Statehouse Democrats’ agenda targets child care, drug prices, more

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Indiana Democrats from both chambers gather for a joint agenda on Jan. 11, 2024. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Indiana Statehouse Democrats from both the Senate and House came together Thursday afternoon to release a bicameral agenda prioritizing child care accessibility, capping drug costs and more in 2024.

“This was a way to show — to the state of Indiana and everyone else — that we’re going to work on this agenda together,” Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis said.

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta said the joint effort amplified these key problems and underlined a Democratic commitment to big-ticket issues even in a short session.

“The problems of Hoosiers statewide call for more time spent here than just the bare minimum,” said GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne. “It’s a disease of inaction that there is never enough time to do big things for Hoosiers. To all the Hoosiers working long hours and multiple jobs, we say there’s plenty of time for you.”

‘Republicans are finally listening’

Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, said that Democrats had repeatedly attempted to address the child care crisis with little impact as superminority members. Yoder noted the extent of the crisis, saying that 45% of children live in a child care desert and hundreds of thousands of Hoosier parents had no options for child care in their communities.

“Even when child care is available, costs continue to be a barrier. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average monthly cost of infant care in Indiana is over $1,000 per month,” Yoder said. “This state needs a child care system — not a Band-Aid, not micro(-center) pilots. We need a system and we need a plan.”

Micro-centers are a key part of the Senate Republican agenda, establishing providers serving under 30 children and removing various regulations. Additionally, Senate Republicans and Gov. Eric Holcomb floated lowering the minimum age for child care workers.

Taylor recalled a crisis nearly a decade ago when Indiana didn’t have blanket regulations, allowing ministries to have lower staff-to-child ratios and waive other requirements.

A child drowned at one church in Indiana and other inspections found animal droppings in utensil drawers, he said.

“This was ten years ago and I would have thought that we would have learned our lesson back then about lowering the standards for our child care facilities,” Taylor said.

Instead, the caucuses would push to expand eligibility for child care and invest monies for universal pre-K — though Republicans have repeatedly said they will reject any measures with a financial investment this year.

As for education, Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, said the two bodies would prioritize literacy interventions that supported struggling readers, rather than penalizing them.

“Our solutions must be proactive and not punitive. I’m optimistic that we will find a path to a solution for our growing literacy crisis that does not amount to punishing children or depriving educators of the time and resources they need to focus on the task at hand,” said Hunley, a former Indianapolis principal.

Additional efforts

Another focus for the bicameral caucus would be amending current property tax discussions to include a $250 credit to offset rising costs, an effort that mirrors the $250 Automatic Taxpayer Refund from 2022.

Taylor’s personal push will be to enact ballot measures that allow Hoosiers to vote directly on proposed laws after he said the Republican supermajority ignored the will of the people with a near-total ban on abortion and the continued prohibition on marijuana.

Lastly, Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, urged action to cap drug costs on live-saving medicines, including insulin, Epi-Pens and albuterol.

“Today, a vial of insulin costs about $10 to make but can cost over $100 (to the patient)… an Epi-Pen costs $30 to produce but costs from than $200 that amount and albuterol, used to treat asthmatics, costs about $0.15 to produce but it’s sold for more than 100 times that,” said Fleming, a retired OB-GYN. “It does cost a lot to research, develop and market drugs but it’s so disproportionate when the cost of the drug far exceeds that.”

She noted that Indiana pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly capped insulin vials to $35 but that didn’t extend to pre-measured syringes. Federal caps only protect those 65 and older. She proposed capping all insulin at $35, albuterol at $55 and epinephrine — used in Epi-Pens — to $25.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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