Holcomb’s legislative 2019 agenda a mixed bag


(Bloomington) Herald-Times

Gifts given to Hoosiers this time of year include legislative agendas from lawmakers and the governor. Some people will be delighted and some disappointed by what’s been selected as upcoming priorities for the state. Think of a child’s reaction to opening a cool new video game with lots of potential, or a more practical gift, such as a pair of new socks.

Gov. Eric Holcomb unveiled his list of ideas last week. While all certainly were more serious than video games, some ranked at that level for appreciation; others were more like socks — not so much wanted as needed, and even the need is debatable.

Here’s our list, from top to socks.

The governor’s strong support for inclusive hate-crimes legislation rallies Indiana toward giving up its place as one of only five states in the nation that don’t have such a law.

He wants a law that would allow judges to impose tougher sentences for crimes proven to be motivated by differences such as race, religion, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. While some argue judges already have that discretion, the Republicanled state legislature can follow their Republican governor and codify an explicit statement opposing hate crimes and supporting equality, as civil rights laws are designed to do.

“This is about treating everyone fairly and equally,” Holcomb said when announcing his agenda. That’s why it deserves support.

The governor also said he wants to expand the Healthy Indiana Plan to allow more low income people to be eligible for health insurance.

He wants to start a pilot project targeting Indiana’s unacceptably high infant mortality rate, which was sixth highest in the nation in 2016. It would match individual health care workers with some pregnant women in areas of the state with the highest infant mortality rates.

He pledged to spend more money on recovery housing and a medication-assisted treatment program for jail inmates as means of addressing the problem of opioid addiction.

He also has agenda items focused on workforce development, especially related to schools; the Indiana Department of Child Services; and infrastructure improvements.

As for socks…

The governor made no commitment to raising teacher pay, other than propose studying for two years how best to do that. He said he wants to be very “careful to get this right.” Hoosier teachers’ salaries are behind peers in neighboring states. It’s hard to argue with careful, but the issue isn’t new, so some speed would be good, too.

Finally, it’s difficult to get excited about putting a hold on new money for the On My Way Pre-K program, which now gives the opportunity of high-quality preschool to about 3,000 low income children in 20 counties. But it’s a realistic move for two reasons. First, 500 more children are expected to be served next year, so the program is continuing to expand. Second, as Monroe County experienced in the pilot program, it’s not as easy as it might seem to fill the spots that are now available. Perhaps some tweaks can address that latter issue before the program is expanded again in 2021.

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