INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Chamber of Commerce says much of its focus for next year's legislative session will be pushing measures that improve the state's health. Chief Executive Officer Kevin Brinegar says smoking costs Indiana businesses more than $6 billion per year in higher healthcare costs, lost productivity and absenteeism. The chamber is again supporting a cigarette tax increase of $2 per pack and raising the legal smoking age to 21. Brinegar says, while the opioid epidemic is getting a lot of nationwide attention, tobacco is a "far greater problem" when it comes to public health and business impact in Indiana.

During an interview with Inside INdiana Business reporter Mary-Rachel Redman, Brinegar also outlined the chamber's stance on medical marijuana. He says until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves marijuana for a valid medical purpose, the chamber will remain opposed. Brinegar also says that chamber and business leaders from states where it is legal have told him that, in many cases, workplace injuries increase and productivity goes down.

The chamber has already spoken out in favor of bias/hate crime legislation. Brinegar has said such a statue is "not only the right thing to do, it is also important to helping our employers recruit and retain talented employees." During today's Legislative Preview Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis, House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-88) said legislation allowing for longer sentences for hate crimes could and should pass both houses.

The chamber is also supporting legislation to move up the year that the state school superintendent will become an appointed, rather than elected position. The change is currently sent for 2025, but Brinegar says there is an argument to make the transition earlier since current Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has announced she is not running again.

Brinegar is also pushing more support for Governor Eric Holcomb's Next Level plans as well as continued evaluation of the state's workforce development program.

You can see the chamber's full list of priorities by clicking here.