Governor: All officials must work together

Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Gov. Eric Holcomb, center, chatted with Intera Vice President Jack Wittman before the start of the Spencer County Regional Chamber of Commerce annual meeting Thursday morning.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

SANTA CLAUS — Partnership and collaboration were common themes in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s question and answer session during the Spencer County Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting Thursday.

The Q&A covered several topics, including broadband connectivity in rural areas, school safety, the opioid crisis and agriculture.

“It always comes back to connections and partnerships,” Holcomb said in response to a question about rural broadband.

In his opinion, expanding internet access in rural areas is part of improving Indiana’s infrastructure. Holcomb touted Indiana’s transportation infrastructure — particularly the ports and Indianapolis International Airport, which Airports Council International named the best airport in North America for the sixth-straight year — and then acknowledged that the state is lacking in internet connectivity for rural areas. Though Holcomb didn’t go into detail, he said his administration is working to create programs that will feature state partnerships with local communities to augment the work that’s already being done to bring internet access to rural areas.

Another question brought up the recent school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School and asked what the state is doing to ensure school safety.

“We are doing more than most states, frankly,” Holcomb said, mentioning that Indiana runs a school safety academy for officials from other states.

He referenced the millions of dollars the state Legislature made available for school safety grants that schools can apply for to help pay for school resource officers and safety improvements. He also pointed out that state law requires schools to have safety plans, a school safety specialist and several drills throughout the year. Still, the governor said he’d like to see more being done. He mentioned developing a school audit system where the state would look at each school’s safety practices and put together the data for public access. He also said he’d like to see schools use the safety equipment they already have more often. He said he knows of several schools that have metal detector wands, but only use them at sporting or other large events. He suggested they be used when people enter the building as well.

“If you want to control what goes on inside the school, control what gets inside the school,” he said.

Holcomb also said he wants to see at-risk children for mental health issues identified and helped at a young age, and he stressed the importance of taking any reported threat seriously.

“It’s disturbing to me how many cases when you look around the country, an issue was raised loudly, and it wasn’t taken seriously enough,” he said.

Holcomb spoke at length about the opioid crisis in Indiana, which was a key issue in his campaign in 2016. Solving the issue, he said, will require partnerships from the local to the federal level, with most of the work happening at the local level.

“That’s where families are being ripped apart and lives lost,” he said.

He wants to see state and federal officials partner with those at the local level to offer support and resources. In January 2017, Holcomb signed an executive order to create the executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement, which is a cabinet-level position that serves as the chairman of Indiana’s Commission to Combat Drug Abuse, coordinates and directs the drug-related activities of nine Indiana state agencies, and measures results and outcomes of state programs to reduce addiction.

Holcomb also talked about the importance of limiting access to opioids through partnering with the medical community to offer smaller prescriptions to patients and to better educate patients about the risks of opioid use.

“A lot of those prescriptions don’t need to be 30 days,” Holcomb said. “And they shouldn’t be.”

The biggest challenge, Holcomb said, has proven to be getting enough treatment options for people who need help. In some areas of the state, he said, people have to drive up to an hour to receive help. In his opinion, that’s too long. The other challenge has been ensuring ongoing treatment that can reduce relapses. He thinks local governments are the key to getting treatment resources to those who need them, and he’d like to explore new programs or partnerships between state and local governments.

“I think there could be new ways township government could play a central role in the opioid epidemic,” he said, adding that township government is the level that is closest to citizens.

A question about agriculture and what the state can do to help local farmers market their crops led Holcomb to talk about a recent trip to Israel where he met with the Israeli minister of agriculture. The two talked about what products Indiana could provide the Middle Eastern country, including novelty items such as popcorn. Should the Israeli minister of agriculture or a similar dignitary from another country visit the state, Holcomb said he’d like to bring them to areas such as Spencer County to show them where the food products would come from, as well as the small town feel that Holcomb believes is the key to Indiana’s story.

“Why not bring them here?” he said. “This is the flavor of Indiana you walk away with and never forget.”




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