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Chief Justice Loretta Rush on mental health, bail and diversionary courts
About 11 years ago when a vacancy opened on the state Supreme Court, Indiana was one of just a few without a woman serving as a justice.
Loretta Rush, who had been serving as a juvenile court judge in Tippecanoe County, wanted to change that.
"That probably motivated me as much as anything," Rush told State Affairs.
Not only would she soon be appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court in 2012 by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, Rush would also within two years become the chief justice.
Rush is still one of just two female justices out of 111 to have served on the bench. (The other is Myra Selby, who served in the 1990s.)
She is also president of the Conference of Chief Justices and recently represented the United States when she traveled to Finland to meet with justices from other countries to learn about judicial trends across the globe.
As chief justice, Rush holds significant oversight and administration responsibilities for courts across the state.
In a wide-ranging interview with State Affairs, Rush spoke about state lawmakers’ discussion on the constitutional right to bail, why she wants to see more diversionary courts, and her support for expanded assistance for Hoosiers in a mental health crisis.
“What can we do to help stabilize,” said Rush, who has been an attorney or judge for more than 40 years, “and not just keep our jails full of people struggling?”
The conversation is edited for clarity, brevity and length.
Q. You've been on the Indiana Supreme Court for more than a decade. What's different today compared to when you started?
A. There's been a sea change in the last decade. We've gone paperless. We have promoted technology. We have a unified case management system.
So if you want to look up something you can do it on your phone as opposed to getting in your car and going to the courthouse. People can access their court case without having to pay money. It's right at their phone.
We are working a lot with regard to unrepresented litigants. So many of our people are unrepresented. If you go to indianalegalhelp.org, you can access how to navigate guardianships, divorce, expungement, name changes, paternity, just a number of different cases.
Q. Courts can often be mysterious places for people. It seems like a lot of those technology upgrades are meant to remove some of the mystery.
A. Very much so, I think that transparency is important. Our capital is public trust. Are you going to get a fair shake? Are you going to procedurally have a fair hearing? How much is it going to cost? We think about all those things.
Q. Do you find that most people understand the role that the Indiana Supreme Court plays in the administration of courts across the state?
A. No, I don’t think they do. It’s not just deciding cases; you have that administrative engine.
We’re always looking at systems. Do we have enough interpreters? Does everybody understand what’s going on in court?
A lot of people go to court sometimes at their lowest moment. And you want to make sure that the procedural safeguards are there and we’re doing what the constitution requires us to do.
Q. Lawmakers right now are considering an amendment to the Indiana Constitution that would restrict the right to bail. What role do you and the courts play in that public discussion?
A. Under separation of powers, we don’t have a role in that.
But we do have a role procedurally looking at pretrial and pretrial reform. Twenty-five years ago, only 25% of people were in jail on a pretrial basis. Now it's 75%. So we’re really looking at low risk, nonviolent offenders who are poor who need to be able to bond out. We require under Criminal Rule 26 a risk assessment to determine their level of risk.
Bail and bond have always been for two things: One, to make sure that they're not arrested again; and two, to make sure they show up [for court]. So we're trying to meld the constitutional purposes of bail and bond with the practicalities of what's going on in the jail.
Q. In your State of the Judiciary speech, you talked about diversionary or problem-solving courts. You said there’s more work to do. What are the successes and what’s left to do?
A. We’ve tripled them in the last decade. I think we’re growing as fast, per capita, as any other state.
I just want to make sure we don’t have justice by geography. If you live in a county and there’s a problem-solving court, you have that option available to you in lieu of incarceration.
I went to a veterans court graduation down in Floyd County in southern Indiana. Now 10 years later, somebody who would be sitting in the Department of Correction has a company, bought a house, is supporting his family and contributing to his community and he's been clean and sober all this time.
So that extra work at the front end with regard to having a problem-solving court — with accountability, regular court hearings, a team of people working with them — it’s really important. They work.
Our Indiana constitution talks about reformative justice, which means not just punitive, but also reformative. And I think it's a huge part of fulfilling the constitutional charge of redemption, reformation. The idea of people going in and out of jail, in out and of jail, and in and out of jail — something has got to break that cycle. Problem-solving courts have been effective and our judges are really on board.
