District 65 State Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, met with Brown County residents Feb. 13 during Meet Your Legislators, hosted by the Brown County League of Women Voters and Indiana Farm Bureau.
These were some of the topics the audience asked about.
Early childhood education: Where does Indiana stand on providing it?
Koch said the state has a pilot program involving five counties, including Jackson County, designed to look at how early childhood education could be implemented in communities of all sizes.
In 2017, Koch expects the General Assembly to take the pilot program data and apply it to discussions during the budget process.
Youth homelessness: What is the state’s role?
Koch said the Department of Child Services is the state agency that sees to child welfare, but government cannot solve every problem.
“I think we, as a society, have an obligation to that, both to fix what is causing it and then deal with the effects,” he said.
Solutions to the overarching socioeconomic problems that lead to child homelessness need to come from within the community and the nonprofit sector, with government assistance available as a safety net, he said.
Water safety: How do we secure our drinking water?
Koch said the General Assembly has been working on safe drinking water for several years, including three bills being discussed this session.
Much of the aging infrastructure of water delivery systems around the state dates back to World War I, he said. Some pipes are even made of wood.
One thing standing in the way of replacing infrastructure is the fact that it’s underground, he said. It is not easy to sell an idea to other politicians that is not visible to the voters.
Still, Koch said that he and his colleagues are interested in providing tools to utilities to conservatively pay for replacing infrastructure.
Environmental regulation: Is economic health tied to environmental and individual health?
“Environmental quality and economics are not mutually exclusive,” Koch said. “I’ve never seen the conflict — never understood those who did.”
In regard to House Bill 1082, which would prevent Indiana from instituting environmental regulation more stringent than federal regulation, Koch said it has incorrectly been characterized as preventing any environmental laws from being created.
The law would only restrict regulation put in place by state agencies, and the General Assembly could still pass any laws deemed necessary to protect the environment, he said.
Alcohol in parks: Does allowing the Department of Natural Resources to gain liquor licenses without local approval violate local control?
Koch said House Bill 1247 appears to be designed to address a specific situation at Dunes State Park in order to permit sales of alcohol at that park.
Koch was asked what his position was on local control versus state control.
“My experience with that issue is, my constituents tend to like local controls when the result is something they like, and when the result is something they don’t like, they don’t like local control,” Koch said.
“I don’t know that you can have a blanket that local control is always good or local control is always bad,” he said.
“I think it has to be a reasoned, case-by-case analysis of what’s appropriate for local decisions and what’s appropriate for state.”
Koch drew a comparison between this debate and that of the frequent give-and-take between state and federal governments.
Asking the audience:
Koch also asked questions of the audience about statewide issues. He asked for a show of hands.
On the condition of state roads and bridges, the majority voted for “fair,” a few voted “poor,” and almost no hands raised for “good.”
On the condition of county roads and bridges, a few hands were raised for “good” and “fair,” but the overwhelming majority of hands went up in response to “poor.” Audience members said the vote is not a criticism of county-level management; it’s about road funding.
Koch asked for a show of hands about the concept of raising revenue for covering tobacco-related medical costs with a cigarette tax. No hands raised in objection.