Expanding cold beer sales and allowing retail sales of alcohol on Sundays are something many Indiana residents have long wanted and an issue that could be gaining traction. But a complex set of forces has kept that from happening. Dwight Adams/IndyStar
The Indiana Statehouse is warmly lit by the setting sun around 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008.(Photo: Charlie Nye/The Star 2008 file photo)Buy Photo
CONNECT 7 COMMENTEMAILMORE
Indiana lawmakers may make it easier for Hoosiers to purchase alcohol on Sundays and a cannabis extract throughout the week.
GOP leaders have attempted to steer conversations about the 2018 legislative session toward straightforward economic topics such as workforce development, but straying into touchier social issues may be unavoidable when the Republican-dominated legislature convenes Wednesday.
The General Assembly will consider a number of contentious issues, such as allowing Sunday carryout sales of alcohol, expanding the list of people who can purchase the cannabis-extract cannabidiol oil and removing a permit requirement for carrying firearms.
A Republican also plans to file legislation to legalize medical marijuana.
Without heavy budget issues to focus on like last year, GOP leaders may have a hard time drawing lawmakers away from such social issues or pet projects.
“To hear this session should be about workforce development would be perceived by some people as another delay on what social conservatives deem are important issues,” said Andy Downs, a political science professor at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne.
► Get more of Indiana‘s most insightful politics coverage sent straight to your inbox:
Here‘s what to watch for:
For years lawmakers have discussed the possibility of allowing Sunday alcohol sales, but the proposal hasn‘t made it far. This year, the idea might finally make it into law, with the support of key GOP leaders and a legislative-appointed code revision commission.
House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate leader David Long promised last year they would revise Indiana‘s post-prohibition era alcohol laws, after criticizing the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission for violating the legislature‘s intent and allowing some Ricker‘s convenience stores the ability to sell cold beer using a restaurant liquor license.
The Alcohol Code Commission supported a plan to allow Sunday alcohol sales, but just narrowly shot down efforts to expand cold beer sales to grocery and convenience stores.
The commission endorsed allowing grocery, liquor and convenience stores to sell alcohol from noon until 8 p.m. on Sundays.
The likelihood of Indiana legalizing marijuana for medical use is slim in 2018, but Seymour Republican Rep. Jim Lucas has pledged that he will file legislation anyway.
What‘s more likely is a debate over how Indiana‘s cannabidiol oil laws should be transformed. CBD oil is a cannabis extract with low levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and doesn‘t get users high.
During the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill creating a CBD oil registry for epileptic patients. The new law caused confusion over whether the product was actually legal to sell, and led to a the removal of the product from nearly 60 stores.
Attorney General Curtis Hill deemed all CBD products illegal in an opinion released in November. The next week Holcomb announced all stores had 60 days to pull the product from their shelves if it contained any THC, giving time for the General Assembly to draft new CBD legislation and store owners to learn the law.
Some lawmakers want to at least expand the registry to include additional illnesses, while others want to simply provide direction for how those on the registry can legally obtain the drug. CBD oil advocates plan to lobby the Statehouse to push for complete legalization of the product.
Holcomb said he supports legalizing CBD oil, as long as it contains no THC and is properly labeled.
Happy Daze, a smoke shop which offers cannabidiol oil, also known as CBD, Indianapolis, Thursday, September 7, 2017. The oil is used by a variety of people, and medical testing is being done to determine its efficacy in treating seizures, and pain. (Photo: Robert Scheer/IndyStar)
Democrats have long pushed for anti-hate crime legislation in Indiana, one of only five states that don‘t have the idea written into code.
Legislation that would have increased penalties for hate crimes made it to the Senate floor last year, but was never called for a vote by the bill author. Senate Bill 439 would have increased penalties for criminals who attempted to harm or intimidate someone because of their race, religion, color or gender.
Fallout from the white nationalist rally in Charlotesville, Va., earlier this year could provide a new impetus for the issue this year.
This summer, Bosma said he was on board with the idea of adding anti-hate crime language into the code, but said judges already have the power to consider someone‘s motivation when sentencing criminals.
In addition to pursuing marijuana legalization, Rep. Lucas is introducing another controversial bill that would remove the permit requirement for carrying firearms.
Currently, Hoosiers have to apply for a permit and can be denied by the Indiana State Police for a variety of reasons, including certain drug and alcohol violations and felony or domestic violence convictions.
Under Lucas‘ proposal, those same people would technically be prohibited from carrying firearms, but state police wouldn‘t have a chance to vet people in advance as they do now through the permitting process.
Lucas has pursued the legislation unsuccessfully for the past three years. At the start of the 2017 legislative session, House Speaker Brian Bosma, the lawmaker largely responsible for setting the House‘s agenda, said he didn‘t see the point in permit-less carry.
“I think our current gun laws are properly protective of the Second Amendment, and I don’t see that we need to have changes, but that’s just me personally,” Bosma said.
A chunk of Holcomb‘s 2018 agenda is centered on developing the workforce in order to fill skilled job openings in Indiana and attract more high-paying work.
A key part of his plan focuses on the technology sector.
Holcomb will push the legislature to require schools to offer a computer science course, clarify that software shouldn‘t be taxed and promote the study of self-driving vehicles.
Sen. Jim Merritt, who is responsible for much of the legislation fighting the opioid epidemic in Indiana, said the state is still losing the battle. Deaths and overdoses are still on the rise, despite last year‘s focus on the issue in the Statehouse.
Merritt plans to continue his five-year-plan to end the epidemic with more legislation this year. His plans include increasing sentencing for drug dealers, requiring lockable pain medication bottles and increasing the number of locations that will take back unused medication.
Holcomb and his drug czar Jim McClelland also are planning to open more FSSA-approved treatment centers and improve drug overdose reporting.
There likely won‘t be more money added to ending the epidemic this year, because lawmakers typically only discuss the budget every two years.
Democrats have promised to make redistricting reform a legislative priority this year. It was the only issue newly inducted House Minority Leader Terry Goodin mentioned in a news conference following his caucus‘ election in November.
Gerrymandering to an extent is commonplace throughout the U.S. An Associated Press analysis found that in 2016, Republicans won 22 additional U.S. House seats than expected based on average vote share across the U.S.
Although politicians have criticized gerrymandering for years, the issue has been pushed into the spotlight in recent months. The Supreme Court is set to decide during this current session whether Wisconsin politicians illegally redrew district lines to unfairly give Republicans an advantage.
The decision could help lead to redistricting reform in other states, including Indiana, ahead of the next census.
Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at . Follow her on .
2018 Indiana General Assembly
About: The 2018 legislative session is a “short” session and won‘t involve the crafting of a state budget. The 2019 “long” session will draft a two-year state budget.
Start date: Jan. 3.
House bill filing deadline: Jan. 9.
Senate bill filing deadline: Jan. 5.
Session end date: Must end no later than March 14.
► Hoosier Politics newsletter: every Thursday
CONNECT 7 COMMENTEMAILMORERead or Share this story: http://indy.st/2CmRsOW