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Republicans pitched big ideas to fix mental and public health, and here’s where they ended up.
- Advocates received half of what they wanted for mental health purposes.
- Holcomb admin says about half the state will be served by mental health crisis system.
- Sen. Ed Charbonneau blamed the shortfall in public health funding on a distrust of the state health department following the pandemic.
Sen. Michael Crider spent months advocating for a boost of at least $100 million per year to transform Indiana’s struggling mental health system.
The Greenfield Republican’s companion bill to the state budget garnered nearly unanimous support and earned the coveted Senate Bill 1 spot, usually reserved for Senate Republicans’ top priority. Then in the thick of state budget negotiations last month, House and Senate leaders learned some unexpected news: Updated revenue forecasts revealed they had access to an extra $1.5 billion over the next two years.
The surprise money could have paid for Crider’s mental health request for more than a decade. But Crider wasn’t celebrating.
With the news, he could already guess that no one would support a cell phone fee to pay for the mental health system overhaul at a time of excess revenues. His pitch for a fee was dead, and so was his chance at exceeding $100 million per year for mental health.
“When the budget forecast came out, you could just kind of feel that disappearing,” Crider told State Affairs last month. “I think I may be one of the few people in the state who was disappointed when we had a surplus because I think that sealed the deal for me probably.”
This year’s legislative session showed how even bills with widespread, bipartisan support can fail to achieve full financial backing in a fiscally conservative legislature that typically prefers a more measured approach. It was even true when Republicans, who hold a supermajority in both chambers, targeted their priority legislation to address Indiana’s abysmal numbers for suicides, overdoses and public health outcomes.
Part of the challenge was the number of health-related problems they were trying to solve at once. As Crider fought for at least $200 million over the next two years, his colleague Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, sought an even higher amount for public health: $347 million.
By the end, Crider received half his request. Charbonneau received about 75% of his.
While both numbers fell short, both senators — and many advocates — were still thrilled to see the Indiana General Assembly take significant steps to address their concerns.
“I've spent more time laying awake at night thinking about this and what I could have done and honestly, while I'm disappointed, I'm at peace,” Crider said. “I was trying to hit it to the fence. I got to second base. That’s great progress. Most people aren’t going to get that done.”
Mental health receives less than half estimated need
Back in January, Senate Republicans started outlining their plans to tackle some of the state’s most significant and nagging challenges.
The nonprofit Mental Health America last year said Indiana ranked 42nd in treatment.
So Crider carried Senate Bill 1. The goal? Follow up on creating the 988 crisis hotline by expanding it into a three-part system. The other two parts would include mobile crisis teams to respond to calls for help and crisis stabilization units where people can go for up to 23 hours at a time to receive care.
The system would ideally work like 911 but for someone experiencing a mental health crisis, whether that’s driven by suicidal thoughts, drug addiction or another issue.
Fully funding the crisis system would cost roughly $130 million per year, according to an estimate by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA).
But with only $50 million per year allotted in the budget, an FSSA spokeswoman told State Affairs that about half of the state will be covered.
While that fell short of advocates’ ambitions, it’s still a dramatic improvement over what had been planned as a modest expansion at the start of this year by relying on federal dollars.
“The Indiana mental health advocacy community led the charge this legislative session for bold, transformational changes to Indiana’s system,” said Jay Chaudhary, director of FSSA’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction, in a statement. “Our goal over the next two years is to match their sense of urgency and use this substantial investment to lay the foundation for a system that works for Hoosiers, both now and in the future.”
The FSSA is aiming for statewide coverage by 2027, according to its spokeswoman.
Some community mental health centers, meanwhile, have already started rolling out the three-part crisis system.
Early data shows a lot of promise. At 4C Health in Logansport, for example, mobile crisis teams since September 2020 have responded to more than 3,000 calls for help across four largely rural communities.
The teams are able to stabilize someone in crisis about 65% of the time, according to 4C Health, which allows that person to remain safe at home. The crisis stabilization unit, meanwhile, has led to a 24% drop in admissions to the costlier psychiatric facility, amounting to more than $1 million in savings.
Some Indiana centers are also relying on temporary federal grants to fund their transition into a new treatment model called certified community behavioral health clinics (CCBHC), which provides a greater range of services.
