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Indiana: Doctor non-competes, anti-union bills failed to clear committee

By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

A supermajority doesn’t automatically ensure success. Case in point, two GOP bills — one a Senate priority — failed to get through committee this week.

Legislation banning restrictive agreements between doctors and their employers — part of a push to lower Indiana’s high health care costs — hit a roadblock Thursday. A separate bill restricting construction-specific union agreements met a similar fate earlier in the week.

Bills rarely fail on votes.

Republicans control both chambers and greatly outnumber Democrats on committees, for starters. They also work to shore up votes behind the scenes so there are no surprises.

Despite the setbacks, both bills were already back on committee calendars by Thursday afternoon, and could squeak through ahead of upcoming deadlines. They get a second chance because they weren’t defeated outright.

Priority bill stalls in committee

bill banning physician non-compete agreements was thwarted — at least temporarily — by a 6-6 tie vote Thursday.

The agreements bar physicians who leave their jobs from working in similar positions within certain timeframes and often-expansive geographical ranges.

Supporters have argued that the agreements stifle competition, and keep sorely needed doctors out of Indiana’s workforce. Instead, they’re forced to wait out the timeframe, move to a different community or even leave the state.

“I think that this has gotten so egregious, so, unfortunately, the government has to be involved,” said Senate Bill 7‘s author, Sen. Justin Busch, R-Fort Wayne.

Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Logansport, defended the ban as something that multiple “traditionally red” states have implemented in additional to liberal ones.

“It’s certainly not a partisan issue at all,” Manning said. “And I’m just glad that the Biden administration, after two years, has finally had a single good idea when they’re talking about banning non-competes.”

But several witnesses cautioned that the ban could harm providers already struggling to break even — like private practices not affiliated with hospital systems, or rural hospitals — because cash-flush systems could more easily hire away their talent.

An amendment that exempted primary care physicians from committee chair Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo, further complicated debate. Witnesses began to suggest additional exemptions, prompting frustration from already skeptical lawmakers.

Some witnesses said the bill could even push costs higher by encouraging bidding wars in the midst of persistent worker shortages. Or, they said, providers could alter their contracts to make departing physicians pay back training costs — thereby replicating the costly buyout clauses from noncompete agreements.

The vote split members of both parties, with five Republicans voting in favor and four voting against. Meanwhile, one Democrat voted in support and two voted against.

The bill is back on the committee’s calendar for another hearing Tuesday — and likely, another vote.

Bill limiting local governments, organized labor also on hold

A Senate committee this week also unexpectedly failed to pass a construction labor bill on Wednesday, prompting surprised exclamations from lobbyists in the room.

Governments, along with private companies, often use pre-hire collective bargaining agreements to lay out ground rules for construction work with unions. The project labor agreements apply to all the contractors and subcontractors on the project.

House Bill 1024 would block local governments from requiring that bidders or contractors enter into the agreements or follow them. It also bars them from discriminating against entities that sign, and those that don’t.

The bill was stymied by a 5-5 tie vote.

“These rules have been beneficial to taxpayers across the state in ensuring projects are done efficiently and on-time,” the Indiana Democratic Party said in a victorious news release Wednesday. “When Hoosier workers are protected by a PLA they are guaranteed certain rights and protections that improve working conditions and the quality of the product.”

But Democrats appear to have celebrated too early — the bill also back on the committee’s calendar for Wednesday. It previously scraped through the House with 52 votes in favor — just above the 51-vote threshold.

Incoming constitutional alterations

The House on Thursday passed an amended proposal letting judges hold more defendants without bail pre-trial if they pose a “substantial risk.” Representatives have narrowed it slightly by editing in a requirement that the state must prove that no form of release will keep people safe from the defendant.

Senate Joint Resolution 1 passed the House on a 70-19 vote. Numerous Democrats voted in support, while three Republicans voted in opposition. Because of the changes, the resolution goes back to the Senate for final approval.

The proposal must pass both chambers again in 2025 — after the next elections — before appearing as a ballot initiative before voters in 2026.

This story originally appeared on Indiana Capital Chronicle.

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