Chamber Outlines 2018 Agenda: Workforce Needs, Smoking Age Hike

Nov 20, 2017

There’s widespread agreement among legislative leaders and the Holcomb administration that workforce development will be a principal focus of the 2018 legislative session. And that falls in line with the state Chamber of Commerce priorities outlined Monday.

A focus on workforce development isn’t a new idea – it’s been a major legislative priority for both parties for years. And it’s been on the Chamber of Commerce agenda for a while. Chamber Vice President of Education, Workforce Policy, and Federal Affairs Caryl Auslander says the education sector and the business community must work closer together.

“Such a process would result in more Hoosiers being educated, trained, and subsequently employed in higher-wage, in-demand jobs,” Auslander says.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says the legislature will continue ongoing work to better align the billion dollars a year the state spends on workforce development through nine different agencies and 30 programs.

“I’m not sure that a revolutionary change is possible but we certainly need to make progress and we will make progress this session,” Bosma says.

The Chamber once again also wants the General Assembly to help curb Indiana’s smoking rate by raising the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21.

That idea was part of a proposal advanced last session by the Chamber and other partners – a proposal that included a cigarette tax hike. The tax hike isn’t a part of the 2018 session push but Auslander says steps must be taken to help reduce smoking.

“Smoking causes $3.1 billion in productivity losses in our state alone and nearly $3 billion in annual health care costs,” Auslander says.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek) says he has some ideological concerns with the Chamber’s proposal.

“I’m not sure what the appropriate level of government intervention is at this point,” Hershman says.

And Bosma says he’s skeptical about the idea’s success in his caucus.

“I have a bit of difficulty telling somebody that they can go to Iraq and fight for freedom but they can’t buy a pack of cigarettes,” Bosma says.

The legislative session begins in January.