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4 Issues To Watch In The Upcoming State Legislative Session

Indiana statehouse

This is a budget year for the Indiana General Assembly, meaning lawmakers need to agree on a state budget for the next two years.

That's why many of the key topics that will be discussed surround funding, while there are some other issues that will also be discussed.

Statehouse reporter Brandon Smith breaks down what he thinks will be major issues when the legislature convenes Tuesday.

1. Education

Gov. Mike Pence has said education will be at the top of his legislative agenda, including an increase in funding for education.

As StateImpact Indiana has reported, funding will be at the core of many of the education stories expected to be big this year –testingpre-k, and how the Department of Education and the State Board of Education agree (or disagree) to spend the state’s education money.

The state legislature could also decide whether to change the role of state superintendent Glenda Ritz when it comes to the State Board of Education. Currently, the state superintendent automatically becomes the chair of the State Board of Education, but the governor has called for that to change after months of controversy between state board members.

2. Road Funding

The Indiana Department of Transportation is asking for at least $100 million per year to fix the state's roads and bridges.

The INDOT commissioner estimates that much money would allow his department to reduce the percent of bridges in poor condition from 7 percent to about 3 percent.

To maintain Indiana's bridges to where 8 percent were in poor condition, Commissioner Karl Browning says funding needs to increase about $60 million a year for the next ten years. Ideally, he would like to see funding increase to $170 million per year for the next 20 years.

The legislature will have to decide whether to give INDOT the full $100 million, or allocate a smaller amount that would still assist in road repairs but would not get Indiana to the commissioner's ideal level.

3. Sunday Alcohol Sales

A coalition has formed around the push to eliminate the ban on Sunday alcohol sales.

The state legislature has considered allowing Sunday sales many times in the past, but Brandon Smith explains that the issue is no longer attached to the ban on convenience stores selling cold beer. That issue is tied up in court, and the separation could give Sunday sales a better chance this year than it has had in the past.

4. Funding The Criminal Code Overhaul

Indiana lawmakers passed an overhaul of Indiana's criminal code last year, but because it wasn't a budget year, they have not allocated any money toward it.

The changes aim to keep people out of prison and, instead, handle their cases at the local level.

A major player in the criminal code overhaul, Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, says money needs to be given to local mental health and addictions treatment programs as well as local law enforcement, which will be supervising more low-level offenders.

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