Teacher Pay, Medical Marijuana Among Senate Dems' Focus

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Senators Tim Lanane (left) and Eddie Melton outlined the caucus' agenda Friday. Senators Tim Lanane (left) and Eddie Melton outlined the caucus' agenda Friday.

The Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus has unveiled its legislative agenda for the 2019 General Assembly. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-25) says the caucus will be focused on three priorities: raising teacher salaries, protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions and legalizing medical marijuana. The caucus says it will also continue to push for a statewide hate crimes law, as well as legislation to stop gerrymandering.

Lanane announced the caucus' priorities Friday alongside Senator Eddie Melton (D-3). He said Democrats will be seeking bipartisan support for all of the issues, especially the protection of pre-existing conditions which he calls a non-partisan issue.

"Every member of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus will support a proposal requiring insurance companies that operate in Indiana to cover pre-existing conditions," said Lanane. "With all the talk in D.C. of removing this important protection, this bill can prevent insurance companies from circumventing the coverage people in Indiana need the most. No Hoosier, no family, should ever face financial ruin due to a medical bill."

Lanane says it is time that Indiana joins the other 33 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, that have legalized the use of medical marijuana, particularly in light of the opioid crisis throughout the state.

"Medical marijuana is a safe and effective treatment option and we think Hoosiers should have the right to access medical treatment such as medical marijuana if their doctor deems that to be appropriate," Lanane said. "It's been proven that the side effects are modest compared to many of the current prescription drug risks. We all know the issues and the problems that we've had with the opioid situation, so if this an alternative treatment route that can be considered instead of opioids, it seems to me that that's why 33 other states and the District of Columbia have taken a look at this as well."

Melton says the caucus will be seeking a 5 percent increase in teacher pay statewide as part of the next two-year budget. He says that will amount to approximately $150 million and both he and Lanane are confident legislators will be able to find the money to cover the increase.

Melton says Indiana's teachers are "drastically underpaid."

"Teacher salaries in Indiana have not kept up with inflation, meaning their paychecks have remained stagnant since 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics," said Melton. "In order to maintain Indiana's strong business climate, we must be prepared to work and build a ready workforce. We know that our teachers are leading that charge and are ready to grow that capacity for the entire state, but we have to show them the support that they need to make sure that happens." 

Melton adds the state needs to continue to attract talent to address its teacher shortage and increasing teachers' pay will help accomplish that.

The Indiana General Assembly will convene Tuesday for Organization Day. The 2019 legislative session will begin January 3.

State Senator Eddie Melton (D-3) says Indiana teachers are "drastically underpaid."
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