It might finally be the year the Indiana General Assembly passes legislation allowing Sunday sales of alcohol. But the disputes that have marked the alcohol wars in Indiana are likely to heat up around the issue of who can sell cold beer. Ricker’s convenience stores CEO Jay Ricker brought the matter to a fever pitch last year when he added small restaurants to his gas stations, which enabled them to obtain licenses to sell cold beer—much to the annoyance of the package-liquor-store industry, which has held a cold-beer monopoly for years. Lobbyists on various sides of the battle are likely to be in full force this session as lawmakers try to resolve it once and for all.
Holcomb and some other state officials are eager for the Legislature to tackle a bill that would authorize the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on state roads. Holcomb said it’s part of preparing for “the next generation—or really the next evolution—of transportation.” Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, will introduce a bill on this subject.
Religious, racial, gay-rights and disability advocacy groups are still pushing for a hate-crimes law in Indiana, one of just five states without one. They say the move is more urgent in light of the hate groups that descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. Most Indiana Republicans have opposed creating a hate-crimes law because they say judges can already propose harsher sentences for bias.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has called tackling opioid abuse one of his top priorities. He’s seeking to strengthen enforcement efforts by establishing a felony charge for drug-induced homicide and a felony murder charge for those who illegally manufacture drugs that result in death.
The administration also said it wants to require physicians to check a prescription-drug monitoring program before issuing initial prescriptions for opioids and benzodiazepines and work with local coroners to improve reporting of drug overdose deaths.
Holcomb wants to bolster the state’s tech sector with a tweak to state tax law that will benefit software firms and their customers but reduce state revenue as much as $10 million a year. Holcomb will ask lawmakers to exempt cloud- or subscription-based software—often called software as a service—from Indiana’s 7 percent sales tax. The issue has popped up nationwide as archaic tax codes have clashed with the advent of cloud-based computing, which has changed the way products are sold and delivered.
Though lawmakers typically address and tweak the budget only in odd-numbered years—they passed a two-year state budget this April—they might have to tweak school funding due to a budget miscalculation.
The state has about 6,000 more public-school students than lawmakers budgeted for, resulting in a $9.3 million shortfall. That could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts for some school districts unless more money is appropriated.
Watch for a debate about whether to raise the smoking age in Indiana from 18 to 21 years old. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has been a big proponent of the change in order to discourage smoking, which it says contributes to an unhealthy workforce and $3 billion in health care costs for the state.
Will this finally be the year the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and a bipartisan group of lawmakers get their wish for a work-share program? The program has failed year after year, but some say they are wondering if it could get more juice this year now that Indiana Department of Workforce Development Commissioner Steve Braun has left the agency. A few suspected that resistance at the agency level was stopping the plan. A workshare program would allow employers to form agreements with the state to reduce their employees’ hours, avoiding layoffs. Employees’ lost hours then would be supplemented by partial unemployment compensation through the state.•