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Senate Republicans outline 2023 agenda, including health, public safety and business tax savings

Senate Republican leaders unveil their agenda on the Senate floor. Standing at a lectern is Senator Chris Garten. Watching nearby are Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, Senator Travis Holdman and Senator Mike Crider. All are White men.
Brandon Smith
/
IPB News
Senate Republican leaders discuss their 2023 agenda on the Senate floor. From left to right are Sen. Chris Garten (R-Charlestown), Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville), Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) and Sen. Mike Crider (R-Greenfield).

Indiana Senate Republicans are prioritizing health care issues in 2023 – from expanding access to care to trying to lower costs – and long-term goals on fiscal issues and public safety.

Much of the health work will depend on spending. The governor is asking for about $347 million in the next budget to boost the state’s public health system, primarily through local health departments.

Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso) said an important part of that funding will be that those local departments will choose whether to take the money and commit to providing more services.

“This isn’t mandating anything on any county," Charbonneau said. "It’s an opportunity.”

Senate Republicans also want to help expand access to mental health care. Sen. Mike Crider (R-Greenfield) said his caucus aims to spend $30 million on behavioral health clinics.

“Until we get that ability to provide services, particularly in those crisis situations, we’re going to continue to have problems," Crider said. "And we’re going to flood our jails and flood our … emergency rooms basically, because there’s no place else to go to get care.”

The caucus agenda also includes renewed efforts to work with insurers and health care providers on medical billing and pharmacy benefit issues that could lower costs. Sen. Justin Busch (R-Fort Wayne) will lead a push to ban non-compete clauses for doctors.

Beyond health care, the caucus wants to establish a two-year commission that will take a “holistic” look at the state’s tax system, with an eye towards major changes that could include eliminating the income tax. It also wants to make a big push to pay down a teacher pension fund, which costs the state about $1 billion a year.

READ MORE: Indiana Senate Republican leaders want to eliminate state income tax by end of decade

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In the more immediate future, though, Sen. Scott Baldwin (R-Noblesville) will lead an effort to help small businesses save money. Currently, businesses that pay corporate income tax in Indiana can deduct those full tax payments from their federal taxes. But those that only pay individual income taxes for their businesses are capped. Baldwin’s bill would ensure they can deduct their full amount – at no cost to the state.

“And they’ll save over $50 million per year in federal taxes, according to the numbers I’ve received from the business community,” Baldwin said.

Another priority will align with the governor’s: increasing the salaries of the Indiana State Police. Sen. Chris Garten (R-Charlestown) said low pay has been a recruiting challenge.

“The ISP’s most recent recruitment class was the smallest since 1946,” Garten said.

Getting all starting salaries for state troopers to $70,000 a year, as the governor proposes, would cost about $36 million.

There's also a potential change to the Indiana Constitution on the horizon. The constitution requires bail to be offered for criminal suspects unless they're charged with murder or treason and "the proof is evident, or the presumption strong."

Sen. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) wants to change that provision to allow judges to withhold bail for other crimes when a defendant poses a "substantial risk" to the public.

READ MORE: Indiana lawmakers will write their two-year budget this session. Here’s how that process works

And Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) will once again try to provide Hoosier consumers with data privacy rights. Her legislation is modeled after a recent Virginia law and would create a kind of consumers bill of rights.

"Like the right to review what data has been collected about you, the right to correct that information or even have it deleted," Brown said.

To enforce those provisions, the bill would empower the Indiana attorney general's office to investigate and impose penalties.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.