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12/28/2018 11:34:00 AM
Treatment, criminal justice top priorities for Hancock County state legislators
By the numbers

The 2019 session of the Indiana General Assembly at a glance, which convenes on Jan. 3:

61: Number of session days in the 2019 assembly. The legislature must complete its work by April 30.

67: Number of Republicans, out of 100 lawmakers, in the Indiana House of Representatives.

40: Number of Republicans, out of 50 lawmakers, in the Indiana Senate.

Ben Middlekamp, Daily Reporter Reporter

GREENFIELD — Two local lawmakers plan to focus on criminal justice reform, substance abuse treatment options and improving the state’s workforce as the Indiana General Assembly convenes next week.

State Sen. Mike Crider and State Rep. Bob Cherry, both Republicans from Greenfield, each have a handful of bills they’re working on for the legislative session beginning Jan. 3. Most of them align with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Agenda, including ones dealing with workforce development and the opioid crisis.

Crider said of the 15 bills he’s set to introduce, most focus on criminal justice, opioids and mental health.

One bill would create a fund for school corporations to offset costs associated with hiring mental health workers. Hancock County’s districts have some social workers in school buildings, and Greenfield-Central Schools recently hired a therapist to work in the high school and junior high. Crider said his hope for the bill is to provide early intervention programs in school systems to target mental health issues early on. Confronting mental health issues among children was one of the recommendations of a study commissioned by Holcomb earlier this year.

Developing more treatment options is high on the list of priorities for Crider, he said. The state has created some opioid recovery programs across Indiana, Crider said, which was championed by Holcomb. One of Crider’s bills would allow felons who have been successfully treated in those programs to get out early, with the approval from a local judge and prosecutor, so they can get back to work.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to restore people who are actively trying to help themselves and encourage them to stay in treatment,” Crider said, adding that’s the key to curbing constant recidivism.

Cherry said he’s working on a piece of legislation that would help move non-violent offenders back into the workforce if they’ve been in a correctional facility. He said that could help free up overcrowded jails.

The Hancock County Jail has been overcrowded for years, and county officials could soon OK the design work of a new 440-bed facility and also raise local income taxes by 0.2 percent to pay for part of the project. The legislature a few years ago allowed counties to raise taxes to pay for correctional facilities.

Thanks to input given by county council members and commissioners, Cherry said he’s going to ask for the public safety law to extend by two years for a 22-year payoff of facility costs through income taxes rather than the 20 years already in effect. Cherry also said he wants to clarify the language in the law to say counties can use no more than 20 percent of those income taxes to pay for operating funds.

Cherry also said he’s going to work with lawmakers to increase the revenue given from the state to counties to house Level 6 felons from $35 to $55 a day. That cost hasn’t changed in over 30 years, and sheriffs across the state have been lobbying for the change because of the wave of overcrowded jails. State law changed in 2014 to move lower-level felons out of state prisons and house them instead in county jails.

The Indiana Sheriffs' Association estimates 40 to 45 counties are looking to build new jails because they’re running out of room to house the extra inmates.

Cherry, who’s also the vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he will also be focusing on balancing the state’s budget. He’s planning to ask for the budget to include capital expenditures for a new building at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and a new facility for Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, as the school has outgrown its current building.

Copyright 2019 Daily Reporter

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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