The lobbying organization for the state’s tech industry is wading into diversity and social justice issues with its legislative priorities for the upcoming session.

The Indiana Technology & Innovation Association, which represents more than 100 members from large technology companies and small startups, announced its legislative agenda on Thursday—and about a quarter of the items are focused on equity and inclusion.

For the past two years, the group has focused its priorities in three key areas— talent, capital and place. Those areas remain on the agenda this year, but the organization has also added equity as a fourth topic to focus on.

Entrepreneur Ade Olonoh, who chairs the association’s equity committee, said diversity and inclusion wasn’t necessarily a new focus for the group, but after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, members felt like it needed to have a stronger emphasis.

Olonoh said inclusion connects back to the association’s overall goal—to make Indiana competitive in the tech industry—because being competitive means attracting a diverse talent pool, and the state needs to be seen as welcoming and inclusive in order to attract diverse talent.

Olonoh, who is Black, said areas like accountability in government agencies and law enforcement can directly impact how friendly a state or city seems to minorities.

“It really has to kind of start at the foundational level,” Olonoh said.

Several of the priorities this year call for more transparency, including requiring state-funded entities like the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Elevate Ventures to record and report annually on how much funding is going to women, minority and veteran-owned businesses and creating a public disparity data portal to show how state programs are working and identify disparities.

“We may look at those numbers and feel great about it,” Olonoh said. “But without that data it’s hard to say where there are problems.”

The organization also wants to see a statewide public law enforcement database created to provide information to the public on egregious officer misconduct, detentions and use-of-force, as well as demographic information about arrests and detainees.

And that’s not the only suggested improvement for law enforcement. The group also supports reviewing and updating use-of-force policies, implementing wide-ranging crisis response programs, requiring implicit bias and cultural competency training, adding more civilian representation to the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy Board and ensuring access to mental health and support services for officers.

The association would also like to see some criminal justice reform by diverting nonviolent offenders away from prison and increasing access to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“I’m optimistic, … but I’m sure it’s going to be some tough conversations because of how charged these issues are,” Olonoh said.

Some of the priorities already align with what Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he would like to pursue and what the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus has said it would like to see accomplished.

Other equity-focused priorities for ITIA include:

  • Encouraging state agencies and state-funded entities to make an effort to diversify their staffs and ensure individuals from underrepresented populations are in leadership roles.
  • Conducting  a study on racial inequity as a public health crisis.
  • Expanding the Last Mile program, which provides training for incarcerated individuals to prepare them for successful reentry.
  • Making computer science more welcoming for girls and students of color.

The group is also proposing a hate crimes law that explicitly says crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, gender, age, political affiliation, sexual orientation or gender identity are eligible for harsher penalties.

The state passed a hate crimes law in 2019, but it doesn’t specifically list all of those traits. It references a list in another state law that includes color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation.

Some business leaders who had pushed for the hate crimes legislation accepted the language as good enough, even if it wasn’t exactly what they wanted.

Members of the tech association believe it could be better.

“I’m glad we have something on the books, but I think it fell short,” Olonoh said.

The rest of the legislative agenda included items similar to what the group has focused on in previous years, such as maintaining or increasing funding for the 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, raising or eliminating the cap on the Venture Capital Investment tax credit program and increasing how much funding a Certified Tech Park can capture. 

The organization would also like to see a strategy for improving broadband utilization. Holcomb’s administration has invested $100 million into a program to expand broadband access across the state, but data from the Federal Communications Commission shows that only 65% of Hoosiers who have access to broadband internet are paying to have it. The broadband adoption rate nationwide is close to 73%.

John Wechsler, founder and CEO of Launch Fishers, said it’s the classic technology adoption curve problem that occurred with other tech over the years, such as televisions or telephones.

“It’s actually quite an interesting conundrum,” Wechsler said.

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