Lawmakers Meet To Set 2018 Plans At Organization Day
By Mike Perleberg
Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, speaks to legislators during Organization Day at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
(Indianapolis, Ind.) – Stemming the opioid epidemic, encouraging Hoosiers to seek job training, and perhaps legalizing Sunday alcohol sales highlight Indiana lawmakers’ 2018 to-do list.
Indiana lawmakers returned to the Statehouse in Indianapolis for Organization Day on Tuesday. The event is when the legislators gather to set the agenda for the next session.
The 2018 legislative session begins on Tuesday, January 3. Lawmakers must adjourn by March 15.
Like other even-year sessions, this one is being called a “short session,” because lawmakers do not have to pass a new biennial state budget. Free of that responsibility and with funding largely limited, social issues may move to the forefront.
Proposed changes to Indiana’s alcohol laws may grab most of the legislative news headlines in 2018. An interim study committee of lawmakers has been meeting in recent months to form recommendations on ending Indiana’s longtime ban on Sunday carryout alcohol sales and allowing all retailers to sell cold beer.
Proposals on increasing the availability of opioid addiction treatment options and cracking down on drug dealers will also get their share of attention. State Representative Randy Frye (R-Greensburg) wants to see stricter penalties for drug dealers who deal to people who then fatally overdose.
“We also have the issue of the addict, and what to do for them. So we need additional treatment facilities for them, we need additional options for them. In each of our communities it is a huge problem and it’s a big crisis and we’re going to be working on it throughout the session,” Frye said.
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Indiana has seen its number of drug overdose deaths jump by about 700 percent since 1999, reaching 1,518 deaths during 2016, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
“This is an issue that will be a burden on all of us and all members of Hoosier society and the entire country for years to come,” Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) said in a speech to senators. “But we have a special responsibility to do what we can do.”
Southeastern Indiana State Senator Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg) echoed many of the priorities outlined by House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis).
“During the 2018 legislative session, my colleagues and I will have the opportunity to look into a number of key issues affecting our state,” Perfect said. “Together, we will strive to improve Indiana’s education system, keep our budget balanced and enhance our workforce.”
Bosma told members of the House that despite Indiana’s economic successes, many challenges lie ahead.
“In particular, we need to maintain our focus on strengthening Indiana’s workforce, tackle the ongoing opioid crisis that is devastating our state and others, continue to improve our children’s education, and further streamline government and reduce bureaucracy. We look forward to addressing these issues head-on during the legislative session with the help of our Senate colleagues and Gov. Eric Holcomb,” said Bosma.
Republicans will again have supermajorities in the Indiana House and Senate, able to move their priorities and agenda at will. With a two-thirds – or better – majority in each chamber, Republicans can continue to vote even in the event of a walkout by Democrats.
As they have lost legislative seats in recent years, Indiana’s Statehouse Democrats have put voting issues at the top of their agenda. Their legislative proposals may include creating an independent redistricting commission, extending polling hours, allowing same-day voter registration, and implementing excuse-free vote-by-mail.
“With Indiana voter turnout being one of the lowest in the nation, and voter distrust of government being at an all-time high, it is imperative elected officials hear why people feel disconnected and make changes based on their input,” Senate Minority Leaders Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) said last week.
Groups are also pushing for the creation of a hate crime law in Indiana. According to the Associated Press, the Anti-Defamation League lists Indiana as one of just five states without laws against crimes motivated by biases, such as race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
Representatives of Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, African-American, Hispanic, gay-rights and disability advocacy groups said approval of such a law would make it clear the state doesn’t accept hate and intolerance.