Another goal of Crider’s legislation is to move all mental health centers into the new model.
That will require the state to apply for what’s called a demonstration program. Ten states participate, and providers and advocates previously believed that Indiana had been rejected by the federal government for consideration.
Then the FSSA received clarification in March that Indiana remained in the running. If approved, mental health providers would receive greater Medicaid reimbursements, which would allow them to provide even more services beyond the three-part crisis system.
Will the public health money be enough?
Health experts were looking at similarly dismal physical health statistics at the start of session, which Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration surmised was due to a lack of funding for public health and trauma care.
The final budget contained about three-quarters of Holcomb’s initial $347 million ask. Specifically, over the next biennium, state lawmakers budgeted $225 for local health departments that decide to opt into receiving the state public health funding in exchange for matching a portion of the dollars locally.
The idea is that local health departments can use that extra money for services such as implementing more tobacco cessation programs for those struggling to quit smoking, offering free immunizations for children, or providing HIV testing.
In Ripley County, for example, County Health Officer Dr. David Welsh said leaders might use the money to up salaries in an attempt to quit hemorrhaging health department employees who provide valuable services, such as septic tank inspections.
The budget also contained additional dollars for improving the state’s trauma care system and money for the state health department to build up support for local health departments. The goal is to eventually build out the trauma care system so that all Hoosiers are located within 45 minutes of a trauma center.
“Once you add it all up, it’s huge,” Holcomb said. “It allows us to get started building, not just the relationships — we’ve established those in all of these local communities, but it allows us to start working with folks who want to participate.”
But while the investment dramatically expanded public health funding, some advocates were hoping for more. Before the pandemic, Indiana only spent $55 per capita on public funding, compared to the U.S. average of $91, according to a report from the Governor’s Public Health Commission, leading to disparities in public health access.
Whether or not this extra money will be enough to reduce the gaps in public health access will largely depend on how many counties choose to take money from the state. Counties have until Sept. 1 to opt in to the first round of funding, which will be awarded in January based on how many choose to participate.
“I’m going to accept what we can get at this point in time,” Charbonneau said. “Certainly, I would love to get 100% of the funding that we started with but that’s not in the cards, but I think with where we are with the funding we’re going to be able to get a lot done.”
Why lawmakers didn’t dedicate more money
It wasn’t a lack of resources that held back legislative leaders from providing more funding to mental and public health. It was a combination of political will and a hesitancy to spend big all at once.
And maybe some skepticism about how much money is actually necessary. For example, if a majority of counties don’t seek the increased funding for public health, why dedicate so much money to it?
“The tough thing around here is nothing is ever fully funded,” said House Speaker Todd Huston while speaking from the House floor about the final budget. “When you ask people what would it take to be fully funded, the answer is always the same: Just a little bit more.”
Efforts to increase public health funding were hindered by a fear among some conservatives that doing so was the equivalent of giving the state health department more power. That’s an uncomfortable idea for those who felt Holcomb and his administration went too far when addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“There’s a lot of misconception, apprehension, because the pandemic created some problems in the minds of folks,” Charbonneau said. “We need to get beyond those, and I think the only way to get beyond them is to start doing something.”
Perhaps nothing illustrated the tension better than this: In the end, 31 Republicans voted against Senate Bill 4. It’s uncommon to see that many Republicans vote against a Republican priority bill.
For the mental health legislation, collecting votes proved to be a lot easier. It was harder, though, to convince budget writers to open the state’s checkbook.
President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said earlier this year that he prefers incremental increases in spending when possible. And on the last day of the legislative session, Bray acknowledged that some would be disappointed with the final budgeted amount.
“I know Senator Crider and some other advocates wanted significantly more than that,” Bray said. “But it's a really good, productive start.”
Among the loudest voices supporting Crider’s legislation was Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, who shared personal testimony about mental health struggles within her family. She had advocated for the full $130 million per year, too.
But she told State Affairs that she’s happy with the budget.
“Would I have loved to have had more? Of course, we all would love to have more,” said Crouch, who is also campaigning to become the next governor. “But that $50 million a year — with what we're going to be able to combine with the federal funding — will allow us to really start doing some great things for Hoosiers in mental health and addiction.”
