INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Republican legislative leaders are casting the Indiana General Assembly’s
upcoming session as one they want to focus on taking action toward fighting
opioid abuse and improving job training opportunities.
Members of the
Indiana House and Senate held their annual Organization Day meetings
Tuesday, ahead of the 2018 legislative session set to begin in early January
and end by mid-March.
Dozens of people
also gathered at the Statehouse calling on legislators to act on issues such
as adopting a state hate crimes law and establishing an independent
commission for drawing legislative election districts.
President Pro Tem David Long said state and local government and the public
needed to be “all in” on finding ways to stem the abuse of opioids and other
Indiana has seen
its number of drug overdose deaths jump by about 700 percent since 1999,
reaching 1,518 deaths during 2016, according to the Indiana State Department
of Health. Figures show that increase has largely been caused by growth in
the number of opioid- and heroin-related deaths in recent years.
Long said the state
needs to further crack down on drug dealers and gangs and will need to find
more money to provide treatment options.
“This is an issue
that will be a burden on all of us and all members of Hoosier society and
the entire country for years to come,” Long said in a speech to senators.
“But we have a special responsibility to do what we can do.”
Long and Republican
House Speaker Brian Bosma both said they expected proposals on boosting
workforce training. Bosma said a “weak spot” for the state is that “we
simply don’t have enough people equipped with skills for the 21st century.”
could face contentious debates over issues such revising Indiana’s
antiquated alcohol laws and repealing the state law requiring licenses to
carry handguns in public.
The trade groups
for liquor store owners and large grocery stores earlier this month
announced a deal to support allowing Sunday carryout alcohol sales, but
oppose changing current law so that retailers other than liquor stores could
carry cold beer. That deal faces opposition from convenience store owners.
Bosma and Long each
say they’re waiting on recommendations expected in December from a special
committee on alcohol law changes.
The return of
legislators to the Statehouse also brought out several groups pushing for a
hate crime law in Indiana, as the Anti-Defamation League lists Indiana as
one of just five states without laws against crimes motivated by biases,
such as race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, African-American, Hispanic, gay-rights and disability
advocacy groups said approval of such a law would make it clear the state
doesn’t accept hate and intolerance.
About 100 people
also gathered on the Statehouse steps to call for an independent
redistricting commission in response to what supporters say are legislative
and congressional districts that are unfairly drawn to favor Republicans.
Such proposals have failed in recent years in the GOP-dominated Legislature.
“Because of the way
it’s rigged, my vote has no meaning,” said 64-year-old retired truck driver
Harold Davia, a Democrat from Plainfield. “I don’t count and I’m not the