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Steve Baker / https://www.flickr.com/photos/littlebiglens/

A Senate committee Tuesday approved a bill repealing the state’s common construction wage while also adding new requirements for contractors on public projects. 

An amendment added in committee would require contractors to have training programs and liability insurance, and bars them from paying employees in cash. 

It also prohibits local governments from passing their own version of the common wage.  Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek), who authored the amendment, says it ensures workers are well trained and public projects well done.

Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana

It may not sound like music to your ears, but for James Ratican, the administrator for a construction apprenticeship and training program in Anderson, a construction site is a concert.

“It’s like an orchestra playing and everyone has to be on the right key …That’s a little bit of the music and that bass will kick in when that diesel hammer fires off," Ratican says.

The program is operated by a local chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers. On this day, students are learning how to operate cranes and pile drivers.

Shih-Pei Chang / https://www.flickr.com/photos/thoth188/3147537974

Though he says he hasn’t had any conversations with potential investors about the state’s so-called “religious freedom” bill, West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis acknowledges he’s fighting against the bad press it’s created.

Jenna Purcella / https://www.flickr.com/photos/jenna77/2061335649

After four months without a decrease in unemployment, Indiana’s rate fell below 6-percent in February. 

Indiana’s unemployment rate rose to 6-percent in January, the first time it hit that mark in nearly a year. 

But it only lasted a month, falling back to 5.9-percent in February.  The state’s private sector also created 1,700 jobs last month. 

The slight dip in the unemployment rate is due in part to Hoosiers leaving the labor force in February, meaning fewer people looking for work. 

Marc Benioff / Twitter / https://twitter.com/Benioff/status/581108959337136129

As Governor Mike Pence signed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law Thursday, he blamed the media for what he calls a misunderstanding of the law. 

RFRA establishes a judicial test that courts will use to decide when the government can infringe on a person’s religious beliefs and practices.  Many groups say they’re concerned it will be used to sanction discrimination, particularly against LGBT Hoosiers.  But Pence says if he thought the law, which exists at the federal level and in 30 other states, was discriminatory, he would have vetoed it.

Flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/kotomi-jewelry/6738547521

Even if Governor Pence signs the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, an Indianapolis employment lawyer says that doesn’t preclude employers in the state from taking action against employees who might try to invoke the new law.

John Haskin runs his own employment law practice and says even though the “at will” provision of state law says non-contract employees can be fired for any reason, using RFRA as a reason not to provide a service would give an employer plenty of cause to terminate a worker.

Gretchen Frazee / WFIU

Financially-embattled Angie‘s List is remaining tight-lipped about another federal class action lawsuit.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia alleges the firm gives better ratings, reviews and exposure to clients that pay more and downplays the negative reviews they may receive.  The Angie‘s List business model is built in part on the integrity and reliability of its business reviews and ratings.

Angie‘s List Spokeswoman Debra DeCourcy says it‘s company policy not to address pending litigation.

Senate, House Sparring Over 'Double Direct' Tax

Mar 18, 2015
Dave Dugdale / https://www.flickr.com/photos/davedugdale/

Legislators are taking another stab at streamlining the so-called "double direct" tax exemption for business.

Farms and manufacturers don‘t owe sales tax on equipment if it‘s directly used in production. The difficulty in interpreting that test prompted Governor Pence to make it a key element of his tax simplification bill.

But the House deleted the simplifications after analysts reported they would cost the state a quarter-billion dollars a year.

Brandon Smith / Indiana Public Broadcasting

Opponents of the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act say it’s not about religious freedom, but about legalizing discrimination.

Proponents of RFRA say they’re worried about the government encroaching on their practice of religion.

But opponents say RFRA goes much further than simply protecting religious practices; they say it will allow private citizens to discriminate because of their religious beliefs. 

Vegas Thornton / https://www.flickr.com/photos/vegast/395958569

The Indiana House easily approved legislation repealing the state’s common construction wage, and the bill’s support in the Senate looks strong.  So pushing the issue to summer study committee could be opponents’ best remaining hope.

Set by local boards, the common construction wage is a sort of minimum wage for public construction projects. 

Pete Rimsans is the executive director of the Indiana State Building and Construction Trades Council, a workers group leading the charge to keep the common wage. 

El Rodeo Owners To Serve House Arrest For Tax Scheme

Mar 2, 2015
Dave Dugdale / https://www.flickr.com/photos/davedugdale/

A Marion County Criminal Court Judge has sentenced the owners of the El Rodeo restaurant chain following their plea deals on theft charges.

Judge Stanley Kroh sentenced Francisco Salgado and Jose Melendez to 10 years with eight suspended and Abel Bustos to two years including one year probation Monday. The trio will serve the bulk of their time on home detention.

Still, their lawyer, Sean Hessler, says he’d hoped for slightly better sentences.

Senate Passes Ron Alting's Beer-tripling Allowance

Feb 26, 2015
Bernt Rostad / https://www.flickr.com/photos/brostad/5053316697

The Indiana Senate Tuesday passed a bill that would allow Indiana microbreweries to manufacture more alcohol per year.

Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) says the amended legislation is the result of a compromise between alcohol wholesalers and microbreweries.

The bill allows small breweries to increase their annual production limit from 30,000 barrels per year to 90,000.

The other half of the bill requires breweries distribute that alcohol through a wholesaler if their production exceeds 30,000 barrels.

Lisa Brewster / https://www.flickr.com/photos/sophistechate/2670946312

Legislation aimed at helping Indiana’s struggling gaming industry easily cleared the House Wednesday.  But its path to final approval may be more difficult.

The gaming bill would allow riverboats to move on land, give casinos a ten percent tax credit for new construction, and allow racetrack casinos to replace some of their electronic table games with table games that have live dealers. 

The bill’s outcome became less certain this week when Governor Mike Pence objected to the live dealers as an unwanted expansion of gaming. 

Stan Jastrzebski / WBAA News

There was a brief moment at the ribbon-cutting for the new Amazon pickup location that spoke to the debate surrounding it.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who’d been handed one of those oversized pairs of scissors used only for such an occasion, found that though the space behind him was cutting edge, his scissors were not – he tried repeatedly to slice the ribbon, was met with little success and almost gave up.

“Ok, it’s off…seemed like a good idea,” Daniels joked to the crowd.

Chris J / Flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisjones/5993842164

Controversial changes to Indiana’s gaming tax made in a House committee were taken out of a bill on the House floor Tuesday.

An amendment in the Ways and Means committee to gaming legislation last week eliminated the state’s admissions tax, changed the wagering tax and forced communities with casinos to renegotiate local agreements with those gaming facilities. 

Those changes could have cost local communities tens of millions of dollars. 

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