Third House: Councilman asks for help with 2 projects
State Reps. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, and Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, heard ideas and answered questions Saturday morning at the annual Third House legislative update hosted by the Harrison County Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County.
Harrison County Councilman Kyle Nix asked the legislators to help the county secure $5.5 million in previously-earmarked federal funds for the county’s use.
Nix said the county is currently spending millions of dollars on two projects: the Elizabeth ditch issue, which was created by the Indiana Dept. of Transportation years ago, and the Lanesville Connector Road, which, he said, has a goal of helping alleviate a traffic issue that isn’t even in Harrison County.
‘We’re investing money in a problem I don’t believe was ours to repair in the first place,’ he said of the Elizabeth ditch, which threatens the town’s water well field. ‘But we’re doing it because somebody needs to.’
As for the Lanesville Connector Road, which is planned to run north-south from the Interstate 64 interchange in Lanesville to S.R. 64 near Gun Club Road west of Georgetown, Nix said $5.5 million previously secured for a Corydon west interchange project should be used for the county’s funding portion of the road.
‘I’d like to see us ascertain that $5.5 million to use on our portion,’ he said. ‘Every time we try, we reach an impasse. I don’t know what help you can give us.’
The money was released to INDOT, and legislation was created to allow it to be used in a 50-mile stretch on I-64 in either direction of its original intended spot.
‘Our county is trying to help alleviate a traffic problem that’s not even in our county and a project in Elizabeth that’s not our fault,’ he said.
Nix said he’s also been in communication with Congressman Trey Hollingsworth about the matter.
Harrison County Economic Development Director Darrell Voelker asked the legislators if he would be able to buy a beer tomorrow (Sunday).
‘As soon as the governor signs it,’ Engleman said.
Sale of alcohol, previously prohibited on Sundays, will be allowed from noon to 8 p.m.
Davisson said he did not support the bill because he works to fight substance abuse issues within his committees.
‘There’s probably more people that have alcohol issues than have opioid issues,’ he said. ‘I just felt it was hypocritical if I voted to expand alcohol while trying to work on substance abuse issues.’
Don Smith, with Accu-Check Inc. in Corydon, said he’s had to send employees home for failed drug tests from marijuana. He said he knew of a large employer in Harrison County that had 40 percent of its workforce fail a drug test.
‘You can’t send half of your workforce home,’ he said.
Smith said employers avoid the ‘elephant in the room’ and drug tests are anything but random, as employers pick the same people because they know they’ll pass.
‘I don’t know what the answer is, but that’s what’s really happening out here,’ he said. ‘I don’t know if the state’s going to legalize it (marijuana); I don’t think that’s the way to go.’
Davisson said some sort of counseling could be an avenue for success instead of simply a lost job when a drug test is failed.
Davisson said, nationally, 25 percent of people who apply for jobs end up failing a drug test.
‘They (legislators) know it’s an important issue,’ he said. ‘It’s an elephant in the room we need to get a hold of.’
Neither Davisson nor Engleman support legalizing marijuana, they said, although they did pass a bill for medical use.
Engleman said the prosecutor’s association does not support legalization.
‘Colorado glorifies it for all the money it’s bringing in,’ she said. ‘But that’s all that’s glorious about it ‘ there’s a lot of issues.’
An audience member, who moved to Southern Indiana from Colorado a year and a half ago, said she’s watched the state go downhill.
‘Whatever you can do, don’t do it,’ she said of legalizing marijuana.
She said people have moved into Colorado in droves, living in tents under expressways.
‘We had friends go back there last summer,’ she said. ‘They were appalled at the homeless. They have parks where the kids couldn’t go anymore. There’s needles everywhere ‘ it would be a downfall for Indiana. There’s a lot that doesn’t get reported.’
Harrison County Community Foundation President and CEO Steve Gilliland thanked the state for its On My Way preschool program, recognizing the important of early education. He said one requirement, mandating a parent have a job or be in training for the child to be eligible for preschool has to go.
‘It’s a noble thought,’ he said. ‘I understand where legislators are trying to take this. Let’s force people to do something. You know what? We’re not trying to help them (parents) with preschool. We’re trying to help the preschoolers get ready for kindergarten and the rest of their lives in the K-12 system. Please, please, let’s get rid of that silly requirement.’
The data is black and white about the importance of preschool, he said, not only for the preschooler but for the county as a whole, which sees a $5 to $8 return on investment.
South Harrison Community School Corp. Superintendent Dr. Mark Eastridge agreed.
‘It’s so clear,’ he said. ‘Last year, I interpreted the test results of our little ones coming in.’
Gilliland, a Navy veteran, also spoke on the taxing of military retirement funds.
‘When I was getting ready to retire, thinking about coming home, Indiana taxing my retirement almost kept me from coming home,’ he said.
It is taxed at a rate of 3.3 percent now (it was 3.7 when Gilliland returned to Indiana 20-plus years ago).
Efforts were made again last year to reduce or eliminate the tax.
‘What was approved was an increase of $1,250 ‘ $41 per year,’ he said. ‘That wasn’t helping draw veterans back. In my opinion, it was an insult. I would have been happier if they’d done nothing.’
Audience members and the two legislators again focused on INDOT, this time concerning broadband internet.
George Ethridge, project manager for the county and community foundation’s high-speed fiber project with Mainsteam, said INDOT is charging $1,500 per mile per year for right-of-way use.
‘That right-of-way is already owned by the people,’ he said. ‘They paid for it already. Is there something that can be done to bring INDOT in line with policies that legislation has in promoting broadband rather than punishing rural communities?’
Davisson said they’re always trying to bring INDOT in line on some matter or another. Engleman said she didn’t know anything about the right-of-way charge.
‘Here, we are trying to promote it (broadband), and they’re penalizing it,’ she said.
Davisson and Engleman encouraged constituents to contact them about issues.
‘When you are strongly for or against a bill, if you lobby us or come up to speak at the committees, it makes a big difference,’ Engleman said. ‘Farm Bureau does a good job of that. It does help. You all do make a difference.’
State Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, was unable to make the event because of a flat tire.