Gov. Eric Holcomb used his annual State of the State address to discuss successes of his first year as well as his agenda for the year ahead. With Democratic leaders saying the speech lacked boldness and leadership, here is what was said, what was not said and what lawmakers wished was said.
1. Workforce development will continue to be Holcomb’s main priority.
Holcomb said his main focus for the year will be workforce development.
“This is the defining issue of the decade, and we don’t have a day to waste,” Holcomb said.
To achieve this, Holcomb’s plans include requiring every Indiana school to offer at least one computer science course by 2021 and creating programs for adults to finish high school diplomas and college degrees.
Holcomb set specific goals for getting more Indiana residents in the workforce. He said he wants 25,000 more adults taking part in programs that help more Indiana residents go back to college. He also set a goal to help 30,000 more adults without a high school diploma get the skills needed to obtain a job.
He added he wants to create an office that will establish 25,000 apprenticeships and work-based learning experience programs by the end of 2019.
Holcomb said he wants more skilled people in Indiana to fill jobs that currently cannot be filled.
“Let’s give them the tools they need to reach their full, true potential,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb said improving Indiana’s workforce will be a long-term commitment.
“But the results when we succeed will position Indiana for even more economic gain for your children and grandchildren for generations to come,” he said.
2. Holcomb will attack the opioid epidemic using a three-step approach: treatment, prevention and enforcement.
Lawmakers have made it clear that fighting the opioid epidemic will be a large part of their 2018 agenda. Holcomb spent much of his speech Tuesday discussing his plans for approaching the crisis that has affected the lives of thousands of Hoosiers.
Holcomb said he will focus on using a balanced approach: treatment, prevention and enforcement.
Holcomb’s plan includes improving how physicians use INSPECT, Indiana’s prescription drug monitoring program. In September, only one hospital was using INSPECT, but more hospitals are getting on board, Holcomb said.
The INSPECT database shows what controlled substances a patient is prescribed, who prescribed them and the pharmacy where the prescription was filled.
Holcomb also plans to strengthen law enforcement efforts regarding drug charges by establishing a felony charge for drug-induced homicide and a felony murder charge for those who manufacture drugs that result in death.
“If you deal or manufacture illegal drugs that result in someone’s death, you will be charged with our highest level felony and you will go to prison for a long, long time,” Holcomb said.
3. Holcomb set a goal to lower Indiana’s worsening infant mortality rate.
Holcomb also brought up Indiana’s rising infant mortality rate. With 623 babies dying before the age of 1 in 2016, Indiana has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the country, Holcomb said.
He called this statistic unacceptable, pledging a goal for the first time to be the best state for infant mortality rates by 2024.
“We can and we will save more of them,” Holcomb said.
4. After accusations of lack of funding and support for the Department of Child Services, Holcomb said he will remain transparent as the department is assessed.
After former DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned Dec. 12, many lawmakers made it clear that looking into the issues surrounding DCS would be on their agenda and some wondered if Holcomb would bring up the issues in his address.
In her resignation letter, Bonaventura said she felt she was unable to protect children due to cuts in funding and services to children amid the opioid crisis. After Bonaventura’s resignation, Holcomb hired a new DCS director, Terry Stigdon, as well as the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group to conduct an assessment of the department.
Holcomb said Tuesday he will remain open about the results in this assessment.
In his address, Holcomb emphasized his continuing support for investigating DCS. He said he will continue to do whatever he can to protect Indiana’s children.
“There is no one that cares more about Hoosier children than I do,” he said.
5. Caucus leaders shared mixed feelings on Holcomb’s speech.
As Holcomb avoided many issues like Sunday alcohol sales and CBD oil, House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said Holcomb’s speech lacked boldness and leadership. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, agreed, saying the governor’s speech lacked a bold vision.
Goodin said he was disappointed the governor did not discuss mental health when he laid out his plan for fighting the opioid epidemic while Lanane was disappointed Holcomb did not focus on increasing resources to fight the epidemic.
Both Goodin and Lanane appreciated Holcomb’s focus on workforce development. However, they said they wished his workforce development plan was bolder. Lanane said there needs to be more focus on workforce reform.
“Clearly what we’re doing is just not working,” Lanane said.
Republican leaders, however, said Holcomb set the right tone in his speech, one of hope and prosperity.
Republican leaders agreed with the governor’s approach to DCS, pledging to be as transparent as possible when it came to the assessment.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he appreciated the governor acknowledging that there are problems with the system and pledging to work on solutions..
“We need the report, and then we need to attack jointly,” said President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne.
Still, Democrats worry Holcomb’s approach is not serious enough. Democratic leaders were worried with how little time Holcomb spent Tuesday on the topic. Goodin said he does not think the issues regarding DCS are resonating with the other side.
“I’m not grasping that people get the seriousness of this,” Goodin said.
Goodin pledged to call for a special session if the results of the DCS assessment in April show children are in danger.
“If we fail our children, we fail, period,” Lanane said.
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