Lawmakers discuss drug epidemic, gun laws, child welfare in final session

The opioid crisis was widely considered the top priority for state lawmakers prior to the convening of 2018 Indiana General Assembly.

But during Monday’s final Third House legislative session of the year in Columbus, the opioid epidemic was acknowledged by State Sen. Greg Walker as a complex problem extremely difficult for legislators to address during a non-budget year.

Walker, R-Columbus, cited two bills dealing with these types of addictions that were still being considered during the final stretch of this year’s legislative session.

Senate Bill 221, which requires doctors to have access to a website to check a patient’s controlled substance prescription history.

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Senate Bill 369, which would create a list of prescription drugs that could offer alternative medicines other than opioids.

The problem in enacting additional laws is that if too many regulations are placed on getting opioids legally, it could prompt more Hoosiers to seek illegal street drugs such heroin, Walker said.

Besides drugs, black-market suppliers are known to be active in human trafficking and money laundering, the senator said.

Lawmakers are expected to receive additional recommendations later this year from the state’s drug czar, Jim McClelland, to be considered next year, Walker said.

Gun-law debate

State Rep. Milo Smith said during Monday’s Third House session, attended by 40 people, that he supported background checks for all gun purchases made at gun shows.

“There should be someone at every gun show who can process a sale to make certain the buyer doesn’t have anything in their background that would indicate a danger to society,” Smith said.

Earlier this year, gun rights supporters were seeking to reduce some point-of-sale background checks and allow worshippers to carry guns in churches that are also located on school grounds, which is prohibited under current law without authorization from school officials.

But since the Feb. 14 killing of 17 high school students or staff at a high school in south Florida, those bills have died in the Indiana legislature.

Nevertheless, Walker said he is still hearing from constituents who are asking him “not to walk back anything regarding gun rights.”

When laws and regulations regarding firearms are considered, the rights and liberties of reasonable citizens should be foremost on the minds of lawmakers, as well as constitutional provisions regarding personal safety, Walker said.

Those who are not responsible gun owners should be dealt with through the criminal justice system, he said.

The issue of spotting red flags to find people who might be a danger to themselves or others has been brought up several times since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida High School.

But those flags don’t emerge often, Walker said. For example, someone warned an Indiana judge of a dangerous family member in 30 instances during 2016.

In order to effectively use other red flags to save lives, all of Indiana will need the full support and cooperation of the mental health community, the senator said.

“We’re not there yet,” Walker said. “But it’s a priority for us, and with 2019 being a budget year, it will receive a lot of attention.”

In the meantime, lawmakers have approved Senate Resolution 43, which calls for a comprehensive review of all school safety issues this year.

Child welfare

Although the 2018 Indiana General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn by March 14, Smith said he may be advocating for a special session this summer.

A report from a committee appointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb is expected to provide recommendations June 21 regarding keeping case workers for the Indiana Department of Child Services.

If the findings from the committee recommend immediate action, Smith said he would be willing to participate in a special session to enact those recommendations.

The committee has interviewed more than 100 people after a former department director resigned late last year, stating funding cuts were putting children at risk in the midst of the state’s opioid crisis.

The resignation of Mary Beth Bonaventura came partly as the result of a two-year budget appropriation that her department spent in nine months, Walker said.

Because all child welfare employees are overworked, case workers have had difficulty finding a supervisor to check the case worker’s decisions, Smith said.

But what is most difficult is when caseworkers are placed into the middle of a family’s life where they are not wanted, Walker said.

“It’s just a mess of people’s lives that we’re trying to deal with,” Walker said. “There are no perfect solutions. Not even good solutions. We just want the best that can be made out of what we have now.”

As lawmakers try to uncover specific details about individual cases, they are often not provided with that information due to confidentiality laws, both Walker and Smith said.

For that reason, state lawmakers want to be on top of the findings that come out of the governor’s committee, Smith said.

Key dates in General Assembly

Monday was the final day for third reading of Senate bills in the House and the last day for House adoption of conference committee reports without Rules Committee approval.

Today is the final day for third reading of House bills in the Senate, and for Senate adoption of conference committee reports without Rules Committee approval.

March 14 is the final day for adjournment of both the House and Senate, ending the session.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5636.