Thursday, 17 January 2019

Lawmakers, business leaders discuss 2019 statehouse goals | In Print – FW Business

The New Haven Chamber of Commerce met Dec. 14 at the New Haven Community Center for a legislative preview featuring Rep. David Heine, R-New Haven; Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne; and Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn. Charlie Hatten, president and CEO of the chamber, moderated the event.

“It’s going to be a long, hard session,” Heine said. “It doesn’t get over until April 29, so whatever you read in the newspapers, don’t believe it because it will change a lot between Jan. 3 and April 29. But the one thing I can tell you is at the end, we’re going to have a responsible, honestly balanced state budget for the biennial covering 2019 and 2020. There won’t be any gimmicks. The one thing I also am sure of is we’ll have a AAA credit rating when it’s all over.”

He said the plan it to have enough rainy day funds to make sure Indiana receives a favorable credit rating.

“We’re one of only 10 states in the union in the United States that have a AAA credit rating,” he said. “To me, that’s imperative. When all of our local communities borrow money, they’re getting the best possible rates available, so it’s very important to our growth.”

“You’ve heard we’re at the bottom of the scale when it comes to teacher pay,” Lehman said. “There is definitely an effort on the governor’s side and the legislature’s side to review that.”

Lehman pointed out that one of the misunderstandings the public often has is that the legislature does not actually set teacher pay.

“We don’t say, ‘here’s what teachers get paid,’” Lehman said. “We simply provide the funds and say, ‘this is what the standards are. Here, School, you decide where to spend that money.’”

He said the problem the last several years has been barriers — or silos of money that could not be moved around.

“We’ve taken a lot of those down,” Lehman said, adding that in his district, schools run well and spend money efficiently.

“We’re really an outlier in the state of Indiana,” he said. “Everywhere I go in my district — that’s Wells County, Adams County and east Allen here — we really do run a pretty good system. Our schools are pretty responsible. I think we need to use us as a model. I think there’s going to be an issue with how we structure funding in such a way that we see more money get to the classroom.”

Administration in some instances has been an issue with some administrative branches growing too large, he said.

School safety is going to be key. With school shootings in Noblesville on May 25 and in Richmond on Dec. 13, the public learned that such horrors really can happen in our backyard.

“As we get more information on what happened, that’s going to show us some of the things that we already started putting in place are working,” Lehman said. “Early notifications — the school was aware, police were aware. They were on site at the time of the arrival of the student. As it turns out, it wasn’t even a current student.”

School safety is a complex issue and one that the legislature will look into this year.

“Point is, it’s not just about one thing here and one thing there,” Lehman said. “There’s a lot of pieces to school safety, all the way down to what do we do with mental illness? How are we reviewing that with kids?”

More people are realizing they need to intervene.

“In the past, you never wanted to rat out your friends,” Lehman said. “You don’t want to be a snitch, and everything else, but we’re starting to see this is more than just ‘that kid saying something.’ It’s becoming a reality of ‘somebody’s going to get hurt and it might be me.’”

Lehman hopes what more kids will step up and take action.

“It always seems like we find out after the fact that all these people knew something was going to happen and did nothing about it,” he said.

Child services

“One of our marching orders is to fully fund the Department of Child Services,” Heine said. “Right now, they’re looking at about $300 million and that’s a lot of money. We’ll probably have somewhere around $350 million to $450 million — probably around $400 million extra to spend and Child Services wants $300 million. That doesn’t leave much left over for public safety for K-12 teacher salaries and so forth. It’ll be contentious.”

“If you take DCS, put them at what they’re currently spending — not any growth there — that’s about $350 million,” Lehman said. “So they take about all of the new money. If you look at it as a two-year process, the second year is another $350 million for the second year of our budget. Well, DCS won’t have that part because they’re already in the bottom part. In a sense, what you’ll hear is some of these issues that need funding, may be in there, but it may not be until the second year that you see those funds being raised.”

Several media outlets have reported on the problems with DCS.

“A lot of it is funding, but a lot of it is also systemic to the entity itself,” Lehman said. “We did a top-to-bottom review of DCS, partly because right now we put more kids into foster care than Illinois and Ohio combined.”

Some people blame the problem on opioids but Illinois and Ohio have opioid epidemics too.

“What we’re looking at is what standard we use before we take a child out of a home,” Lehman said. “We all agree there are certain standards we want to see to take a child out of that environment. But are we taking some kids out prior to really knowing what we’re doing with taking them out and putting them into foster care and then the cost begins?”

Lehman would like to see control moved from Indianapolis to the local county.

“Some of the judges and things like that adjudicate some of this,” Lehman said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a dollar issue. I think it’s going to be pretty much a top-to-bottom review of the program. The new director and new assistant director are very solid. I think they’ll be very good to work with but that is an issue that we’re going to have to deal with and it will be a top priority, both from the fiscal side as well as the care of our most vulnerable.”

