HALFTIME SPEECHES: Lawmakers reflect midway through legislative session


Indiana Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, left, speaks at the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues Legislative Breakfast at NineStar Connect Tuesday with Indiana Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield; and Indiana Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers.

Mitchell Kirk | Daily Reporter

HANCOCK COUNTY – The Indiana General Assembly has reached the halfway point of its 2023 legislative session – a time that can come with its share of uncertainty, said Indiana Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield.

Bills that passed in the Senate have made their way over to the House of Representatives, and vice versa.

“If you’re the author of one of those bills, you kind of are watching closely to make sure your bill stays in pretty good shape,” Crider said.

State legislators whose districts include Hancock County gathered at NineStar Connect earlier this week for the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs & Issues Legislative Breakfast to reflect on the work done so far and look forward to what remains. Crider as well as Indiana Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield; and State Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers, discussed bills tackling topics like mental health, public safety and taxes, and also addressed work on the state’s biennial budget.

Crider filed eight bills this session, seven of which have passed over to the House while one will get inserted into another bill. Additionally, he will be the primary sponsor of eight bills coming over from the House.

Two of Crider’s proposals this session address mental health. One is Senate Bill 1, which sets out to establish funding and an infrastructure for connecting people more directly to mental health services.

Another would allow mental health counselors to operate in other states and those in other states to operate in Indiana.

“That’s really an important addition when you look at telemedicine and how we’ve used telehealth in some of those spaces,” Crider said.

Another of Crider’s bills would outlaw electronic tracking. He was motivated to pursue the legislation by an attempted murder in Hancock County in 2021 stemming from a domestic violence situation in which a man tracked a woman to a gas station and stabbed her multiple times.

While discussing another one of his bills, Crider noted that when someone is arrested in Indiana for a domestic violence situation, a judge cannot grant bail for eight hours from the time the person is arrested and incarcerated.

“And my bill … extends that period from eight hours to 24 hours to give the victim a little bit more time to try to get away from that situation,” he said.

Crider added that 91% of the Senate’s bills moving on to the House had bipartisan support.

“We try to work together and move good legislation,” he said.

Cherry recalled that 670 bills were introduced in the House, 26% of which passed.

One of his would secure a 13th check for public retirees rather than the cost of living adjustment they’ve been receiving for the past two years. Cherry said there are nearly 10,000 retirees whose pensions amount to about $200 a month, adding that a cost of living adjustment for them is a drop in the bucket compared to a 13th check. If signed into law, money for the checks would come from retirement funds rather than the state’s general fund.

“It’s a thing that the retirees, the seniors out there really need because they have inflation problems too, and they had to make choices – whether medicine, or food, or heat their homes – so we hopefully take care of that,” he said.

Cherry also pointed to how the legislature is working to decrease the state income tax. As the state’s economy grows and the state collects more income taxes, one choice is to grow the government, he said, something he does not want to do. The state could issue a rebate, but that’s expensive and inefficient, he added.

“That’s the purpose of reducing taxes – is so we don’t let it sit there and grow government,” Cherry said.

It could also ease the blow from rising property assessments leading to bigger property tax bills, Crider said.

“We’re going to need to continue to watch that and do what we can as a state to remain in the position we’re in from a fiscal standpoint, but to do what we can to provide relief where we can,” he said.

Jeter touted House Bill 1002, which he said is driven by dropping rates of students pursuing higher education after high school. It would create a career scholarship account for students to get credits toward high school equivalency and learning trades.

“And so what we decided to do with House Bill 1002 is we’re going to try to start to re-imagine high school – what it looks like – and figure out how to get a lot of our students certificates and certifications in trades as they leave high school so they don’t have to go on to higher education,” Jeter said. “You can live a great life these days just learning how to code or working on computers. You don’t have to go to college.”

A House bill that Jeter co-authored sets out to divert people with severe mental health illnesses from jails to hospitals. It would give hospitals authorization to hold and treat people for up to 14 days with a court order finding. The bill includes medical necessity language, he continued, adding that managed care and insurance would pay the majority of the costs.

“We’ve also not been afraid to stand up to some of the trends that we see across the country that maybe aren’t great for Hoosiers,” Jeter said, referring to bills regarding investments and energy.

He pointed to investment managers across the country refusing to invest public pensions in industries they disagree with, like fossil fuels and weapons manufacturing. An Indiana House bill would dictate that public pension investments would be based on return rates alone.

Another bill would establish an “all-of-the above” energy policy focusing on reliability and affordability.

“We’re not going to force a transition into green or clean energy,” Jeter said. “We’re going to let that change come naturally. And there’s no doubt it’s changing – and we’re going to embrace it – but we’re going to do so in a responsible way that ensures when you flip the switch your lights come on.”

On top of all the bills, the General Assembly is also working on a budget meant to carry the state through 2024 and 2025.

Crider said that while Indiana is in good financial standing, inflation has taken a toll.

“Several of the things that we thought we had paid for in the last budget – now we’re underfunded by about a billion dollars in those projects – and so we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do with those at the same time looking forward and crafting the things that we need going forward, and a lot of these things are expensive,” he said.

The mental health effort Crider is working on, for instance, would be about $130 million a year to maintain.

“We think the associated offsets as we see improvements in the delivery of the system and we end up with less folks in the ER and less folks ending up in incarceration … that there will be considerable savings downstream,” he added.

Cherry noted lawmakers relied on a revenue forecast from last December to start the budget and will receive another in April to make finalizations. He also said that the budget so far increases K-12 funding by a record $1.6 billion over the next two years.