The 2018 session of the Indiana General Assembly will begin today with plenty of important issues for state representatives and state senators to tackle before the session ends in March.
Continuing reform of K-12 education, rewriting the state’s archaic alcohol sales laws and firearms licensing will grab much of the public’s attention. But perhaps the two most pressing priorities fall in the spheres of public health and public policy: namely, the opioid crisis and redistricting.
• At the start of each decade, the legislature redraws the state’s legislative and congressional districts. The process enables the party in power to map the districts. Not surprisingly, the majority party gerrymanders the districts to keep its incumbents safe and to try to steal seats in the legislature and in Congress from the minority party.
Over the years, Republicans and Democrats, alike, have been guilty of gerrymandering.
Indiana should empower a nonpartisan commission to command redistricting so that the lines are drawn to follow geographical and community criteria. The problem, of course, is that the party in power has been unwilling to give up its political advantage.
But it’s the right thing to do for Hoosiers, and the Republican majority of the legislature should work with Democratic legislative leaders to lay the groundwork in 2017 for 2020 redistricting.
• In the throes of its opioid crisis, Indiana has seen its overdose death rate more than quadruple since 1999, reflecting the depth of the crisis.
In Madison County and elsewhere in the Hoosier state, some employers have more jobs available than prospective workers who can pass drug screening. The crisis plagues the criminal justice system, and the price paid by Hoosier families is incalculable.
In 2017 under the leadership of new Gov. Eric Holcomb, Indiana added more treatment centers and launched on online repository of information on the crisis. Indiana University stepped forward with a $50 million initiative to grapple with the crisis, and the state is expecting another $70 million or so in federal funding in the new year.
Clearly, the state is trying to come to grips with the crisis, but it only seems to be getting worse.
The biennial budget was set in the 2017 legislative session and won’t be reopened this year. But the General Assembly shouldn’t let that stop it from taking bold steps to devote more resources to address the opioid crisis.