STATEHOUSE (Sept. 25, 2020) – Securing infrastructure and broadband grants, providing mental health services and addressing jail overcrowding are among the important issues discussed during the recent two-day summit hosted by State Rep. Stephen Bartels (R-Eckerty).
Bartels, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, local elected officials, law enforcement officers, first responders and those who work with veterans gathered together at the Patoka Lake Winery and Event Center on Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 to find solutions to these and other matters facing Crawford, Dubois, Orange, Perry and Spencer counties.
"This summit fueled productive conversations and collaboration among those in attendance," Bartels said. "Now I can work with state leaders and offer solutions to these issues that reach across county lines in order to make our communities and the state stronger."
“This discussion is a great example of how we can listen to issues on a local or regional level, find themes that apply across the state and then work to find solutions for all of Indiana,” Crouch said. “Thank you Representative Bartels for inviting me to join you and Hoosiers in southern Indiana for this informative opportunity.”
Summit participants discussed the importance of continuing to invest in roads and bridges – especially to encourage more economic development in the area. According to Bartels, more than $25 million has been invested in local road projects as part of the state's Community Crossings Matching Grant Program. He said after pausing the program due to the fiscal impacts of COVID-19, the program resumed.
"Community Crossings grants are a major source of funding for our local roads, and counties have been diligent in taking advantage of this program," Bartels said. "Our state has invested more money in local road and bridge projects than ever before, but we know we have to do more. We understand our transportation infrastructure has a tremendous impact on our quality of life, businesses and economy."
Bartels said community members also discussed the importance of bridging the digital divide by making sure rural Hoosiers have access to reliable and affordable broadband. As part of the state's Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program, more than $8 million in grants was recently to be distributed throughout Crawford, Dubois and Orange counties to invest in projects expanding fast and reliable internet to unserved homes and businesses. In total, the program has awarded more than $79 million for 41 counties to provide broadband infrastructure to more than 21,900 homes and commercial locations.
"Indiana is making great strides in connecting more and more Hoosiers to broadband service, but the pandemic has put a bright spotlight on our underserved and unserved areas," Bartels said. "Whether you're a student who is remote learning or a business owner with an online store, having access to affordable and reliable internet is critical. It's important our area takes advantages of these broadband grants and works together to improve and expand access."
As a member of the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, Bartels said jail overcrowding is another critical issue, and he's focused on finding ways to help alleviate the pressure it puts on local resources and staff. According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, 77% of Indiana jails are either overcrowded or at maximum capacity.
"As we heard from local law enforcement officials, jail overcrowding is straining staff and budgets," Bartels said. "It also poses security risks. It's a complicated issue, and one we are working on. The Indiana Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council has recently been tasked with the responsibility of studying jail overcrowding, and they will present their finding to state leaders."
According to Bartels, he is collaborating with other lawmakers to introduce legislation enhancing police training and resources. As a former law enforcement officer, he said it is important to support public safety officers who protect our communities and keep our streets and property safe by maintaining law and order.
Bartels hosts summits throughout the year to help prepare for the legislative session, which starts in January. He expects to host an additional summit before the end of the year to discuss education-related issues, including the impacts of COVID-19 on schools and families.
State Rep. Stephen Bartels (R-Eckerty) represents House District 74,
which includes portions of Spencer, Dubois, Perry, Crawford and Orange counties.
Click here to download a high-resolution photo.
PHOTO CAPTION: State Rep. Stephen Bartels (R-Eckerty) (left) and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch (right) discuss important issues impacting local communities Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, during day one of a two-day summit at the Patoka Lake Winery and Event Center. Bartels, Crouch, local elected officials, law enforcement officers, first responders and those who work with veterans gathered together to find ways to help Crawford, Dubois, Orange, Perry and Spencer counties.