Demonstrating the value
Public and mental health advocates are hopeful they’ll be able to cobble together more funding in two years when the next budget is crafted, but that’s only if they can demonstrate a continued need.
In some ways getting this year’s budget passed was the easy part when it comes to overhauling the public health system. Now advocates must convince local elected leaders — some of whom have no health background — to accept the state dollars and commit to following basic guidelines for how to use the money.
If they can prove enough counties are interested, they might be able to justify increasing the funding in future years.
“It’s not enough to just make the basketball team,” said Welsh, who is also the health officer for Franklin County. “You want to win state.”
Welsh was a member of the Governor’s Public Health Commission, but even he remained skeptical that the elected leaders in both of his counties would accept the funding during the first year. Welsh used another sports analogy to explain why some counties might wait.
“At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, every time there was a new engine or new car that came on the scene for Indianapolis, everybody didn’t jump in,” Welsh said. “They’re like OK, let that team try it first and we’ll make sure it works.”
Likewise, 4C Health CEO Carrie Cadwell said it’s on her and other mental health providers to prove to state lawmakers that their funding will pay off in improved mental health outcomes.
"This kind of investment is unprecedented, even at $50 million a year,” Cadwell said. "Now it's time for those of us who are doing the work — of crisis stabilization, mobile crisis, community mental health centers — to step to the plate to demonstrate what that $50 million can do and what further investments down the road can do.”
In the meantime, 4C Health expanded to three more counties this week.
Header image: Indiana Senate Majority Whip Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, addresses the Senate during deliberations on April 25, 2023. (Credit: Mark Curry)
Your questions answered: Why the state is feuding with Tippecanoe County over water for the LEAP District
Editor’s note: This article is part of a State Affairs and Fox59/CBS4 series looking at how decisions get made at the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and how it impacts economic development in the state. The IEDC has faced increased scrutiny due to its involvement with Boone County’s LEAP Lebanon Innovation District and because two gubernatorial candidates are former IEDC leaders. Read our first story here.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is banking on the success of the LEAP Innovation and Research District, a tech hub in Boone County.
But, the state agency is missing a crucial resource it needs to enable more high-tech industries to call the hub home: enough water. The IEDC, the state agency tasked with driving economic development, hopes to funnel water from the aquifer that sits adjacent to the Wabash River in Tippecanoe County roughly 40 miles away, if studies go as planned.
Opposition to the plan has bubbled over among Tippecanoe County residents and their elected leaders, concerned about what siphoning water away from their community could mean for them long term.
What was once an often-ignored topic in Indiana has become one of the most contentious, bi-partisan issues ahead of the 2024 legislative session.
“I’ve never seen an issue like this that united everybody,” said Sen. Spencer Deery, R-West Lafayette.
Here’s what you should know about the water fight.
What is the LEAP District
The LEAP District will be a 9,000-acre “hub of global innovation” in Lebanon. The land is already ready for the IEDC’s use whenever high-tech companies show interest.
The LEAP District was created in order to allow the state to move more quickly to land deals, said Secretary of Commerce David Rosenberg. Back in 2021, the IEDC lost a bidding war against Ohio for Intel, a chip manufacturer. One reason Indiana lost, Rosenberg said, was because Indiana didn’t have readily available land for use, and wasn’t able to move as quickly as Ohio.
Indiana-based drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company was the first to announce it would be building two manufacturing sites in the LEAP District, investing $3.7 billion and creating up to 700 jobs. Indiana is in the running for other companies as well.
“LEAP is not in any way or shape designed to compete against what other Indiana cities are doing,” Rosenberg said. “LEAP is designed to compete against international locations that are playing for the same types of companies of the future and other places throughout the United States, like Nashville or Austin, Raleigh, Phoenix.”
Why does the IEDC say Lebanon was chosen for the LEAP District?
Location, location, location. Lebanon is located 45 minutes from Purdue University and Rosenberg said it was relatively easy to piece together enough acreage in the city. Plus, unlike other areas of the state, it’s located within a 30-minute drive to an international airport and can pull from the central Indiana population center for talent.
Why does the LEAP District need outside water?
The IEDC already has a central Indiana source in place to provide 10 million gallons of water a day to the LEAP District. That’s enough to handle the current needs of the district, including those of Eli Lilly.
