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Jobs, schools, liquor sales top issues for Senate GOP, Pro Tem leader says

By SCOTT L. MILEY - CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Senate Republicans will push for computer science courses in all high schools, alcohol sales on Sundays and increased funding to cover higher-than-anticipated school enrollments, among other issues, during the current legislative session.

“We will continue to fight the opioid epidemic, look for ways to improve our workforce development efforts and support our schools,” Senate Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said in a Monday release presenting his party’s agenda.

Republicans hold 41 of the 50 seats in the state Senate.

Although not formally introduced yet, Senate Bill 50, authored by Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, would use resources such as Ivy Tech Community College or Vincennes University to expand job training. The bill uses a job training system in Batesville as a prototype.

“They just weren’t getting the pipeline of students through to work in their industries, and that’s a real problem,” Eckerty said of the Batesville model. “Finally, they just took the bull by the horns.”

The initiative was heralded by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development in 2016 as a promising mix of local schools and employers striving to close the skills gap.

Five local businesses participated in a co-op program with Ivy Tech and the local high school. By the time students had earned a high school degree, they were well on their way to an associate’s or technical degree, as well.

The Senate agenda mostly mirrors the one announced last week in the House by Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. Both aim to fight the state’s opioid epidemic and improve workforce development.

However, the Senate agenda places higher on the list an attempt to allow Sunday alcohol sales as recommended by a study commission.

Senate Bill 1 by Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, would allow current alcohol permit holders, including package stores, to sell between noon and 8 p.m. on Sundays.

Here are other GOP state Senate agenda aims:

• Anyone prescribing opiates would need to register with the state’s INSPECT monitoring program over a three-year phase-in.

• High schools would be required to offer computer science, although there has been concern that not enough Indiana educators are trained to teach the courses.

• Senate Bill 189 by Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, would allow the transfer of funds to cover a shortfall of about $9.3 million in basic tuition support because of an unanticipated increase in public school enrollments. Final estimates may not be known until February.

The 10-week General Assembly session is set to end by March 14.