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Valparaiso City Hall.

VALPARAISO — The Indiana Chamber of Commerce will lobby the General Assembly next year for policies it believes will enhance the state's business climate, a chamber executive told members of the Valpo Chamber at their quarterly meeting Thursday.

Indiana Chamber Vice President Mike Ripley said the organization will focus on enactment of hate crimes legislation, enhanced workforce development, opposition to medical marijuana, anti-smoking policies and expanding rural broadband service, among other issues.

"We are one of five states that does not have specific bias crimes, or hate crimes, legislation," Ripley said. "We need to get a hate crimes bill on the books."

He said moving Indiana off the short list of states without such a law will enhance its appeal to businesses and potential employees. He said legislative leaders have suggested they will take up the issue.

"Speaker (Brian) Bosma indicated there will be something moving," Ripley said.

The chamber's workforce development recommendations include creating a requirement for high school students to take at least one career- or technical-education class, for example in computer science.

Ripley said the state's education and workforce programs should be reviewed with an eye toward focusing resources on demonstrably effective programs.

And, "we think there needs to be additional workforce development funding," Ripley said.

Other areas that need more funding include the state's water infrastructure and broadband service, which Gov. Eric Holcomb has made a focus of one of his Next Level priorities.

"We really need to increase the investment in broadband to the rural communities," Ripley said.

Public health is also an areas of concern to businesses, he said. 

"When it comes to our health, we rank in the lowest quartile (of states) in many determinants," Ripley said.

He said cigarette smoking costs $2.8 billion in productivity losses and $3.3 billion in health care costs each year, and the chamber is recommending an additional $2 per pack tax and a smoking age of 21.

The tax increase could cause 142,000 smokers to quit and raise $350 million in revenue, he said.

Medical marijuana would not enhance public health, and, if it led to legalization of recreational use of marijuana, could be harmful, the chamber argues.

"This is one area, mark my words, it will be good for us to wait," Ripley said.

He said increases in automobile  and workplace accidents are a particular concern in states that have legalized marijuana.

"The data that's coming out is not good," he said.

Among the Indiana chamber's other priorities are making the state superintendent of public instruction an appointed position and reforming township government through mergers and greater fiscal oversight.

Ripley also said to expect movement on increasing teacher pay while the General Assembly works on the state's next two-year budget.

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Transportation Reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.