But, Rosenberg said that won’t be enough water should a high-water user decide to move to the LEAP District, which is the state’s goal. In June, the IEDC announced that Indiana is a finalist for a $50 billion semiconductor plant, the type of industry that depends on large amounts of water.
Rosenberg added that should a high water user not decide to settle in the LEAP District, the IEDC will no longer be involved in water discussions. Regardless, he said water scarcity in central Indiana is an issue that will have to be addressed in the future, even if a major water user doesn’t choose Indiana to expand in.
“Even outside of anything happening at LEAP, this is a problem that is staring the state in the face over the next few decades,” Rosenberg said. “Our premise was can we use economic development to unlock the resources to not only provide additional water for potential companies coming into these areas, but really solve a regional, generational water issue that everyone has identified and known about for decades and decades.”
An Indiana Finance Authority central Indiana water study released in 2021 estimated that the daily water demand in central Indiana would increase by more than 100 million gallons by 2070.
What is Indiana’s water solution?
The IEDC is looking at the Wabash Alluvial Aquifer as a likely solution to its water woes.
IEDC signed a $9 million contract with Black & Veatch Corporation earlier this year to manage water infrastructure. The contract itself outlined a plan to “convey raw water from a series of collector wells and pump stations located adjacent to the Wabash River” for the LEAP district.
But, Rosenberg emphasized the pipeline is not a done deal. At the request of the IEDC, INTERA Inc., has started testing how much water can sustainably be withdrawn from the aquifer adjacent to the Wabash River.
How much extra water does the LEAP District need?
Rosenberg said the IEDC has not placed a number on how much water it would need to pull from the aquifer. That would depend on which companies choose to move to the LEAP District, he said.
Intel in Ohio, for example, is expected to use 5 million gallons of water per day. That’s the kind of water usage Indiana should expect to see if the IEDC lands a chip manufacturer.
Preliminary results from the INTERA study show that two collector wells at the site will sustainably produce more than 30 million gallons of water per day. That’s the equivalent of more than 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The actual amount of water withdrawn could be much larger. Water from the aquifer could be used for other central Indiana uses outside of just the LEAP District, to help address the expected 100 million gallons a day increase in water needs for central Indiana over the next 50 years.
There’s not yet an estimate of the maximum amount of water that could sustainably be moved from the aquifer.
Why are Tippecanoe County residents concerned?
Elected leaders and Tippecanoe County residents are worried that if the IEDC takes water from the aquifer adjacent to the Wabash River, it could negatively impact the county’s water supply and its own ability to expand economically in the future.
“The concern is once you develop that pipeline, Indiana doesn’t have any real rules in place to determine how much can be moved,” Deery said.
Plus, the LEAP District is located well outside of Tippecanoe County, which means the benefits to the community aren’t as obvious as they would have been had the IEDC chosen a location closer to the Wabash River for the development.
Does Tippecanoe have enough water to share?
That’s what the IEDC has been studying.
The preliminary results from the INTERA, Inc. study show that two wells on the site will sustainably produce more than 30 million gallons per day, with “minimal impact on home-owner wells” according to the IEDC.
Those opposed to the project, however, aren’t confident that the IEDC will be able to provide an unbiased look at what the impact on the Wabash River would be.
“Typically, you research before you buy,” Deery said, “and there’s been a sense around here that the decision has been made. And now it’s in search of the evidence to support that.”
What did Holcomb propose to ease concerns?
Last month, Gov. Eric Holcomb directed the Indiana Finance Authority to take over oversight of the INTERA water supply study.
“I am confident that these new efforts led by IFA will provide the necessary data to gain a greater understanding of the amount of excess water that is truly available to support all the surrounding region’s growth prior to any action being taken that could inadvertently jeopardize this needed resource,” Holcomb said in a statement. “ No entity is better suited to lead this overall pursuit than the IFA which will approach this study in the same methodical, collaborative, and transparent manner the organization has conducted in the past.”
Moving oversight of the water study to a different agency was praised by some critics of the project as a step in the right direction.
IFA will also start a comprehensive regional water study for north-central Indiana, expected to be completed in fall 2024.
