Legislators talk about their work as session nears end


Two local legislators spent some time Saturday morning talking with their constituents about this year’s session, which is rapidly coming to an end.

“By state law, we have to be done by April 29,” District 44 Sen. Eric Koch of Bedford told those on hand for a legislative breakfast and update at W.R. Ewing.

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The event was sponsored by the business committee of Brownstown/Ewing Main Street.

Koch said House leadership wants to be finished by April 24, while the Senate leadership is looking to be finished by April 25.

The two-year budget is being put together at this time.

Koch said the process began with the governor writing a budget that goes to the House and then the Senate before heading to conference committee, which involves representatives from the House and Senate ironing out differences.

The final draft of the budget could not be written until the April revenue forecast today.

“Based on that forecast, the priorities of the budget will be finalized,” Koch said.

District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas of Seymour said the budget is probably the most important task this year.

“Indiana’s in really great shape,” he said. “You hear a lot of moaning and complaining, which is normal, but when you look at things on paper, Indiana is doing outstanding. We have over $2 billion in reserves.”

He said as long as the state can maintain 11 percent of its budget as reserves, the state will maintain a triple A credit rating.

“That means the state and every community in the state can borrow at the lowest possible costs,” Lucas said. “That translates to literally hundreds of millions of dollars in savings in just interest alone.”

He said any time reserves grow to more than 12.5 percent above the budget, the money goes back to the taxpayer.

“So there is a circuit breaker there,” Lucas said.

Koch spent time discussing the issue of jail overcrowding and why is it happening in an about a third of the state’s 92 counties, including Jackson.

“If a county does not address overcrowding, there will be lawsuits filed, and those lawsuits will not be filed in local courts but in federal courts,” he said. “And if that lawsuit goes poorly, instead of you, a federal judge will build a new jail for you and hand you the bill.”

Koch said the issue arose several years ago with House Bill 1006, which pushed Level 6 felonies down to county jails with the promise of funding to pay the costs of that move.

“Well, the first part happened, the second part not so much, depending upon who you talk to,” Koch said. “It was one of those things that in theory was great, but with a lot of the Level 6s and maybe most, the main reason they are there is substance abuse or an addiction problem, and those are things that can arguably be handled best at the local level.”

He said the legislation allowed the state to avoid building a prison, but those counties with overcrowded jails face the possibility of having to build new jails.

“Which may be more expensive than building a new prison,” Koch said.

The state hopes to address that issue with collaborations between local agencies and governmental units similar to the Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections program and a possible joint work release center operated by that program in Seymour.

“The fact that you can get out in front on this issue and chart your own destiny with some kind of options like the collaboration going on with Jennings County, that’s definitely good,” he said.

Koch said the state is in favor of giving the tools and incentives to such voluntary collaborative agreements.

“Whether that’s fire departments collaborating or whether that’s township merging voluntarily, and we have some of those conversations going on even in some part of my district,” he said.

Koch is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 1065 that if enacted would see the state convert some idled department of correction facilities into regional detention centers for Level 6 felons with the help of federal rural development money.

“With the idea being to take some pressure off of county jails,” Koch said. “We’d like to see judges directly sentence Level 6 offenders to these detention centers.”

But rather than just being holding centers, the regional detention centers would offer substance abuse treatment, vocational training, behavioral help and other programs at state expense rather than local expense, Koch said.

A second part of 1065 would allow counties to collaborate to build jails together, he said.

“There are a couple of counties looking at doing it, and it would cut administrative costs,” Koch said.

Lucas discussed several bills he had authored, including House Bill 1284, which provides civil immunity to Hoosiers who use justifiable force in instances of self-defense and the defense of others.

“It affects every person, not only in this district but every person across the state,” he said. “It is not a ‘shoot to kill’ bill. It is a justified use of force bill. If anybody in this room is attacked by anybody for whatever reason, you have a right to defend yourself. If the attacker becomes injured in that, right now, they can come back and sue. To me, that is not right.”

He said the bill basically prevents frivolous lawsuits.

Lucas said the case driving the legislation involved a single mom who shot and killed a man, who was high on methamphetamine or something else and was attempting to take a weapon from an off-duty conservation officer attempting to break up a disturbance in the Rising Sun area a couple of years ago.

The family of the man, who later died after being shot, sued the woman, who suffered financially and emotionally for two years before the case was recently dropped.

He said the NRA also is using the modeling for the nation.

A second measure Lucas said he is working to get passed would provide free firearm training for any teacher who wants to arm and protect themselves and the students in the classroom.

Schools corporations, however, would still have to decide if teachers should be allowed to carry into the classroom.

Lucas said teachers are more responsible than the average person.

“We trust them with our children,” he said. “We trust them to teach our children. How can we not trust them to do something I taught my kids to do when they were 10 and 8 years old?”