This year, we've got a legislative ask for them to be funded. And I think we will be able to expand more.
Q. Is the holdup about funding or are there just some counties who are uninterested in participating?
A. I mean, we had a mental health summit last year and, two years before that, we had a substance abuse summit where we invited judges to bring teams from their county. Every county showed up with a team of people to deal with justice-involved individuals who are struggling with addictions and justice-involved individuals who are struggling with serious mental illness. They all came because they really want to see a better result.
When you sit on that bench day in, day out and you're watching some of the pathos that comes before you, there's got to be a better way than just this revolving door. Plus it's a tremendous cost to taxpayers as well. So who can be safely out in the community and who cannot be? It's a tough call and our judges are making those calls every day.
Q. What I’ve learned in Indiana is that any criminal justice reform effort tends to come from an individual county or agency because so much of our system is decentralized. So are there counties or prosecutors' offices, for example, fighting against those problem-solving courts?
A. I'm seeing fewer and fewer of those. Some of the biggest proponents have been prosecutors.
At the substance abuse summit, we had a prosecutor from St. Joseph County come down and say, “Listen, I was skeptical, but now I see it’s working.” And the same thing on pretrial reform with regard to doing risk assessments and determining who can safely be out in their communities.
These are evidence-based, and that's the key. We're not just throwing things at the wall. A lot of these programs and disposition alternatives have been studied to find that they work.
We had to train our judges on the science of addiction. We had to train them on buprenorphine, naloxone, methadone. We brought doctors in, we brought studies in. What is working, what’s not working, for substance use disorder? So that we’re just smarter dealing with criminal actions because when you’re a community it’s not just the one criminal case.
There’s always kids involved. And there’s an employer. And then there’s family members involved. When somebody’s life is spiraling down when they come to court, if you can do something redemptive and put them in a diversion program where they can safely go through treatment, you're not just working on their life.
Q. In your State of the Judiciary speech, you also mentioned Indiana’s 988 crisis hotline. Why is the chief justice putting a spotlight on mental health?
A. It touches almost every docket. And the idea that to have someone to call, someone to answer and somewhere to go in a mental health crisis, and it's not just digging yourself deeper into the criminal justice system. And there are solutions.
I was just on a phone call this morning with the lieutenant governor and with people from the mental health community. I think it's critical. I think the dollars that we spend on incarcerating somebody with mental health, if we could put it more at the front end, I think it would be money better spent with a better outcome for those individuals.
Q. The other big bill along those lines is House Bill 1006, which seems to clarify a lot of the judicial procedures around mental health treatment.
A. It's been a Herculean effort to try to set up a system where they can get assessed and out of the jails and stabilized in lieu of going down the criminal justice route.
I've got to give a lot of credit to the work that Rep. Gregory Steuerwald did on that bill. I mean, he's a lawyer. He's been in courtrooms. He's been in jails.
Q. I’m going to ask the most controversial question of the interview now, and that’s about cameras in the courtrooms. Do you think judges are actually going to allow them?
A. Well, we piloted it with six seasoned judges and they all had them and it worked. It may not be as much as you may want right in the beginning.
We have live streaming of our oral arguments. We live-streamed a lot of trials throughout the state during COVID. The sky didn't fall.
We had two separate pilot programs. It was interesting: The judges were disappointed that more media didn't want to come. There's only two states left in the country that don’t allow cameras in the courtroom.
And so I think there's a level of transparency and public trust that can come by seeing this.
Q. The public perception is that the U.S. Supreme Court is growing more partisan. Does the perception of the U.S. Supreme Court ever concern how your court is perceived?
A. When the National Center for State Courts does a pretty broad survey on trust in government, it's very disappointing to see the trust in government go down. The trust in state courts is higher than the federal courts right now, but the trust in courts is down, but state courts are the most trusted branch of government.
I think you do everything you can to be those neutral arbitrators of the facts that come before you. Protecting the institution of the court is always at the forefront of what I'm thinking so that people think that it isn't going to be based on anything other than the facts and the law.
Header image: Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush chats with President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, and House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, before the 2023 State of the State Address on Jan. 10, 2023, at the Indiana Statehouse. (Credit: Ronni Moore)
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.