(BEDFORD) – The Bedford Chamber of Commerce’s “Breakfast With The Legislators” was held virtually Friday morning.
Approximately 50 people attended the meeting to find out what is happening at the Indiana Statehouse.
Indiana State Senator District 44 Senator Eric Koch, Indiana Representative District 65 Chris May, and Indiana Representative District 73 Representative Steve Davisson provided updates on some of the bills they were a part of in this year’s session.
The legislators are charged with approving a biennial budget and redistricting this year.
Normally, they would have U.S. Census information by now, however, this year, that information will not be available until April. Therefore, a Special Session of the Legislature will probably be called in late summer or fall of this year.
The state budget is still pretty healthy despite going through the COVID-19 pandemic. The state did have to tap into reserves this year, but revenues are expected to replenish the reserve and keep the state’s triple AAA credit rating.
The State is also expected to keep its commitment to the school corporations in educational funding.
Bills are starting to move in both chambers after a month into the session. By next week committee hearings are expected to be closed and any bill that has not made it out of the committee will be dead.
Senator Eric Koch is on the following committees, Utilities Chair, Commerce and Technology ranking member, Judiciary ranking member, Corrections & Criminal Law and Family Children Services.
Koch was asked about Senate Bill 1 which allows civil immunity related to COVID-19 to nursing homes.
Nursing home facilities are expected to give a certain level of care however, many are concerned about families being left on the outside of the facility and phone calls not being answered.
The bill provides civil immunity for damages that arise from COVID-19 on nursing home properties. The legislation does not provide immunity for gross negligence, misconduct, or fraud. This legislation prevents class-action lawsuits. Senator Koch expects more amendments before the final passage.
Koch also states the Indiana Senate has three broadband bills that are being considered. Senate Bill 264, Senate Bill 352, and Senate Bill 359 addressing the broadband expansion throughout rural Indiana.
Questions were addressed locally from Kim Burgress on the availability of broadband in the Heltonville area. Jackson County REMC is expanding services throughout their coverage area. Anyone needing information on the Jackson County Program can contact them directly.
The main concern right now is the affordability of those wanting to access i. broadband. Currently, residents say other utilities such as water and electricity are considered the most important and the expense of broadband is not quite a priority.
Rep. Chris May sponsors and discussed House Bill 1409. This Bill would help expand tourism, especially in the Brown County area. The bill is called the Rye Bourbon Bill. Tennessee is well known for their passion of whiskey and Kentucky for their bourbon. May is wanting to create a similar reputation for rye whiskey for our hoosier state originating from Brown County.
This legislation will regulate the advertising, labeling, and selling of Indiana Rye Whiskey. This will align the state’s rye whiskey with federal standards.
There are already more than 30 distilleries in the state of Indiana to date.
Rep. Steve Davisson has focused on legislation on House Bill 1100 which will require the Indiana Department of Health to develop a health plan. Many Hoosiers are considered unhealthy by smoking, obesity, and mental health issues. House Bill 1100 was amended into House Bill 1007 to create a grant tracking dashboard. This allow and be offered to address these particular health issues and follow the progress that is being made.
The legislation will also amend FSSA regulations for Medicaid reimbursements to community mental health facilities.
David Miller, Hoosier Uplands, and IU Health Hospital Brad Dykes complimented the legislators on their work with the vaccine rollouts and addressing the mental health issues within the state.
Miller stated that in Lawrence County they do not have a community health facility, but a local facility treats more than 1,300 visitors with mental health issues. In this legislation, Miller would like them to include the Medicaid changes to include all the facilities that provide these services.
Rep. Davisson stated the state will also seek funds to establish a statewide suicide hotline.
This legislative session is expected to be a long one with a lot of work yet to be done. More updates will be provided as the session continues.