What is Tippecanoe County doing to try to stop the pipeline?
Last month, Tippecanoe Commissioners unanimously advanced a nine-month moratorium on “high volume water export(s).”
Rosenberg said the commissioners’ moratorium would have no impact on the IEDC’s plans because the agency would not be in a place to pump water from the aquifer in the next nine months.
“I think the action was unnecessary and it was playing to some of the rhetoric and misinformation,” he said.
How will state lawmakers address water during the 2024 legislative session?
Republican legislative leaders say they want to avoid legislating on the water issue until they get the data. That means they have no plans to finance such a pipeline yet.
“We’re not going to take any other steps until we have an opportunity to study to make sure that there’s ample water for the projects that we’re trying to bring into the state of Indiana,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said last month, “and we understand just how much is too much to take away from a particular community.”
Those who represent Tippecanoe County, such as Deery, hope to implement some guardrails “that would help protect all communities against any potential harm of large water transfers to another community,” he said in a press release.
The INTERA water supply study is expected to be completed in early 2024. Rosenberg said it’s “too premature” to say whether a water pipeline would move forward without the blessing of Tippecanoe County, should studies show the capacity to move large amounts of water is there.
“We’re not going to in any way inhibit Lafayette from their ability to to grow economically,” Rosenberg said, “because they’ve had so much success already.”
The legislative session convenes on Jan. 8 and must wrap up by mid-March.
INDIANAPOLIS — Last August, Anne Hathaway’s phone lit up with a call from Gov. Eric Holcomb. Nearly a quarter-century before, Hathaway had recruited the future governor to run for an Indiana House seat in the only race he lost.
With the resignation of Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer in hand, Holcomb asked Hathaway to lead the Indiana Republican Party, and in doing so was tapping the first women to hold the role.
For the past 15 years, Hathaway had led the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, an organization inspired by U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and created by Teresa Lubbers and Judy Singleton to develop a gender bench for the GOP.
“I encourage women every day to take a risk, be willing to lose; go out of their comfort zones and run for office or serve on a board or commission,” said Hathaway, who serves as Indiana’s national committeewoman on the Republican National Committee, during a recent, exclusive Howey Politics/State Affairs interview.
“I couldn’t continue to do that unless I was willing to do that myself, willing to take the risk, willing to lead by example,” she said, adding, “When the call came for me, I jumped. Yeah, I’m in. Let’s go.”
Holcomb said in making this historic nomination: “Here are several key reasons I believe Anne is the right person at the right time for this role. Anne’s resume of service to the Republican Party is as extensive as just about anyone’s in the country, having served with distinction at the local, state and national levels throughout her entire career. Furthermore, with experience in running campaigns at every level of government, she has the knowledge and relationships to not only keep our party moving forward, but to continue to take it to the next level.”
Hathaway’s roots are in the tiny Illinois town of Galva just north of Peoria. After graduating from high school with a class of 77, and then from the University of Illinois, she decided to spend a year in Washington, D.C., where she began as a typist at the Department of Treasury.
Hathaway served in the White House as assistant and director of scheduling for former Vice President Dan Quayle, was program director for the 2012 Republican National Convention, and was executive director of the Indiana House Republican Campaign
Following Hathaway’s resume is a lesson in stewardship and power.
“Sen. Lugar would be more excited about me being state chair than I am just because, Judy Singleton and Teresa Lubbers were ecstatic,” said Hathaway.
She now helms the party at (or nearing) its historic apex. The Indiana GOP holds all the state constitutional offices, nine of 11 congressional seats, maintains General Assembly super majorities, more than 90% of county offices, and as of the municipal elections earlier this month, 76 mayors. If a Republican is elected governor in 11 months, the party will increase its historic dominance to five consecutive terms.
Hathaway will lead the party through the five-way gubernatorial primary. Following next June’s Indiana Republican Convention, she will head to Milwaukee, where Republican National Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tabbed her to head the RNC’s Arrangements Committee.
Hathaway has committed to serve only through the May primary. “At that time, she will work together with the gubernatorial nominee and you all to decide who is best to finish out the remainder of the term,” said Holcomb.
Asked if there was a chance to continue as chair beyond the May election, she said, “That’s a conversation to be had.
