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The Journal Gazette

  • Holcomb

Thursday, November 09, 2017 1:00 am

Holcomb agenda's focus on workers

Opioid addiction also priority for governor

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

Here are highlights of Gov. Eric Holcomb's 2018 agenda, some of which will require legislative action in the upcoming session.

• Create the Governor's Education to Career Pathway Cabinet as framework to align education and training to local needs

• Create the state Office of Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning to increase opportunities for students and adults

• Increase the number of FSS-approved opioid treatment locations

• Allow professionals to teach in Indiana schools in technology, STEM and career curricula without a teaching license

• Authorize testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on Indiana roads

• Add at Indiana prisons seven new certification programs for high-demand jobs

• Implement a new paid parent leave policy for state government employees that supports family formation and involved parents

• Clarify tax law so that web-based software systems don't carry a sales tax

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb on Wednesday laid out a governing agenda for 2018 that focuses heavily on improving workforce skills and applying more pressure in the opioid addiction fight.

The core of the plan is another attempt at aligning education and workforce efforts so that Indiana workers have the skills that companies need. Several governors have tried to address the problem via appointed panels, task forces and grant programs.

Holcomb will add a special cabinet and rely on regional groups to do the heavy lifting. He said the approach is different because it starts from the bottom up – giving authority over funding and strategy to local talent councils comprising business and education leaders.

It will focus not only on making sure Indiana's students are college or career ready but also retraining Hoosier adults in needed areas.

“We must act now to ensure Hoosiers have the skills they need to secure good jobs and succeed in our growing economy,” Holcomb said.

He said the effort will initially, at least, be paid for from existing funds rather than call for additional money from the legislature.

The effort also will use state incentives to encourage workforce investment boards to improve job placement and wage outcomes.

“I applaud the governor for bringing an aggressive and well-thought-out agenda to the table,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. “The Senate continues to believe that workforce development is a critical issue for our state, and the governor's agenda reflects that priority.”

Another plank in the governor's plan is authorizing the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on Indiana roads. This is partly an effort to attract research and economic development in this burgeoning industry.

“We need to prepare for the next evolution of transportation,” Holcomb said.

One thing not on his agenda is legalizing marijuana, including for medicinal purposes.

“The FDA is the organization that approves drugs in this country, and they've not yet, and so we're not there in this state,” Holcomb said. “At this time right now, I'm trying to get drugs off the street, not add more into the mix. So I'm just not supportive of that.”

He said groups looking to decriminalize marijuana should focus their efforts on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Holcomb's plan also includes a plan to increase the number of state-approved medication-assisted treatment locations to help Hoosiers get off opioids.

Some lawmakers believe such centers simply replace one addiction for another, and state law currently caps the number at 18. The administration thinks at least another 10 are needed so that Hoosiers have to drive less than one hour to get access.

The administration will also seek a specific criminal felony murder charge for those who manufacture drugs that result in drug-induced death. Indiana already has a felony murder statute that allows anyone to be charged with murder if a death occurs during the commission of a felony. For instance, a co-defendant can be charged with a partner's death in a robbery even if someone else killed that person.

The governor's staff said the new charge sends a message that the state is tough on drugs, and pointed to other states doing the same thing.

Little in Holcomb's agenda is controversial, and Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath from Michigan City said House Democrats share many of the goals.

“We all believe in a top-notch workforce, more job training opportunities, and freeing Hoosiers of drug addiction. These concerns are nearly universal, and we look forward to working with the governor to flesh out the details,” he said.

But Pelath also said he hopes Holcomb can “restrain his party in the legislature from adding needless distractions that fundamentally improve the lives of no one.”

One major issue that likely will come up is whether to eliminate the state's required license to carry a handgun in public – which is being pushed by a House Republican.

nkelly@jg.net