Legislators questioned on issues
Legislators representing Boone County took questions on gun regulations, prescription opioid reform and redistricting reform Saturday over breakfast.
The Boone County Chamber of Commerce’s only legislative breakfast of the year brought together nearly all legislators representing the county at Trader’s Point Christian High School in Whitestown.
Appearing in person were Brian Buchanan, District 7 state senator; Phil Boots, District 23 state senator; Mike Delph, District 29 state senator; Donna Schaibley, District 24 state representative; Tim Brown, District 41 state representative; and U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Carmel), from District 5.
U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) and U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg), of District 4, each sent representatives on their behalf.
Each legislator was given the opportunity to share what they are working on this session and give the crowd a glimpse into their role as a legislator. They also took audience questions for a short period, as more than half of the hour-long breakfast was spent on their session goals.
In light of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, several constituents wanted Brooks to give her thoughts on how the nation should be addressing gun violence. Zionsville mother Marcia Rosenfeld, who is also a Democrat candidate for Boone County Council District 1, was particularly concerned over the issue.
When Brooks did not initially offer specifics, she asked for Brooks to spell out what she will personally do to curb gun violence. Rosenfeld said this occasion calls for action more than thoughts and prayers.
“It has been six years since Sandy Hook and we need concrete answers,” Rosenfeld said.
After the breakfast, Rosenfeld explained that she was passionate about the issue for the sake of her children. She fears sending her 9-year-old to school in this society, even in Zionsville, which was recently named the safest city in Indiana.
Brooks said there is no one issue that can cure gun violence — in or out of school. Among the items that could have prevented the tragedy, she said, are better awareness of mental health problems among our neighbors, better security at schools and more collaboration between law enforcement.
“It is not acceptable that the FBI missed this and didn’t report it to the Miami field office,” Brooks said. “But it’s not just law enforcement, why didn’t we reach out and get this young man mental health care?”
One thing that will not solve the problem, Brooks said, is more gun laws.
“We could continue to legislate and add more laws to the books … But I don’t think that will fix this,” Brooks said. “This young man got into the school with an AR15, but what makes us think he wouldn’t have waited until the kids got outside and mowed them down with a car?”
While she said laws are not the answer, she suggested that she may support new regulations such as closing the gun show loop hole, improving the system for backgrounds checks involving mental health information is properly reported for those seeking a gun permit.
Michele Standeford, founder of Lebanon non-profit Youth and Family Health Network, asked the legislators to address opioid over-prescription and drug testing for individuals who prescribe opioids.
“My son was a victim of opioid over-prescription. He was prescribed this medicine by a doctor who also had a drug problem,” Standeford said. “We have CDL drivers who have to take random drug tests, but we don’t test our doctors.”
Brooks said she is working on a bill that would require prescribers to take continuing education before they renew their license to prescribe opioids. She said the idea behind this is that opioid prescribers who finished their degrees long ago may not have the same information on opioids as recent graduates.
Several of the state legislators said they are also working on opioid issues.
Spenser Rohler of the Boone County Chamber asked the legislators their thoughts on Senate Bill 326, which outlines new standards for redistricting.
Among other items, the bill seeks to minimize splitting state House and Senate districts inside municipalities and would require all redistricting plans that deviate from the new standards to be publicly explained.
The bill has passed the Senate with a vote of 42-6, with Boots and Delph supporting the measure. As the bill was passed before Buchanan was seated Feb. 12, he did not vote on the bill.
Delph said redistricting is an issue he has been supporting for the last decade, but differing opinions on the matter within the Republican caucus have made the issue hard to accomplish.
SB 326 is now in the hands of the house Elections and Apportionment Committee and had not been acted upon as of press time.
In their opening statements, each legislator spoke of their goals and what they hope to see move forward in the last leg of the session.
Brooks said her most recent accomplishments include voting for tax reform, sponsoring a bill to bring new support and resources to law enforcement professionals suffering from mental health issues and voting for a bill to prevent Olympic athlete abuse.
As chair of the house Ethics Committee, Brooks said the committee is focused on ensuring victims of sexual harassment by members know they have a voice. Another matter she plans to work on is shoring up the nation’s bio-defense, meaning increasing the supply of vaccines and measures to guard against bio-terrorism.
Buchanan, who took office Feb. 12, said he is still adjusting to the office. He likened the learning experience to “drinking from a fire hose.” He hopes to see action on opioid reform, workforce development and agriculture issues.
Savannah’s Law, inspired by a Ben Davis High School student who died from carbon monoxide exposure after riding in a car with a bad exhaust system, has passed the Senate and has been forwarded to the House. The bill allows local fire departments to test carbon monoxide emissions in cars without the risk of legal action.
Delph’s oxygen therapy bill has passed the Veterans' Affairs Committee, which he chairs, and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote. The bill would ask the Indiana Lottery Commission to create a scratch-off game that would fund a pilot hyperbaric oxygen therapy program for veterans.
Boots, who has submitted a Sunday alcohol sales bill each year for the last 12 years, said he is glad to see Sunday sales are now close to being a reality.
Boots and Schaibley are partnering on community mental health center legislation. Schaibley said she authored the bill after her constituent, Boone County Councilwoman Elise Nieshalla, brought the issue to her attention.
Schaibley said the bill focuses on community mental center funding and emphasizes that the centers should be transparent about tax dollars being used for county residents.
Schaibley’s House version, HB 1141, and the Senate version, SB 397, co-authored by Boots and Sen. Eric Koch, have also passed.
Boots said the bill is a victory for counties.
“Every county is required to contribute to a community mental health center … but counties don’t always know where the money is going and what it is being used for,” Boots said. “We find also that jails can’t use those dollars and they need help more than anybody.”
Schaibley said she is also working on a few other medical-related bills.
She signed on to a bill regarding adding spinal muscular atrophy and severe combined immunodeficiency to a list of required screenings given to newborns following birth. The bill, authored by Rep. Doug Gutwein, was inspired by two constituents who have children who could have benefited from the screening. She said one of those constituents is a Zionsville family and the other is a family member of Gutwein.
The SMA and SCI bill has passed the House and the committee stage in the Senate.
Brown, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and representative of the largest portion of Boone County, said school funding and workforce development are chief of among his concerns.