“I have agreed to stay at least through the state convention. I believe the gubernatorial nominee should have his or her own political partner here. I’m just focused on the time between now and then, she said.
Senior reporter and columnist Brian Howey sat down for a 45-minute, wide-ranging interview with Hathaway where she discussed what it means to make history as the first female state Republican chair, how her work at the Lugar Series prepared her for this new role, the Republican party’s diversity programs and other topics. Read the full conversation on State Affairs Pro here.
Gov. Holcomb taps Boone County Council president to serve out remainder of Comptroller Tera Klutz’s term
Republican Elise Nieshalla, president of the Boone County Council, will serve out the remaining three years of State Comptroller Tera Klutz’s term.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the appointment of Nieshalla, a real estate investor, on Tuesday. As state auditor, Nieshalla will oversee the balancing of Indiana’s checkbooks and payment of all state employees.
“My appreciation runs deep for the strong financial standing of our state and the integrity in which the State Comptroller’s Office is run,” Nieshalla said in a statement. “It is truly my privilege to receive Gov. Holcomb’s appointment to serve our great state and local units of government by upholding the highest standards of fiscal responsibility and offering tremendous Hoosier service.”
Earlier this year Klutz announced she would resign Nov. 30, roughly a year after she was reelected. Klutz, who was first appointed by Holcomb in 2017, is the fourth state auditor in a row to not finish their term, enabling the sitting governor to choose a replacement.
Nieshalla was already well-known within Republican circles. She previously ran for treasurer in 2022 against three other Republicans, losing to current Treasurer Daniel Elliott at the state Republican convention. At the time, the convention loss of Nieshalla and other Republicans more closely aligned with the party establishment was seen as a rebuke of the Holcomb wing of the party.
Nieshalla, who lives in Zionsville, is also president of the Indiana County Councils Association and the chairwoman of the Association of Indiana Counties’ 2023 Legislative Committee. She has a bachelor’s degree from Oral Roberts University and a master’s degree from Indiana University.
She’ll be sworn in on Dec. 1 and will serve until at least the 2026 election when voters will have the option to choose the next state comptroller.
Holcomb praised Nieshalla in an emailed statement.
“Elise is a dedicated and proven public servant who has committed much of her professional life to bettering her community through service,” Holcomb said. “She has shared her financial expertise to help steer and shape the bright future of Boone County which gives me great confidence she’ll do the same serving Hoosiers as our next State Comptroller.”
On Tuesday, Indiana lawmakers returned to the Statehouse for Organization Day, the ceremonial start to the legislative session, ahead of what legislative leaders are saying should be a low-key, short session.
“We’ll probably take a pretty measured approach on what we address … , maybe fine tune some things,” House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said during an Indiana Chamber of Commerce legislative panel on Monday. “Short sessions are supposed to be for emergency items only.”
Not only will 2024 be a non-budget-writing legislative session mandated to end by mid-March, but this session also falls in the midst of a heated Republican gubernatorial primary. There’s no obvious assumed winner who can lead policy discussions ahead of the election, nor has Gov. Eric Holcomb laid the groundwork for any major policy changes in his last legislative session.
Plus, recent criminal corruption charges against a former lawmaker — and the potential for other lawmakers to be charged in connection with the case — has put a cloud over the Indiana General Assembly.
Still, some minor bills are expected to move, and something can always pop up. Here’s a breakdown of some of the issues State Affairs expects to be debated, and three that probably won’t move.
Both Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said they want to limit the situations in which schools allow third graders to advance to fourth grade when they fail the IREAD-3, the state’s reading comprehension test.
During the 2021-2022 school year, more than 18% of students failed the test because they were not reading at a third grade level.
“When you pass that kid on, and they aren’t prepared to succeed, you’re not doing that kid a favor,” Huston said, following his Organization Day speech in which he laid out his caucus’ priorities.
Huston’s goal is to make Indiana the No. 1 state in the nation for third grade reading proficiency by 2027.
Democrats cautioned that it may be too soon to make major changes to how IREAD scores are handled in Indiana. During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers passed a science of reading bill.
“We need to make sure that schools have the opportunity to train their teachers, to implement these strategies across the board before we start throwing new legislative hurdles in the way,” said Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis. “We have to give [new recommendations] time to work before we start, say, failing all children or retaining a whole class of children.”
