INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s 2018 agenda can be summed up in three words: people, people, people, said Gov. Eric Holcomb at his annual State of the State address.
While his first year as governor lacked defining moments, Holcomb used the annual State of the State address Tuesday night to measure the successes of his first year as well as discuss his 2018 agenda, specifically improving workforce development, fighting the opioid epidemic and investigating recent issues in the Department of Child Services.
Holcomb released his 2018 five-pillar agenda in November, including working to cultivate a strong and diverse economy, maintain and build the state’s infrastructure, develop a 21st-century skilled and ready workforce, attack the drug epidemic, and deliver great government service.
Of the five pillars in his 2018 agenda, Holcomb said his main focus will be workforce development. Holcomb said he worries jobs in Indiana can’t be filled because there aren’t enough skilled people to fill them.
“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 offer at least one computer science course by 2021 and creating programs for adults to finish high school diplomas and college degrees.
“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.
Many lawmakers wondered if Holcomb would address growing problems surrounding the Department of Child Services in his address.
After former DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned December 12, many lawmakers made it clear that looking into the issues surrounding DCS ould be on their agenda. 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.
In his address, Holcomb emphasized his continuing support of 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.
After Bonaventura’s resignation, Holcomb hired a new DCS director, Terry Stigdon, as well as the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group to conduct a DCS assessment. Holcomb said Tuesday that he will remain open about the results in this assessment.
“We’ll be transparent and we’ll provide you directly with progress reports,” Holcomb said.
Democrats, however, were unimpressed by Holcomb’s mention of the DCS.
House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin (D-Austin) said Holcomb’s speech lacked boldness and leadership. He added he was disappointed with how little time Holcomb spent talking about DCS.
Goodin said he doesn’t think the issues regarding DCS are resonating with the other side.
“I’m not grasping that people get the seriousness of this,” Goodin said.
Another 2018 goal for Holcomb is attacking the drug epidemic, saying he plans to focus on 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.
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.
In response to Holcomb’s speech, Republicans said they appreciate the vision Holcomb has for the upcoming year.
When it comes to the opioid epidemic, President Pro Tempore David Long (R-Fort Wayne) said it is something everyone on both sides have to work on together.
“It didn’t start yesterday and we’re not going to fix it tomorrow,” Long said.
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