LAGRANGE — In Sen. Sue Glick’s eyes, meeting the cost of inflation, boosting local public health capacity and working on the challenges of mental health access are going to be top priorities for the Indiana General Assembly it sits down to craft a new two-year budget.
The state has seen a big boost in tax collections, but it also has some big expenditures ahead of it that are going to eat into that surplus.
That, and the Senate also needs to make good on a promise it made during the summer when working on the state’s near-total abortion ban — boosting support services for women who become pregnant regardless of whether they intend to raise their child or seek another family who will.
When lawmakers convene in Indianapolis in January it will be for the “long” session, which includes crafting of a new two-year state budget.
Odd-numbered budget years are usually consumed by determining spending priorities, while the “short” session in even-numbered years typically contain more of the public policy discussions.
This year is looking to be no exception, as Glick, R-LaGrange, expects lawmakers to have some weighty work on their two-year plan.
Glick’s Senate District 13 touches parts of the entire four-county area, covering all of LaGrange, Steuben and Noble counties and the four westernmost townships of DeKalb County.
Indiana hit a record tax surplus of more than $6 billion last year and the state has had so much money available that it responded with two cash refunds to taxpayers — first and automatic refund and a second stipend approved and paid out during the summer special session.
That tax boon is giving lawmakers more leeway to considering priorities than usual, but Glick said top-of-mind for the state will simply be covering projects that have already been committed and increased costs across all departments.
“We allocated a bunch of money for contracts, especially some of the construction contracts … and all the aggregates have gone up in price, we’ve had inflation go up on steel and everything else,” Glick said. “We’re in the midst of some extensive projects and the costs are substantially higher than they were a year ago. We’ve got to meet the shortfall like everyone is doing.
“That’s a big issue with the state because we have such large contracts that have been let so they have to address those needs,” she said.
After that, Glick expects health spending to be a top new priority for the state in the wake of a sizable report put out by the governor’s public health task force, which was formed during the pandemic to analyze and make recommendations for public health improvements.
The bottom line of their many recommendations: A $250 million investment in state and local health departments.
“What it would do is kind of give the state a method of getting money out for preventative health measure. Indiana is kind of notorious for having bad health outcomes,” Glick said. “Some of the issues that were identified in that by the task force are preventative measures that are public education and training type things that can be done locally.”
Glick said what’s important to her is not usurping local health department authority to the Indiana Department of Health or forcing counties to do this or that, but instead crafting a funding structure that would allow for localities to opt in to a program and tailor a program to their needs.
“We want healthy families and we think approaching it from the local level is best so you can use services that are already there and enhance those programs but it would be at the behest of the commissioners and the (county) council,” Glick said. “We want them to have some options along the way. It’s their choice to come into the program or not, but it’s a huge ask. But if we get the health of Indiana in hand, we think in the long-run it will help us reduce the cost of hospital care and medical care at the other end.”
Outside of physical health, Glick also sees mental health as a big area of focus this year, as the Indiana Supreme Court, judiciary, corrections facilities and law enforcement have all put their voices together to call for more support on that front.
“Our jails are full of people who are not necessarily criminals, but the underlying problem is a mental health problem and not a criminal problem. The jails are becoming a repository for a lot of people who need counseling or other mental health help,” Glick said. “We have a shortage of mental health providers and qualified people to assist.”
Education is also a hot topic during budget years, and Glick sees a need to continue to address workforce in Indiana public education.
Older teachers are retiring, younger Hoosiers are not as often pursuing education as a career path and the state is struggling to retain current teachers, which are all creating a crunch in staffing across the state.
While finding and retaining teachers for subjects like secondary level math and science remain difficult, even getting elementary-level teachers is becoming more of a struggle.
Increasing teacher pay and seeking new ways to entice college students to pursue education — maybe through programs like scholarships or loan repayment assistance — could be on the table.
Compensation is an issue but the exodus from education is also being compounded by increasing levels of suspicion and/or hostility toward education from far-right fringe groups.
“Obviously there is a disconnect by many people with the education system. They don’t want to sit on a school board or be involved other than to tell something than how to fashion a curriculum. That’s not fair to the educators or the members of the school board,” Glick said, stating educators are doing their best to give youngsters a rounded education in a safe environment. “Just to simply attend a public meeting and disrupt it as we’ve seen, that’s just not accomplishing anything and that’s driving some good people from the field of education, but also from serving on public bodies.”
Glick authored S.B. 1 during the summer special session, which was approved and banned abortion in Indiana except in limited cases of rape or incest and in cases when the mother’s life is in jeopardy.
The bill had few fans — abortion rights supporters hated that it peeled back access while anti-abortion groups panned it for not going far enough to outlaw all abortions — but ultimately garnered enough support to pass.
The abortion law has since been challenged in courts and the law has been stayed by judges while the litigation is pending.
It’s because of that pending litigation that Glick doesn’t expect to see abortion be a major topic of discussion at this year’s session.
“We have a policy not to get involved in issue that are presently in litigation. It makes no sense to go forward with new bills if the court hasn’t ruled on other bills,” Glick said. “I think you will see everything on hold until we get rulings from the courts and it will take a little while for it to go up the judicial system.”
That being said, Glick doesn’t expect lawmakers to wait on promises to boost support for pregnancy-related programs including pre-natal care, post-natal care, the foster care system and adoption incentives. Promises to improve those support programs was an important stipulation for Glick during the summer.
Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box will be delivering her policy recommendations to the General Assembly and Glick expects funding to follow for a variety of programs.
Glick will continue to chair the Senate’s Natural Resource Committee and sits on the Judiciary; Corrections and Criminal Law; Agriculture; and Rules and Legislatuve Procedure committees, so she expects to have a full plate come January.
Glick will carry the vehicle bill for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as usual, but is also working on trying to get additional funding for water quality projects across the state, including more money to soil and water conservation groups to help farmers decrease field runoff into waterways.
“We’re getting a lot of cooperation from the ag groups as well as natural resources,” Glick said.
She’ll also be working on legislation to help property owners better understand their property rights and uses and help them avoid possible pitfalls when purchasing property that they might not know about, such as being located in flood plains or restricted areas.