INDIANAPOLIS — The second half of the 2018 Indiana General Assembly begins Monday, setting off a five-week sprint to the mandatory March 14 adjournment deadline.
It is nearly certain that Hoosier lawmakers will enact legislation authorizing Sunday afternoon retail alcohol sales, legalizing CBD oil and making Say's Firefly the official state insect.
But the final details of dozens of other proposals that so far have passed either the House or the Senate remain up in the air as the opposite chamber begins its assessment of the measures.
That includes figuring out how to restructure Indiana's workforce development system, changing education policy to comply with new federal mandates, civil forfeiture reform and addressing the state's opioid epidemic, among other top priorities for the Republican legislative supermajorities and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.
Northwest Indiana lawmakers are taking on other issues as well, such as authorizing the use of autonomous vehicles, siting a Gary construction debris landfill, enacting "no excuse" absentee voting, ensuring day care safety and planning to meet the state's future water needs.
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House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, is satisfied with the accomplishments of the first half of the session, and optimistic that both chambers will reach agreements on key issues as the calendar turns from February to March.
"Our agenda is moving forward aggressively," Bosma said. "Much work remains in the weeks ahead, especially as we continue discussions on addressing the state’s workforce needs, but we look forward to building on our momentum."
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, likewise sees some tough decisions looming that he believes will require extensive collaboration between the House and Senate to reach accords.
"While I am pleased we have moved all of our agenda items out of the Senate, there is much work to be done on these issues as they move through the House of Representatives, and as we consider bills that have come over from our colleagues in the House," Long said.
Both leaders shrugged off the failure of either the House or Senate to pass legislation sought by the state's influential business community, including a criminal penalty enhancement for bias-motivated crimes, consolidation of township governments and policies to deter Hoosiers from smoking.
"I think we'll be back next year talking about it," Long said of the bias crime proposal. "It might well pass next year, maybe in a different form from what we had this year, but it'll be back."
Democratic leaders, on the other hand, see the first half of the legislative session as full of missed opportunities. They also have a fairly grim outlook for what's ahead.
"This session has been somewhat like a big yawn, followed by a loud snore," said House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin. "We are doing nothing except marking time."
"There is no willingness to do anything except less than the bare minimum, and when we do act, it's for things that shouldn’t be passed in the first place."
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Goodin said Hoosiers desperately need an increase in the minimum wage, the state is crying out for redistricting reform and it's unconscionable that Republican leaders are planning to wait for 2019 before taking action to fix the Department of Child Services.
"Maybe things will improve in the second half of this session. Maybe we will grab the bull by the horns and make some difficult decisions that can help the people of Indiana," Goodin said. "But then again, one of the bills sent to us takes a bold stand against eyeball tattooing."
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, quipped that the best thing about the "short" session of the Legislature, as opposed to the four-month budget session held in odd-numbered years, is that it is short.
"But that means the priorities of the session rise to the top very, very quickly," Lanane said. "I would hate to think that Sunday alcohol sales is more of a priority in the Indiana General Assembly than things like passing a hate crime. ... That's just a shame."