Rural broadband

“Back in the ‘30s when electricity came around, electricity went to the big cities but electricity didn’t get out to the rural communities,” Heine said. “We have that same thing with rural broadband.”

“One thing that we’re going to try to do with this bill is take away some of the regulations that we have right now,” Heine said. “What we want to try to do with rural broadband is take away some of those regulations so that it’s cheaper to get to that last mile out in the rural areas.”

Heine said that according to a study from Purdue University, every dollar spent on rural broadband returns $4 in economic development.

“ I don’t know where else you can spend that kind of money and get that kind of return,” Heine said. “To me, it seems like a no-brainer, but it is very expensive and we’ll be addressing that.”

“A lot of small businesses are operating out of their homes,” Lehman said. “E-learning is really the driver of this. I’ve got people in my district that say, if we have a school cancellation and my kid’s got an e-learn, I gotta bring them into my office because I live two miles out of town and don’t have high-speed internet.”

Maumee River Watershed

“There are six counties that flow into the Maumee Watershed: Adams, Allen, Steuben, DeKalb, Wells and Noble,” Heine said. “The problem is, Ohio is telling us we’re the biggest polluter of Lake Erie. Who’s responsible for that? I tried to find that out because two years ago, we had to come up with some money so I was trying to find out who to talk to.”

The Maumee River Basin Commission is composed of representatives from each of the six counties, according to the commission’s website. Each county is represented by the three county commissioners, county surveyor and a member of the Soil and Water Conservation District Board. The commission coordinates all floodplain mapping activity in the Maumee River Basin and works closely with communities providing assistance and guidance on flood mitigation projects.

“Every county has someone that part of their job is a Maumee River Basin, but there’s no one responsible,” Heine said. “What we’re going to try to do is to get one person responsible and all they’re going to be doing is working on the Maumee watershed and see what happens there.”

Freeway construction

“The other thing we’re going to be working on is U.S. 30 limited access from Ohio to Chicago,” Heine said. “The other thing that we’re working on is 469 and 24. As everybody in this room knows that’s a problem. We’re told that the east side is going to start construction next spring. But the west side is what we need to address.”

Regional Cities

“What we’ve seen, especially in Fort Wayne, is that $1 of Regional Cities investment returned about $9 in private investment,” Lehman said. “We’re beginning to see investing this money outside of one place. You saw Regional Cities, the Stellar Grant programs — they’re really moving people outside.”

Lehman would like to move away from the Industrial Recovery Tax Credit — also known as DINO tax credits for older industrial sites — and toward a broader spectrum of abandoned properties that may not be industrial but are places where people are willing to come in and invest.

“That’s a 20-year-old program that needs to be re-invented,” he said.

Kruse explained to the group that the legislative process begins with meetings between the governor and the various agencies during the summer and fall. The governor then presents a budget to the legislature. The budget first goes to the House of Representatives who reviews it and makes changes before sending it to the Senate.

“We re-do it and at the end, the last couple weeks, we iron out those differences during a time called conference committee. And the governor is part of those conversations with leadership to try to form the compromise language that everybody can accept and agree with and finalize that budget.”

“For 16 years now, we’ve had really good, balanced budgets in Indiana,” Kruse said. “We maintain a reserve, which is part of how we got our high credit rating and that helps us get that higher bond rating, which saves taxpayers lots of money all over the whole state.”

Opioid epidemic

The opioid epidemic was addressed last session and will continue in 2019.

“One of our goals is to have a treatment center within one hour of every citizen in Indiana,” Kruse said. “We’re in that process now of putting up — I don’t know if we’re renting them or building them, but at least getting facilities in place to deal with the treatment of people.”

Kruse referenced a Dec. 12 report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics showing the prescription drug Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is now the most commonly used drug involved in drug overdoses.

“We now have a drug that is commonly prescribed by doctors that is actually being misused more than heroin,” Kruse said. “It’s interesting how we got ourselves into this predicament where drugs that are prescribed by doctors actually are misused those more than the traditional heroin, marijuana, meth and those things.”

Kruse also mentioned that Senate Enrolled Act 80, which went into effect in March 2016, reduced the number of meth lab seizures in Indiana by making it more difficult for people to purchase large amounts of pseudoephedrine, a decongestant and key ingredient used in manufacturing meth.

“But the thing is that most meth always came from Mexico, and it’s the best meth,” Kruse said. “That’s always been about 80 percent of the market, so we have addressed the part of manufacturing here in our state of meth labs but the meth that’s still coming across the border, that’s another benefit, I think of the wall is to stop a lot of illegal drugs that are crossing, in addition to illegal immigrants themselves.”

Sports betting

The U.S. Supreme Court on May 14 struck down a 1992 federal law banning commercial sports betting, leaving the matter to the states to decide.

