Legislators ready to address opioid crisis, concealed carry, workforce skills

The 2018 session of the Indiana General Assembly will convene at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Statehouse.

It’s supposed to be a short session ending 10 weeks later, but at least one of the four legislators representing the interests of Jackson County residents and others has a wide variety of issues that he would like to see addressed.

House District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said has been preparing for the session, expected to end in mid March, for quite some time and is looking forward to it.

In short sessions, representatives are limited to filing five bills and senators are limited to 10.

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Lucas said his constitutional carry and medical cannabis measures are on top of his list of legislative priorities.

He said a summer study concerning the constitutional carry proposal was successful and he’s hopeful his fellow lawmakers take up the issue.

Talking about guns

The legislation would permit residents to carry a handgun, concealed or openly, without a state permit.

“Getting and carrying are two completely different issues and my bill has absolutely nothing to do with getting a handgun,” he said. “People that are prohibited from a carrying handgun would still be breaking the law after my bill passes.”

Lucas said the bill only takes away the licensing requirement.

Right prescription?

The medical cannabis issue is garnering much attention, Lucas said.

His proposal would give physicians the option to determine if their patients would benefit from cannabis. The patient would then be issued a card from the Indiana Department of Health allowing them to visit a dispensary and be evaluated for the type and amount of marijuana they could be permitted.

“My legislation would focus on the patient and doctor freedom,” he said.

Lucas said he visited Illinois over the summer to study the facilities that offer medical cannabis.

He said 29 states already permit medical cannabis and those states have seen positive impacts in a variety of ways. One is a significant decrease in opioid use, which Lucas considers an epidemic in the state.

“Some states have seen a 50 percent decrease in opioid deaths,” he said, adding the state of Indiana sees about 100 deaths per month.

“That’s 1,200 per year and if we are one of those states that sees a 50 percent decrease, that’s 600 lives right there the first year we could potentially save,” Lucas said.

He said he thinks cannabis could be beneficial for patients, but not effective for everyone.

“I’m not selling this as the miracle wonder drug, it’s just another tool in the toolbox to experience a better quality of life,” Lucas said.

That’s one reason Lucas is co-organizing a medical marijuana support rally with IndyCann, a grassroots organization that supports cannabis reform, prior to the start of the Indiana General Assembly’s session Wednesday.

Other issues

District 44 Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said he was not ready to roll out all of what he planned to pursue this session, but he did touch on a number of topics.

He said many constituents have contacted him on issues and he planned to address some of them.

Koch plans on addressing the state’s work force needs which he said is affected by skills and education gaps and the opioid crisis.

“We need to look at all the aspects of our work force whether our educational system is aligned as it should be with employer needs to the opioid epidemic and how it affects the workforce,” he said. “I think it will be the overarching issue this session. I’ll be working on a mix of various matters of different subject matters, many of which have been identified by constituents.”

Koch said he also wants to focus on regulatory issues and local government improvements. One focus is on cemetery maintenance statutes that will help cemeteries struggles with maintenance under their budgets.

“Some of the things need modernized, updated or revisited,” he said, adding he plans to review annual surveys he’s sent to constituents.

Alchohol

Lucas said he also has his eye on changing the state’s alcohol laws.

Some of the major changes in his proposal would be alcohol sales on Sunday, eliminating an overwhelming majority of alcohol permits, lifting alcohol production limits and decriminalizing underage drinking for citizens older than age of 18.

Currently possession and/or consumption of alcohol by someone under the age of 21 is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.

Lucas proposes making it a Class D infraction, the lowest of infractions that fines offenders.

“If you’re old enough to join the military and die for your country, vote, go to college and sign a contract to rack up $100,000 worth of debt, get married and be recognized as a felon then why can’t you drink?” he said. “It doesn’t go as far as lowering the age, but it makes it the lowest infraction possible.”

Back to guns

Lucas also took time to discuss his controversial proposal to license Indiana journalists. In October, Lucas drew national attention when said he would propose a law that would license journalists similar to the way the state licenses gun owners. He said the idea was to make a point about gun licensing and he would not vote for it if it were to come to the House floor.

“I did that to prove a point,” he said, adding he would not propose the measure as a bill in the session. “I would take it to the point as offering it as an amendment and calling it for a floor vote to force everyone to vote on it and I would vote against it myself and I would assume everyone would vote no for it.”

Lucas said that would provide him with a record of the Indiana House of Representatives as voting no “for the licensing of a constitutional right.”

Koch said he looks forward to heading back to the Statehouse to build off the momentum he believes the state has from last year’s session, particularly on the state’s economic situation.

“We started momentum on a lot of issues and I’m looking forward to coming back with feedback and more data and more information to continue this positive track that we’ve put Indiana on economically,” he said.

Legislators will not be putting together a budget this session, because the biennial budget was adopted this year.

At a glance

Contact your legislators

House District 73 Rep. Steven Davisson, R-Salem (District 73 includes the western part of Brownstown Township along with Carr, Driftwood, Grassy Fork and Owen townships in Jackson County, all of Washington County and parts of Clark, Harrison, Lawrence and Orange counties)

House District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour (District 69 consists of portions of Bartholomew, Jennings, Jackson and Jefferson counties.)

House District 65 Christopher May, R-Bedford (District 65 includes all of Brown County, most of Lawrence County and parts of Monroe, Jackson and Johnson counties)

Phone: 800-382-9841

Address:

200 W. Washington St.

Indianapolis, IN 46204

Senate District 44 Eric Koch, R-Bedford (District 44 consists of all of Brown and Lawrence counties and parts of Bartholomew, Jackson and Monroe counties)

Email: Senator.Koch@iga.in.gov

State Senator James Smith, R-Charlestown (District 45 consists of all of Jefferson, Scott and Switzerland counties and portions of Clark and Jackson counties)

Phone: 800-382-9467

Address:

200 W. Washington St.

Indianapolis, IN 46204

To follow the Indiana General Assembly, log onto http://iga.in.gov/

Author photo
Jordan Richart is a correspondent for The (Seymour) Tribune.