INDIANAPOLIS — From firearms to fireflies. From autonomous vehicles to alcohol sales.
The upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly may be a short 10 weeks.
But the issues, some pushed by Gov. Eric Holcomb and others not about to see any consensus, are shaping the political dialogue in advance of the Jan. 3 start.
Republicans will help pursue Holcomb’s Next Level agenda by creating a commission to study Indiana’s water needs, promote autonomous vehicle research, continue to tackle the opioid crisis and tie education with workforce development, though the latter may not be fully developed until 2019.
Democrats would like discussions on redistricting reform, the opioid battle and establishing hate crime legislation.
But House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, notes, “There will be a lot of bills that have to wait another year.”
Here is a summary of some hot topics, as presented at the annual BGD Legislative Conference in Indianapolis.
An interim commission recommended Sunday carry-out sales (from noon to 8 p.m.) but not expansion of cold beer sales, which are limited to package liquor stores. Legislators are frustrated that alcohol issues could dominate the session.
“I don’t want to spend the next 10 weeks talking about that when we’ve got so many other problems that we need to address,” Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said.
Bosma suggests bills that individually address Sunday sales, other commission recommendations and fiscal matters. That could cut down on lengthy debates miring a single bill with amendments.
Following in last session’s footsteps of approving CBD for epilepsy patients, there will be bills seeking to legalize marijuana for medical uses. They will be battled fiercely by Indiana prosecutors and Attorney General Curtis Hill, who cite Colorado studies showing legalization led to wider use by youth.
AVs may be years down the road (some visionaries say 2025), but Holcomb wants the state to be recognized as research-ready. Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who will lead the effort, says that safety is foremost in any legislation. “There is a big difference between what the vision-casters are saying and where we are in the research,” Soliday said. Getting into a car and saying “take me there” is far away. More achievable, he said: “You can be driving on I-65 and read Mad magazine, the car does everything. It even has software for escape maneuvers if something fails. But when you turn off on 300 North where there are no stripes and so forth, somebody has to drive.”
Currently, only 84 percent of all Hoosiers have broadband access. Rep. David Ober, R-Albion, took a lead role in extending internet access into rural areas. It may require a bill to push providers. But a summer interim committee only made one recommendation requiring that a business must be registered in Indiana if it plans to excavate land or demolish a structure served by underground utilities. Every year, thousands of gas lines are ruined by improper digging. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission issues fines.
Conservatives have been urging elimination of the state’s licensing requirements for carrying handguns in public. A summer interim committee voted 15-5 to tell the Legislature it should “remove hurdles that restrict the ability of law abiding Hoosiers to exercise their State and Federal Constitutional Rights to bear arms and defend themselves.” Not vague enough? It may become more confusing if Congress amends the federal criminal code to let qualified individuals carry or possess a concealed handgun in another state that allows individuals to carry concealed firearms.
Holcomb has been ending his agenda presentations with a light-hearted, though earnest, commitment to designate the Say’s firefly as the state insect (an effort renewed in a write-in campaign by West Lafayette students). The governor says, “I’m all in. I’ve got the bug. We’re gonna get this done.” Bosma says he has asked for school curriculum to be written to tie in education efforts so young Hoosiers learn about fireflies and understand the legislative process. “If we do that, I’m for it.