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State lawmakers address questions at luncheon

State Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville) talked about the status of the purchase of Indiana Grand Racing & Casino and the effort to get live dealers for the gaming venue during a luncheon Friday at the Knights of Columbus Hall sponsored by the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce. He and the county’s other state lawmakers, Sen. Mike Crider (R-Greenfield) and Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), spoke about issues likely to come up at the special legislative session in May called by Gov. Eric Holcomb and in next year’s budget-writing session of the Indiana General Assembly.

By JOHN WALKER - jwalker@shelbynews.com

School security; opioid drug abuse; new law enforcement requirements; the casino purchase:

Three elected state officials representing Shelby County spoke to those and other issues during a free luncheon sponsored by the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce.

Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville), Sen. Mike Crider (R-Greenfield) and Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) talked with about 70 people during the event Friday at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 413 E. South St.

Near the top of the list was a special session of the Indiana General Assembly called by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

“That may happen May 14 or 15,” said Eberhart.

No firm date has been set for the special session, but some items are sure to be on the agenda.

Legislators are expected to address the governor’s request for $50 million in immediate funding for school safety statewide during the special session, plus a $12 million loan to fund the public schools in Muncie.

A bill that didn’t pass in the recent short session of the legislature would have had Ball State University take over administration of the Muncie school system.

David Finkel, a member of the Shelbyville Central Schools Board of Trustees, urged the lawmakers to be cautious when addressing school matters in order to preserve the home rule of local schools.

“Please watch the wording,” Finkel said. 

Crider, a former law enforcement officer, spoke about growing opioid drug abuse. Under new rules, county coroners will have to specify a cause of death in an effort to identify those that are drug-related and create a database of overdoses.

Responding to a question from the audience, Crider said the governor has made a commitment to provide funding to counties for the new toxicology requirements.

State funding was also on the mind of Charlie West, director of Shelby County Community Corrections, because of overcrowding in the local jail.

The county wants to build a work release center to facilitate the transition from jail, but money from the state has dried up, said West, who asked about the possibility of new state funds in 2019.

“That’s a big issue in most counties in the state,” said Crider of jail overcrowding. “Make sure you’re communicating with us.”

Lawmakers did fund a measure this year to address the high number of infant deaths in Indiana.

Senate Bill 142 will provide funding to establish a review committee within the state Department of Health to address the issue about which the state lags behind the rest of the country, said Leising, who authored the bill.

“We are right at the bottom,” she said regarding infant mortality.

The “Maternal Mortality Review Committee” established by SB 142 will determine causes and look for solutions.

Asked by The Shelbyville News about the status of the purchase of Indiana Grand Racing & Casino by Caesars Entertainment Corp., and the prospect of getting live dealers at the local casino, Eberhart said the purchase had been OK’d by federal regulators.

However, the deal still has to go before the Indiana Gaming Commission and the state’s Horse Racing Commission, he said.

“It looks like it may go into June, maybe July, before that sale is final,” Eberhart said.

Also, there’s a law now that will permit live dealers in 2021, but there will be an effort to move that date up, he said, especially in the face of competition from a new Native American casino in South Bend.

Indiana’s first tribal casino opened in January, and it won’t have to pay state taxes because the Potawatomi tribe is a separate nation under federal law. Concern is the tribal casino will reduce gaming taxes by drawing business from tax-paying state casinos.

Getting live dealers approved for state-run casinos may help boost the gaming tax revenues, Eberhart said.

“I think you’ll see a big effort in the next session,” he said.

Leising noted that gaming taxes are now the third largest source of state tax revenues, behind only sales taxes and individual income taxes.

Corporate tax revenues rank fourth, she said.