Houchin to focus on opioids, education, children

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem

Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, plans to tackle problems concerning the opioid epidemic, education and children during the Indiana General Assembly’s upcoming session.

One bill would place regulations on suboxone clinics that are similar to methadone clinic regulations. Houchin explained that currently, suboxone clinics are unregulated in the state.

“Methadone clinics are statutorily limited in Indiana, so we can have a certain number, 26. We can’t add any more of those without legislation,” said Houchin, whose district covers Crawford, Orange, Harrison, Perry and Washington counties, and eastern Dubois County.

“At last count, there were over 500 suboxone clinics that have popped up all around Indiana,” she added. “They are largely unregulated in Indiana.”

She filed legislation during the last session to put regulations on suboxone clinics, but that legislation was sent to a summer study committee. Now the bill has been reviewed by a committee and Houchin said it should have support this time.

“What we know about these forms of treatment is that while some people may need to be on them long term, the idea is to wean people off of the drug,” Houchin said. “In 2014, Indiana spent about $7.5 million on (the drug) suboxone alone. During the last legislative session, Indiana was spending $22.5 million annually on suboxone treatment alone — not including methadone, not including vivitrol.”

Regulations would include a requirement that the clinics offer group therapy as part of the treatment.

“What I wanted to do was to make sure, if tax dollars are going toward this product, that we could ensure the public that the treatment that is out there is quality and is following a certain set of guidelines,” Houchin said. “There are treatment providers that do a good job. And there are treatment providers that may not be doing a great job.”

Houchin also wants to make sure that special needs students are given every opportunity to pursue a high school diploma. She has heard that some schools are putting students on the track of getting a certificate of completion as soon as they enter high school.

“There are schools meeting with students going from eighth to ninth grade, and putting those kids right on a certificate program track, which is supposed to be a last resort,” she said. “I want to make sure that parents when they have their special education planning meeting, are given all the options. And I want to make sure the certificate of completion is not a first resort, but a last resort, only when we know that students are not able to meet the requirements to graduate.”

In the past, the Indiana Legislature created an alternative diploma for students with special needs, and stated that only 1 percent of a school corporation’s population can qualify for the diploma. Houchin has since heard that some districts’ special needs populations exceed 1 percent. So she is pursuing legislation to allow districts to get a waiver from the state education department if their special needs populations exceed the 1 percent; the waiver would be done on a student-by-student basis, Houchin said.

And she plans to submit an amendment to her legislation that limits contract buyouts for superintendents to include assistant superintendents.

Houchin also wants to work with the Indiana Department of Child Services to help place children into permanent homes. Indiana has about 25,000 children in foster care, which is more than most other Midwest states, she said. And the number of children eligible for adoption in Indiana is 5,000 to 6,000.

“We have kids who have been in foster care — some have been in foster care for three years or more — waiting to be adopted, but because the legal system is backed up, those kids are in limbo,” Houchin said. “If we improve how we deal with those cases, we could give these kids permanent families and not let them be continuing in limbo. I’m going to be looking at ways to streamline that.”

Houchin also wants to help improve the relationship between the state department and foster parents, which she has heard is strained.

“We want to make sure foster parents know that they are valued,” she said, “and utilize, when we can, foster parents as mentors and support to these (biological) families. There are cases where the foster parents have a good relationship with the biological parents. The kids can go back home, and they still have that support system.”

Houchin also wants to help case managers who have to remove a child from a home by giving them some assistance in finding a family member, if possible, who can take responsibility of the child in that emergency situation.

“I would much rather have a child picked up by a family member,” she said, “than by a foster parent who might be a stranger to them.”

Houchin is also looking to file legislation that will give the courts the option of waiving an underage perpetrator into adult court for attempted murder, adjust the state police’s pay raise to keep up with the rate of inflation and increase the over 65 property tax deduction, which has not been increased since 2010.

The Indiana General Assembly’s session will start Thursday.




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