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• For state representatives: 1-800-382-9842
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• Mailing address: 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204
The Indiana General Assembly is back in session, with a longer to-do list than its short session is likely to accommodate.
We offer some issues that should be addressed, along with some that should not:
A miscalculation in the school funding formula approved last year created a shortfall when enrollment was tallied in the fall, prompting quick action from lawmakers. But the $11.8 million fix shouldn't overshadow another attempt to divert millions of dollars from public schools. Republican lawmakers are expected once again to attempt to create education savings accounts – direct payments to parents who agree not to enroll their children in public schools but instead spend their allotment of tax dollars on private schools, tutors and education products.
Since first approving private-school vouchers, the General Assembly has repeatedly expanded Indiana's school-choice program. The education savings accounts would be the final and most damaging push to full privatization and abuse. An audit of a similar program in Arizona found parents spending money on items such as snow globes and sock monkeys.
The state's budget needs are great enough without looking for ways to spend tax dollars with no accountability attached.
Whatever lawmakers do this year, Indiana's alcohol code will remain a mishmash of nonsensical, outdated and inconsistent rules. The commission appointed to revamp the code barely scratched the surface last summer, though it's set to reconvene after this year's legislative session.
The commission fell short of formally recommending an end to Indiana's unique ban on cold beer sales at convenience and grocery stores. But the group's hearings poked some holes in the arguments for the ban, and polls show most Hoosiers oppose it, so lawmakers should at least let a proposal get to the floor.
Even if New Year's Eve hadn't fallen on a Sunday, the stars would seem to have aligned for advocates of Sunday alcohol sales. The commission endorsed the concept, and polls show ordinary Hoosiers were already ahead of policymakers on this remnant of the blue-laws era. But nothing is ever a slam dunk when alcohol lobbyists are milling nearby, so lawmakers who would like to put consumers first will have to push the measure through.
Health care uncertainties
Perhaps we've already seen the worst of the national battles over the future of health care. But perhaps not. It's been next to impossible to guess which programs will be left out in the cold by threatened congressional actions – now there's talk of “reforming” Medicare – or inactions on such once-routine matters as long-term funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program and federally qualified community health care centers.
When the Medicaid funding that undergirds HIP 2.0 was imperiled by efforts to repeal Obamacare this summer, Gov. Eric Holcomb promised the state would do whatever it needed to do. But such a promise might be tough to keep if Indiana suddenly has to make up shortfalls of hundreds of millions of dollars to cover its young, its old and its poor.
Smart legislators would talk seriously this session about a contingency plan for Hoosiers if Washington, D.C., remains determined to let the federal health care safety net unravel.
A measure being pushed by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, would allow Hoosiers to carry firearms without a permit or background check.
Lucas argues requiring a permit compromises the constitutional right to bear arms. He says people who shouldn't be carrying firearms would still be prohibited – they just wouldn't have to undergo fingerprinting or a record check to ensure they can legally carry, say, a concealed handgun.
More sensibly, opponents argue that doing away with the permit system could endanger us all – beginning with police officers.
Under the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished maxim, the legislature must revisit its well-intentioned effort last session to clear away confusion and allow the sale of cannabidiol oil toepileptic patients and their caregivers.
CBD oil is a medicinal product that, unlike marijuana, doesn't get people high.
But putting the exemption into effect was a problem. Though some believe a 2014 law had already legalized the use of CBD oil, excise police continued to treat it as a controlled substance.
A review of the question by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill left the issue unresolved.
Hill acknowledged that the exemption for epileptics is valid, but declared it is still illegal to sell the medicine to anyone, including the patients for whom the exemption was drafted.
Senate Bill 159 has been assigned to the Elections Committee.
That's a positive sign, given that the chairman, Columbus Republican Greg Walker, has been supportive of redistricting reform efforts. But pressure from lawmakers who benefit from districts drawn to their electoral advantage will be working behind the scenes to stop it, as Rep. Milo Smith did in the last session.
Hoosiers will have to tell their representatives – at every opportunity – that redistricting reform must begin this year. Indiana's long list of challenges will only grow if lawmakers continue to choose their own voters.