Continuing to re-think K-12 education
Last legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill seeking to expand work-based learning in high school, but Huston emphasized during his Organization Day speech that legislators can still do more to transform the K-12 school system.
Huston said House Republicans will push to allow state money typically set aside for students pursuing a college education to be used to obtain certificates and certifications for “high demand, high wage jobs.”
“We must continue to adjust the way we think about K-12 education in order to meet the needs of all students, including those who aren’t interested in pursuing a two-or four-year degree,” Huston said. “Let’s use this session to build on skill and work-based learning, and let’s align our funding to this goal.”
This fall the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce took a delegation of Indiana lawmakers and others to Switzerland to see how the country’s apprenticeship program operates. Expect more changes in the coming years that would enable Indiana’s K-12 system to more closely mirror that of Switzerland’s.
Child care access
During his own Organization Day speech, Bray emphasized a need to expand affordable child care options for young children.
“Day care is a constant challenge from the Ohio River to the Michigan line, trying to find day care at all if you can find it and whether it’s affordable,” Bray said.
He pointed to a legislative study committee on the topic which recommended some minor reforms to the system, such as lowering the age requirement for working unassisted in an infant or toddler classroom to age 18 from 21 and requiring the state to review how it can streamline child care regulations to increase availability.
Don’t expect lawmakers to throw more money at the child care system since 2024 isn’t a budget-writing year.
Health care costs
Lawmakers passed multiple bills during the 2023 legislative session aimed at cutting health care costs, ranging from limiting physician noncompete agreements to creating benchmarks for how high hospital prices in the largest hospital systems should be.
But Bray said he expects lawmakers to offer more legislation on the topic this year in order to help drive down costs long term.
A legislative study committee on the topic backed recommendations to require more disclosures by insurance companies on their “prior authorization” process for medical care, as well as require medical providers to give lawmakers a six-month notice for mergers or acquisitions.
It’s unclear whether legislation on water access will actually pass either chamber, but the topic is almost certain to come up in discussions.
Earlier this year, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. announced plans to pump water from the Wabash River aquifer to the LEAP district in Lebanon. Tippecanoes citizens have been vocal in their opposition to the plan, and just this week the Tippecanoe County Commissioners voted to put a moratorium on high volume water exports.
Legislative leaders say they want to avoid legislating on the issue until they get more data. The Indiana Finance Authority and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce are studying the issue.
“We’re not going to take any other steps until we have an opportunity to study to make sure that there’s ample water for the projects that we’re trying to bring into the state of Indiana,” Bray said, “and we understand just how much is too much to take away from a particular community.”
But, even if leadership would rather wait to address the elephant in the room, lawmakers are almost certain to file legislation.
Issues that won’t move: Gaming
For at least the past two legislative sessions, lawmakers have filed bills to legalize internet casino gaming, or iGaming. It appeared momentum was on proponents’ sides. Until this month.
Earlier this month former state Rep. Sean Eberhart agreed to plead guilty to criminal fraud charges that federal prosecutors say stem from influencing casino legislation in return for the promise of a $350,000-a-year job.
Both Bray and Huston said Monday they don’t expect any gaming legislation to move in 2024.
During Monday’s Chamber panel, Bray said the federal investigation “makes gaming extremely hard to engage in.”
“It taints the Statehouse, it diminishes the confidence that people have in the integrity of the Statehouse, it causes an awful lot of problems and it makes it particularly difficult to engage in that kind of policy,” Bray said.
Issues that won’t move: Marijuana
Lawmakers studied the impact legalizing marijuana would have on the workforce and youth in an interim committee this fall, but the committee never issued any recommendations for legislation.
Both legislative leaders and Holcomb have emphasized their reluctance to legalize marijuana until at least after the federal government reschedules it. Huston reiterated his hesitation on Monday.
“No one has made a compelling case to me yet on why legalizing marijuana or having more people use cannabis in the state of Indiana is a positive thing,” Huston said. “So until I hear that answer, I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of change.”
Likewise, Bray said its passage “seemed unlikely.”
The ceremonial start of the legislative session is just that. Lawmakers won’t start moving bills until they return to the Statehouse in January.