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Indiana lawmakers return for possibly contentious session

January 3, 2018
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House members are sworn in after last month’s election. They’re expected to be in session through mid-April. (AP photo)

Legislators returned to the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday to begin this year's General Assembly session, which will be the first in recent memory in which the Republican supermajorities do not have an overarching objective they hope to achieve.

Members of both the Indiana House and Senate will gavel in during the afternoon to formally start the session that must end by mid-March. That sets up what could be an intense 10 weeks dominated by pet issues, social issues, and an effort to repeal Indiana's prohibition-era ban on retail Sunday alcohol sales.

"I know everybody wants something," said House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican. He later added: "It's not a long session" and "there will just be a lot of bills that have to wait for another year."

Conservative social activists have already attacked Bosma for not taking up a constitutionally questionable bill last year that aims to ban abortions by defining human life as beginning at conception. Other more fringe elements, including the purported Indiana First PAC—led by an Indiana man with ties to the white nationalist movement—maligned Bosma for being insufficiently conservative and "immoral."

"Crazy people are going to say what they are going to say," Bosma said.

Democrats are pushing for a state hate crimes law and an independent commission for drawing congressional and legislative election districts. They also plan to focus on what has been described as a crisis at the Department of Child Services amid a surge in child welfare cases resulting from the opioid epidemic.

The agency's former chief recently quit, penning a scathing resignation letter on her way out that accused Gov. Eric Holcomb's administration of making service cuts and management changes that "all but ensure children will die."

Holcomb has pledged to conduct a review, but Democrats believe the Legislature should have a role in that process.

Meanwhile, libertarian-leaning Rep. Jim Lucas wants to eliminate the state's licensing requirement for carrying a handgun. Lucas, a Seymour Republican, also wants to debate the possibility of legalizing medical marijuana in Indiana. Both measures are widely opposed by law enforcement groups.

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