Lawmakers to examine AI, Medicaid costs and more over interim

The Indiana Statehouse on Thursday, May 25, 2023. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

When Indiana lawmakers next converge upon the Statehouse for interim committee meetings, they’ll take on artificial intelligence (AI), Medicaid spending and more — but won’t take another look at marijuana.

Hoosier legislative sessions start in January and run to March or April, depending on the year. In between, lawmakers spend time learning about specific topics, then deliver reports to their colleagues summarizing any findings or bill proposals.

“During the interim we look to our study committees to take deep dives into hot-button policy issues and determine what, if any, legislation should be pursued during the upcoming session,” House Speaker Todd Huston said in a news release. “There are a broad range of topics on deck for the summer, and we’ll keep our focus on doing what’s right by Hoosier taxpayers and building on Indiana’s tremendous economic momentum.”

The Legislative Council released topics Tuesday.

Marijuana is not among them, unlike in prior interim lists. Bipartisan efforts to decriminalize and legalize marijuana have repeatedly failed to gain traction at the Statehouse, though in 2023 a House committee chose to hear testimony for the first time.

AI, however, will see more focus. Lawmakers made some related moves last session but they’ll take a deeper dive in a dedicated committee over the interim.

Members will study the technology, assess benefits and risks to the state and how state AI use might affect Hoosiers. Then, they’ll develop recommendations for how to use AI to “achieve greater operational performance and efficiency of government services.”

In an education committee — which, notably, was missing from the list last interim — members will examine the impact of absenteeism on students and school funding distributions, as well as “school discipline related to creating a safe environment and improving educational access.”

In a child services committee, they’ll review reports from state and local child fatality review teams, as well as from the Department of Child Services, about child safety.

They’ll also begin preparing for the upcoming budget session in earnest, through the fiscal policy committee. That body is charged with reviewing tax expenditure reports “for preparation and consideration” of the budget, as well as multi-year reviews of tax incentives and workforce-related programs.

Other topics will also play into the budget.

Medicaid, for example, is taking up a growing chunk of the state’s budget. Lawmakers have grown increasingly worried about rising Medicaid costs, particularly after the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration reported a $1 billion forecasting error in December.

They reauthorized the Medicaid Oversight Committee last session, and it’ll meet again to review, consider and make recommendations concerning the low-income government health care program.

Medicaid is an entitlement program, meaning that people who meet the eligibility requirements have the right to enroll in coverage. States pay part of the bill, though the federal government pays for the bulk of expenses, but state can also narrow coverage options to cut costs.

Several ambitious, two-year efforts will also continue.

One is the State and Local Tax Review Task Force, which lawmakers hope to use to overhaul or even ditch some taxes. It’s charged with examining the state’s near- and long-term financial outlook, debt, pension funding, a lengthy list of tax types and more.

Another is the Funding Indiana’s Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow Task Force, which was also reauthorized last session after a years-long retirement.

Indiana’s road funding money comes largely from motor fuel taxes, but that revenue expected to drop as cars become more fuel efficient and Hoosiers opt for electric vehicles. Lawmakers and transportation experts will reconvene to figure out how to finance the state’s future infrastructure needs.

Some lawmakers critiqued the interim topic list.

Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, said she was “extremely disappointed” the study topics didn’t include environmental issues, and highlighted water resource management as a specific concern.

“When we talk about healthcare and health outcomes, jobs, affordable housing, infrastructure — these are all issues underpinned by the quality of our natural environment and the resources it provides us,” Yoder said in a news release. “We cannot expect continued economic growth and prosperity for Hoosiers without protecting our natural resources — and we will continue to face poor qualities of place until Legislators give these topics the proper time and energy. An interim study committee on the environment is the least we could do.”

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