Indiana lawmakers will convene on the Statehouse Wednesday for the first day of the 2018 legislative session. This year’s session is considered “short” because it’s not a budget year. Lawmakers should wrap up in mid-March.
House Speaker Brian Bosma says the session lacks what he calls “one, overarching, bright, shiny object” that will draw the focus of most lawmakers.
But several contentious issues are expected to make an appearance. Here’s what you can expect to see in this year’s legislative session:
Indiana’s infamously complicated alcohol laws have come up at session many times. Last year’s controversy over cold beer and Sunday sales ended with an unlikely alliance between grocery stores and liquor stores.
Lawmakers say the alliance is a game-changer, because it significantly boosts the chances of a law actually passing.
After a lot of confusion last year over the legal status of cannabidiol oil, or CBD, lawmakers will discuss how best to clear up the issue.
Republican Rep. Jim Lucas plans to file two bills: one that would legalize the manufacture, sale and use of CBD oil for medical use. Current law legalizes it for treatment of seizure disorders only. Lucas says he uses a type of CBD himself.
Lucas also plans to file a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Indiana. He plans to use Illinois as a model for the system he’ll propose. Residents there can apply for a patient card, with the recommendation of a physician.
Republican Sen. James Tomes has already filed a bill that would make CBD readily available throughout the state for all Hoosiers.
Tweaks To Controversial Solar Measure
Lawmakers passed a controversial measure last year that, in part, reduces the financial incentive for smaller solar panel projects.
A proposed fix would help more schools finance solar projects. More schools are installing solar systems to reduce their electric bill and put money back in the classroom.
The proposed bill will extend a grandfathering period, giving schools longer to recoup the cost of a solar system.
Health Leaders Will Push For Social Focus
Indiana ranks near the bottom for numerous health measures like obesity, smoking rates and drug overdose deaths. Health leaders say they’ll push lawmakers to focus on these areas as they set their legislative agendas.
Public health funding in the state is low, but since it’s not a budget year, lawmakers aren’t expected to allocate any more money for health programs.
A key focus for many lawmakers is workforce training for young Hoosiers. It’s a priority for Gov. Eric Holcomb, education leaders, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturer’s Association.
The goal is to better align education with what workplaces actually need. That could include a greater focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
Diploma Requirements & Other Education Issues
A change in federal law means Indiana’s diploma system needs attention, and House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning says he envisions something a little less complicated.
“Our goal would be probably to have a single diploma as opposed to having four different diploma types,” he says.
Lawmakers also need to figure out their role under a new graduation pathways plan recently adopted by the State Board of Education
The Indiana State Teacher’s Association is also pushing for attention to the lack of special education teachers and equipping teachers to deal with the ongoing opioid crisis.
Gov. Holcomb’s Agenda
Holcomb will focus on “five pillars” for his second legislative session as governor: economic diversification, infrastructure, workforce alignment, addressing the drug epidemic, and improved government services.
Some of Holcomb’s 2018 initiatives are simply continuations of ongoing efforts. That includes a potential fourth port in southeastern Indiana, more direct flights at regional airports, and increased broadband around the state.
Holcomb’s agenda will also push to provide more access to drug treatment programs across the state and enable health providers to get those struggling with addiction into treatment more quickly.