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Interest in opioid issue dominates Third House

February 17, 2018 GMT

MICHIGAN CITY — State lawmakers talked about a range of issues during a mid-session Third House meeting with constituents Friday, but questions from audience members kept coming back to drug addiction.

“We really did a lot last year — I think we considered 20 bills in all — focusing on how to get people treatment and looking at the issue from a medical perspective rather than just locking people up,” said State Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie.

A number of related issues have become apparent since then, according to State Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, including an increase in the number of cases being managed by the Indiana Department of Child Services.

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“This is an issue we’re going to have to deal with,” he said.

A pilot program allowing authorities to take overdose victims into custody for their own protection is just under way, but State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said access to rehabilitation services is critical.

“You really have to be ready for treatment in order for it to be effective,” Tallian said.

All three lawmakers agreed no sweeping initiatives could be expected from this year’s short session, limited by design to legislation with limited financial impact. The state budget is considered every other year in the longer session.

Adjournment this year is scheduled for March 14.

Lawmakers fielded questions and heard concerns on several issues Friday.

“Crickets,” Pressel said when the legislators were asked if they had heard any news about federal funding for the South Shore double-track project.

Bohacek said the governor, the General Assembly and local governments across Northwest Indiana presented a united front last year on the multimillion-dollar rail project, but the fate of federal funding rests in Congress’ hands.

A bill to extend authorization for local Urban Enterprise Associations was working its way through the legislative process, but Pressel said he was unsure whether it would pass.

“We know they’re doing good work, and they’re doing good things in our communities,” he said.

The fate of redistricting reform in Indiana is still unknown, according to Tallian, if for no other reason than because lawmakers are looking for guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on a couple of redistricting cases before its session ends in June.

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Some increase in education funding is being considered this year to address shortfalls, but lawmakers and audience members alike talked more about innovative approaches to education, an ongoing demand for more vocational training and a wider array of career options for secondary school students.

“A lot of issues in the short session are sent to summer study committee — which, contrary to popular belief, is not a place where bills go to die,” Tallian said.

About 40 people attended the session, held at the La Porte County Convention & Visitors Bureau and sponsored by the Greater La Porte, Michigan City Area and Westville Area chambers of commerce.

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