rate cap for loans of less than $3,000 to meet the state’s 72% rule. And while the cap was lowered to 167% on loans requiring no collateral, that number is still well above what’s outlined in existing law. Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne) contends these new loan options are needed. “All this bill does is now to create a middle product,” said Lehman. The House committee voted along party lines, 7-3.

Senate changes animal cruelty bill

Senate lawmakers this week approved legislation that aims to sharpen state law surrounding animal cruelty.But the measure doesn’t go as far as its author originally wanted (Smith, Indiana Public Media). The original legislation created broader definitions of animal cruelty and increased the criminal penalties for abusing animals. Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) says it’s important to give law enforcement the tools they need to go after animal abusers. “What we know about animal crimes, without a doubt – people who abuse animals, abuse people and they abuse children,” Hatfield says. But Senate lawmakers worried that the increased penalties weren’t proportional to crimes against people, so they stripped out those provisions. 

Projectiles can be used in teacher training

A new amendment approved by lawmakers Wednesday would allow projectiles to be used during school active shooter training, if employees consent in writing beforehand. The amendment is part of a bill that funds teacher firearm training (Barrett, Indiana Public Media). The proposed change comes in response to an incident at an elementary school in Monticello, Indiana earlier this year, when teachers were injured after being shot with metal pellets. Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond) proposed the amendment to allow for projectiles. He says it should be an option for this type of training. “It’s got to do with reality, and making sure they experience the emotions and the adrenaline and everything that happens during the training, but it’s not required,” Raatz says. Raatz says training participants at the Monticello school were notified beforehand about the use of metal pellets. This contradicts what one teacher from the school told WFYI, that employees were unaware they would be shot during the training. Both bills move now to the full Senate.

Bill increases workplace fines

When Samantha Hogue-Figgs’ daughter died in a factory accident last year, the company received only a $6,300 fine. That’s why she traveled to the Statehouse on her birthday Wednesday to watch the Indiana Legislature give final approval to a bill stiffening penalties for businesses in workplace deaths (Kelly, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, brought House Bill 1341 to reform how Indiana addresses negligence by an employer that contributes to an on-the-job fatality. “It’s shocking to me that we have even one company removing vital safety features from a piece of equipment,” Carbaugh said. “This tragedy resulted with the death of a young, vibrant woman and could have easily been avoided. That’s the really frustrating part of all of this.” HB 1341 increases the penalty for an employer that knowingly violates safety code that results in an employee’s death. The new maximum penalty would be $132,598, nearly double the current $70,000 standard. The House voted 94-0, which now goes to Gov. Holcomb.