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Cigarette tax, driver’s licenses for the undocumented Indiana Chamber’s 2024 legislative priorities

(The Center Square) – Once again, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce will ask state lawmakers to consider significantly raising the tax rate Hoosiers pay when buying cigarettes.

The chamber met with legislative leaders from both parties as it unveiled its agenda for the 2024 General Assembly session, which is slated to start Jan. 9. Among the 11 top priorities for next year is increasing the cigarette tax by $2 per pack, which would more than triple the current 99.5-cent levy.

The cigarette tax is an issue the chamber has brought up previously. It was part of its agenda for this year’s session, with the business organization urging lawmakers to use the tax hike to help pay for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s health initiatives.

Chamber Vice President of Health Care Policy and Employment Law Ashton Eller said a tax hike that high would cut down on the number of smokers by 100,000 and raise more than $370 million in revenue. That’s funding that could cover increases in Indiana’s Medicaid program.

For anti-smoking advocates, Indiana is on the wrong side of both cigarette tax policy and the number of smokers. The tax, wich lawmakers last increased in 2007, ranks 39th nationally and below all four neighboring states. In addition, the state has the eighth-highest smoking rate nationally.

A $2.995 per pack tax would be the 12th highest in the nation, according to data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Other items on the chamber’s legislative agenda include pro-business measures, such as supporting tort reforms and increasing the amount business owners claim for personal property tax exemptions. The list also features a prohibition on “union-only” project labor agreements.

In addition, the agenda includes policies the organization said would help bolster the state’s talent pool, a need cited by many businesses across the state. One way would be to expand access to early childhood education and improve the quality of those programs across Indiana.

Jason Bearce, the chamber’s vice president of education and workforce development, noted that some headway was made on that issue earlier this year. Still, it remains an issue.

“The lack of affordable, high-quality childcare across Indiana is impacting Hoosier families and businesses all over the state,” Bearce said. “It’s certainly one of the outside factors most negatively impacting attracting and retaining workers.”

In a more progressive stance, the chamber also included providing driver’s licenses, or “driving privilege cards,” as the organization called it, to undocumented immigrants. According to Judicial Watch, 19 states and the District of Columbia already have laws allowing those individuals to obtain legal driving privileges.

Adam Berry, the chamber’s vice president for economic development and technology, said the move would lead to more drivers being insured on Indiana’s roads.

“Undocumented residents of Indiana who hold driving cards will feel a greater sense of security and responsibility when driving and/or interacting with authorities,” he added.

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