“We keep adding these new methods of gambling and making them legal because lots of people are doing things illegally,” Kruse said. “So, the thinking is, let’s just legalize it and we get 10 percent of it or 15 percent of it — whatever the percentage might be and we will get that in tax dollars so the government can get part of this illegal betting that’s going on.”

Hemp and cannabis

“Hemp is a crop that is different than marijuana and it has a lot of wonderful uses in industry and commercial uses, let alone using CBD oil, so we have that legalized now,” Kruse said. “One of the things we’re going to work on this session is to legalize farming, raising hemp crops in Indiana. Right now, it’s illegal, even though we can manufacture it, wholesale it and sell it retail, we can’t grow it here. Kentucky has legalized it. That’s our southern border, so we’re importing a lot of it from there.”

Cannabis — whether it’s medicinal or recreational — is a different story.

Kruse pointed to Michigan’s new law allowing recreational marijuana.

“People on the north side of our state here are getting concerned that people are going to go back and forth (between Indiana and Michigan),” Kruse said. “So you’re in Michigan, you’re going to drive down into Indiana for something and you’ve got your marijuana in your vehicle or you’re smoking it or whatever. It’s legal in Michigan but you cross the border and it’s illegal in Indiana. It’s going to be a problem and how to deal with that.”

Kruse doesn’t believe there is enough of a consensus to legalize medical marijuana this session, “so my guess is it probably won’t pass, but it’s building momentum and more states are doing things but you have other products like CBD oil,” he said. “Morphine actually cures — as far as pain and stuff — morphine’s inexpensive and it does away with your pain and it’s a legal thing you can get at the drugstore, if there’s doctor’s prescriptions now if you really need that. To me, marijuana isn’t needed. There are other products out there that are doing that job of relieving your pain or suffering, whatever you want to call it.”

Lehman authored House Resolution 2 in January urging the legislative council to assign the topic of medical marijuana to the interim study committee on public health, behavioral health, and human services during the 2018 interim.

“Mine was purely to say, ‘we need to put the brakes on a little bit and study where we’re going with this issue,’” he said.

He noted that 32 states have legalized medicinal marijuana and 10 have legalized its recreational use.However, most of those laws have been passed by referendum, not through the legislature.

“As someone who travels around a lot and meets a lot of people from other states, legislatively, they’ve said, ‘we would never pass this in our state through the legislature’ because there are so many pieces of this puzzle, one being because it’s federally illegal,” he said. “But you give-the-people-what-they-want type of approach is what the referendum is. It passed.”

Lehman points out that marijuana is still listed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 narcotic, which is defined as, “substances, or chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

“One of the problems from the medical side is people say, ‘We have proof it works,’” Lehman said. “I don’t know where you’re getting that proof that it works because as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, it cannot be studied. You cannot have a true, deep study of medical marijuana based on Duke University or Purdue University to do these long-term studies because they can’t.”

Lehman suggests the Feds move marijuana from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 drug.

“What really drove me was that in the Schedule 2 list of drugs is cocaine and methamphetamine — two drugs that we would honestly say we do not want on our streets; we want to control,” he said. “Why is marijuana a 1 and cocaine is a 2? It’s because cocaine has some medical benefit. If marijuana does, let’s find out. The only way we’re going to find out is to move it to a 2 and then let the universities, let the pharmaceuticals look at this and ask, ‘is this legitimately a potential for pain management or other issues that might come along?’”

The potential side effects of marijuana are another concern, but they won’t be known until it’s legal to study the drug.

“I had a guy tell me he smoked pot 30 days in a row and never felt better,” Lehman said. “Is that a medical study? Were there side effects to that? The point is, medical studies aren’t just ‘does it relieve pain?’”

Hate crime

Gov. Eric Holcomb is pushing for some form of hate crime legislation.

“The thing is, it’s just a word,” Kruse said. “It’s amazing to me how people jump on this word. We have a good law that covers people that do what you might call a hate crime. We already have that in our law; that takes care of that. A judge can give extra sentences because he thinks this is something that’s worse than a normal crime of some kind. Really, we don’t need a change, but it’s one of those things — it’s a movement in America. If you don’t have the word ‘hate’ in your law, then you’re a bad state, which is bologna when it comes to the actual, practical side of it, and who gets prosecuted and who gets the sentences.”

Sunday alcohol sales in Indiana were finally allowed as of March 4 this year, but the Hoosier state still remains the only place where cold beer is not sold at convenience stores and cold soda is not sold at liquor stores. The issue is expected to be revisited in the upcoming session.

“I just read a report recently that sales have not increased in Indiana because of (Sunday alcohol sales),” Kruse said. “Everybody thought, ‘oh this is terrible, we can’t buy beer on Sunday’ but it really hasn’t increased sales.”

After additional discussion, Kruse told the crowd, “it looks like convenience stores selling cold beer probably will not pass.”


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