HANCOCK COUNTY — Each year, hundreds of bills are filed for consideration during the General Assembly legislative session. State lawmakers approved 252 out of the 1,154 total bills filed during the most recent gathering. Officials noted 676 House Bills were filed with 138 sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb to be signed while 483 Senate Bills were filed with 114 sent to the Governor.
The work included the passage of Indiana’s new $44 billion biennial budget plan, something State Rep. Bob Cherry (R-Greenfield) noted wasn’t as easy to balance as it sounds, despite having the funds for the massive budget.
“It’s actually harder to do a budget when you have more money as opposed to when things are tight and the money has to be put in certain areas,” Cherry said. “It’s hard to say ‘no’ but we want to make sure we don’t grow government and spend the money wisely and put in our infrastructure so we don’t have more government.”
Overall, local legislators say it was a productive session and that Indiana is one of the top states in the Midwest when it comes to balancing the budget, cutting taxes, supporting business and putting forth bills to help Hoosiers.
State Sen. Mike Crider, (R-Greenfield) was named the Legislator of the Year for his work during the most recent session. He was recognized for his commitment to supporting legislation for Hoosiers who have been impacted by behavioral health issues.
“Hoosier mental health care has been a legislative priority of mine for many years,” Crider said. “There isn’t a single solution for those suffering from mental illness, but we must do all we can to help those who are suffering.”
Crider represents District 28 and Cherry represents District 53, covering the vast majority of the county along with State Rep. Chris Jeter, District 88, which represents portions of Hamilton, Hancock, Madison and Marion counties in central Indiana. Both Crider and Cherry stopped past the Daily Reporter recently to discuss the legislative work and the bills they supported.
A Senate Republican Caucus priority bill authored by Crider and designed to improve access to mental-health care for Hoosiers was ceremonially signed into law earlier this month at the Indiana Roundtable on Mental Health Summit.
“I’ve kind of been on a mission to get this done for the past 10 years, filing bills every session and just looking into things that might be helpful,” Crider said. “I’m really pleased with the progress we are making and if I can get re-elected, this is something I will continue to focus on.”
He noted Senate Enrolled Act 1 and the new state budget work together to provide $100 million to lay the groundwork for expanding the number of certified behavioral health clinics in Indiana, establishing the next step for improving the state’s mental health care system.
“Issues surrounding mental health is probably the most consistent thing I hear about from employers, educators and community members,” Crider said.
The Indiana Behavioral Health Commission, created by Crider in 2020, reports one in five Hoosiers live with a mental illness. To help, the state has launched a new statewide infrastructure for mental health services in large part due to Crider’s efforts. It includes the 988 suicide crisis lifeline, which has been expanded to help Hoosiers in need.
“One of the things the new bill does is continue the Behavioral Health Commission for another two years, and we’ll have a report then to assess where we are at,” Crider said.
Crider noted there is a large cost associated with untreated mental illness, an estimated $4.2 billion a year. Crider’s work creates a permanent funding mechanism.
“Senate Bill 1 flows out of our reports and studies and marries programs including locally with mobile crisis units and different things our local hospital is doing,” Crider said. “Locally we want to help resolve issues to keep people from ending up in the emergency room and likely from being incarcerated.”
Crider noted the new bill takes an old community mental health system created in the 1960s and changes the model into a newer Certified Community Vehicle Health Center (CCVHC).
“We want to be able to have local communities be able to deliver services 24/7 and offer a suite of services for deescalate and follow-up care which includes being able to offer medicine,” Crider said. “That includes specialized care for veterans and inpatient psychiatric care and that’s a game changer and we’ve got $100 million in the budget to make these things happen.”
Crider also authored Senate Bill 158 and Senate Bill 161 associated with domestic violence and unlawful surveillance. Bill 158 provides a person arrested for certain crimes committed against a family or household member may not be released on bail for 24 hours. It also provides a charge of invasion of privacy that is elevated to a Level 6 felony if the person has a prior unrelated criminal stalking conviction.
“Senate Bill 161 deals with the woman who was stabbed and nearly died here in Hancock County at the gas station and looked at the protective order statue, and this addresses remote tracking which her ex used to find her and hurt her,” Crider said.
For Cherry, he’s pleased with the work he added to the budget, which he said pays down debt and funds state priorities. He said that includes $2.9 billion in new funding for K-12 education.
“Those dollars support both public schools and expanded school choice for Hoosier families,” Cherry said.
Cherry also noted the state budget speeds up planned income-tax cuts, so Indiana’s rate will drop to 2.9% in 2027.
“The cut could save Hoosiers over $100 million next year, and over $1 billion in the next five years,” Cherry said.
Cherry, who is in his 26th year of legislative service, just concluded his 25th legislative session and walked into the Daily Reporter with a stack of information on this year’s session. The paperwork included the several-inches-thick Conference Committee Report on the state budget, noting a balanced budget is the key to successful legislation session.
“There are several things in the budget that I feel responsible for and that includes getting school district money for kids who graduate early,” Cherry said. “We finally got those funds into the budget, $1,500 per early graduate and that’s a big win.”
Cherry noted, districts conduct two ADM counts each year, getting an estimated $3,000 per kid each count. However, they have to plan the full school year, which includes hiring teachers, and districts should not be punished by losing money to pay a teacher when a student graduates early.
While Cherry felt it was a good session, he was most disappointed that his House Bill 1028 did not pass. It called for public employee retirees to get a “13th check” in order to keep up with inflation. The bill called for a 13th check this year and in 2024 for certain members, participants or beneficiaries of the Indiana state teachers’ retirement fund; Indiana public employees’ retirement fund; state excise police, gaming agent, gaming control officer, and conservation enforcement officers’ retirement plan.
“Of the 97,000 retirees, around 9,200 of them receive around $200 or less per month,” Cherry said. “So a 13th check would have been crucial because we’re talking about people who retired many, many years ago, and we’ve done this 28 of the last 32 budgets. I’m disappointed because the money was in the budget. I spent a lot of efforts and cards on that because it was the right thing to do and, in-fact, our house passed it unanimously.”
Cherry said some 96% of the bills passed in this year’s legislative session received bi-patrician support.
“You look at Washington D.C., and you just don’t see that,” Cherry said.
In looking forward, Cherry expressed concerns surrounding property tax increases.
“We’ve tried to address property tax issues, but I know things are creeping up now so I know one of the things we’re going to be looking at next session is how we can help with that,” Cherry said. “Personally, I’m very disappointed as we’ve given our local officials ways to generate money elsewhere, so this is something we need to tighten down.”
Cherry noted he’s also interested in looking more into Tax Increment Financing (TIF) areas and noted they’ve been abused. He put forth a bill this year addressing the issue, HB 1085, but it did not pass.
“Just take a look at how they’re using TIF monies in Plainfield,” Cherry said. “The Town of Plainfield has some $77,000 in an account they can use as a slush fund and while our county is about at the state average, I think it’s still too much. I’m for the tax payer, and I want to see more transparency and openness.”
According to the IN.Gov official legislative website, Crider authored 14 different bills, with seven passing, and he was the co-author on dozens of others. Cherry authored eight bills, with one passing, and was a co-author on dozens of others including the budget.
Anyone interested in delving more into each bill and the work done by local legislators can visit /iga.in.gov/legislative/2023/legislators/legislator_michael_crider_1130/ and iga.in.gov/legislative/2023/legislators/legislator_robert_cherry_395/.