The topics at Saturday’s Third House Session ranged from drug use to education and everything in between.
Senator Erin Houchin and State Representative Steve Davisson, both from Washington County, met with the public for an open discussion on issues that matter during the event sponsored by Farm Bureau and Washington County Chamber of Commerce.
Houchin, elected in 2014, represents the 47th District and Davisson, first elected in 2010, represents the 73rd House District. Both are Republicans.
Houchin started out the program saying she was involved in the filing of 19 bills in the last session, which made for a very busy time in Indianapolis. She said 11 of those bills moved out of the Senate to the House. She discussed some of the bills, including SB 182, 407 and 409. All three were geared at education.
One bill, Senate Bill 182, deals with superintendent contracts.
“We have seen over the years superintendant contract buyouts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money,” said Houchin, citing schools in northern Indiana. “Contract buyouts can cost a school corporation and taxpayers, in some cases, over a half a million and even up to a million dollars in a contract buyout.”
In recognizing this as an issue, Houchin filed this bill that would limit an initial contract for a superintendent to three years and a subsequent contract to no more than five years.
“In addition to that, a contract buyout for a superintendent cannot exceed one year’s salary or $250,000, whichever is the lesser amount,” she said.
Houchin said when she first filed the legislation, she just had it at one year’s salary, but she was told that some superintendents make an excess of $250,000.
She said the interesting thing about the buyout provision under the current law says that a superintendent contract cannot be less than three years.
“We have superintendents that enter contracts that are decades long and then the buyouts are the remainder of that term,” she said. “This is a taxpayer protection bill. It protects our school corporations, it protects those tax dollars so they’re not going to an administrator that’s leaving, ultimately making a school corporation pay for two superintendents when only one is actually working and reserves more money for the classroom, for our teachers and our students.”
Senate Bill 409 deals with the bargaining aspect of teacher salaries. The school corporation bargains contracts based on an estimate of the money it will have according to a student count, which is held in September. However, the bargaining window closes before the actual count date.
“So, schools were having to bargain on the spring count number, which is almost never accurate, as you can imagine,” said Houchin. “I had some folks, a Salem teacher actually, who is a member of the union, who said, ‘This doesn’t make sense. Can you do something to fix it?’”
After looking into it, Houchin filed legislation that moves the bargaining window to starting Sept. 15 and concluding by Nov. 1 so they can have their count date in time for bargaining, as well as insurance rates.
“If the DOE, for some reason, does not certify that number in time for bargaining, then it allows the school corporation to bargain on that count whether it is certified or not,” she said.
The bill passed 49-0 and is on to the House for consideration.
Houchin said since her husband, Dustin, is the prosecutor of Washington County, she tries to look at bills that would benefit his work as well.
Senate Bill 322 requires a DNA sample to be taken on felony arrests, similar to how fingerprints are run through a national database.
“Thirty other states have this legislation and I did survey that question on the legislative survey, if any of you filled that out,” she said. “I think the results were 83 percent support, so there is a lot of support for this legislation.”
She said it does not take any genetic information, the sample that is sent can only be identified by the person and their gender. “It doesn’t have race, genetic information or any of those factors,” she said. “It has been used to solve thousands of crimes across the country.”
She said it came close to home last September when an 82-year-old man was randomly shot while getting the mail. The DNA taken at the scene matched the DNA taken from a database in Ohio.
“Ohio has a DNA on Felony Arrest law and because of Ohio’s law, we were quickly able to identify the suspect and put him in custody,” she said. As the investigation continued, they found that the same suspect had also been shooting at police officers at the Indianapolis Marion County Law Enforcement Center.
Houchin said that bill passed out of the Senate 36-13.
Senate Bill 408, which passed 49-0, focuses on the drug crisis in Indiana.
Houchin said in 2015, 15.9 million prescriptions were written for opioids in the state, which is more than double the amount of people who live in the state. Indiana is eighth in the nation for opioids prescribed.
The bill would require all doctors to register with INSPECT, a database which houses information on prescriptions. According to in.gov, an INSPECT report summarizes the controlled substances a patient has been prescribed, the practitioner who prescribed them and the dispensing pharmacy where the patient obtained them.
“Right now, only 44 percent of eligible doctors are registered with INSPECT,” said Houchin. “Only 17% are searching INSPECT.”
She said the doctors are relying on their patients’ word. “Under our current system, people can get their hands on many pills,” she said, adding that it has been proven that an addiction to pain medication leads to heroin use.
Davisson discussed Senate Bill 392, which deals with emergency medication in schools.
He said schools have kept EpiPens on hand in case a student has an allergic reaction.
“It seemed like it was going to work out OK, until the EpiPens shot up from $80 to $100 to $600-plus for a two pack,” he said. “So that became very concerning to us because a school needs to have two or three of those in each building. That would be very expensive.”
When he investigated, he found that they could buy the epinephrine ampules, or the old style, for about $10 a dose and school nurses are qualified to administer them.
The bill would give the option of purchasing either the new auto-injector pen or the old style.
“There are some grants available to schools to get those kinds of medications,” he said, adding that the department of education would like to see albuterol also offered for emergency asthma attacks. He also discussed adding Narcan at school in case there is a drug overdose.
“You just never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “It would be a safety measure for the school to have that. It can save some lives and I think that is very important because we want school to be a safe place for our children.”
House Bill 1541 was the other bill discussed by Davisson.
“This came about because everywhere I go around the whole district, when we talk about the addiction problem in our state, people always say, ‘We tried to get someone in this program and it’s going to be 12 weeks because there wasn’t any openings,’” he said.
When he started to investigate, he found that Indiana doesn’t have a lot of addiction treatment infrastructure in the state. “We are really shorthanded on that,” he said. “When we talk about underserved areas, really the whole state is underserved.”
Davisson said he has met with several people from mental health and addiction areas and they began working on a bill to get treatment out.
“To build that infrastructure is going to take many years,” he said. “We need to do something now. We need action.”
They put together an addiction treatment team with a nurse practitioner who will go in and work with a licensed addiction counselor and a recovery coach that will provide comprehensive treatment.
“We can’t just go in and detox them and throw them back out on the street,” said Davisson. “We can’t just give them medication as treatment and think that’s going to do it. They need counseling, they need follow up, they need medication-assisted treatment, they need the whole works.”
These groups will be funded on a bundled rate through Recovery works, which comes from the Forensic Treatment Services Grant.
“Hopefully, it will be a cost savings and these folks can go into jails, they can go into church, they can go into doctor office buildings,” he said. “They are mobile, so they can go wherever the need is. They can treat underserved areas.”
He said when people get clean, they need a job to help get them back on their feet.
“We worked with DWD (Department of Workforce Development) to come up with a program where they will work with them once they are hireable,” he said. “We are looking forward to getting that in play.”