INDIANAPOLIS – As the 2023 legislative session gets underway at the Indiana Statehouse, Democrats say they want to focus on increasing funding for public health and education and taking steps toward universal pre-K.

Republicans discussed their plans for the session on Organization Day in November when lawmakers were sworn in. Democrats unveiled their priorities Monday when lawmakers returned to the Statehouse.

“We simply cannot continue to ignore the difficult issues facing our state,” House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) said in an address to the House chamber.

“We rank 41st in the nation for overall health, we have the sixth highest rate of smoking, and we have some of the worst maternal and infant health outcomes in the United States,” he added.

Democrats are also renewing their calls for universal pre-K.

“A comprehensive system would remove the financial barriers that keep many families from sending their children to pre-K,” GiaQuinta said.

Republicans have previously said they believe the state has more work to do before considering pre-K for all Hoosier 4-year-olds. But they do plan to discuss ways to expand access, according to House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers).

Gov. Eric Holcomb has proposed a plan to expand pre-K grants to 5,000 more low-income families.

“It’s one of those things I know our caucus is serious about taking a look at, and I’m sure the committee will have a lot of conversations about it,” Huston said.

Meanwhile, public health reform is a shared priority between both parties. Gov. Holcomb has proposed $347 million in state funding for public health.

State Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso) is leading efforts to help all county health departments offer the same services.

“The counties that need the help the most can’t afford it,” Charbonneau said. “Access to public health depends on where you live.”

Holcomb has proposed $5.5 billion in new and additional spending over the next two years.