Tag Archives: Indiana legislature

An Interesting Observation

I attended a small political gathering yesterday, and during the “mixing and mingling” had a conversation with a member of the Indiana House. We were discussing the legislature’s refusal to allow Indianapolis to hold a referendum on public transportation, and she noted that the same people who don’t believe Indianapolis residents can be trusted with that vote are among the most vocal proponents of “letting the people decide”  whether Indiana should constitutionalize its ban on same-sex marriage.

Evidently, we aren’t capable of deciding whether to pay for better bus service, and it would be dangerous to put such a serious matter to a vote; however, we are perfectly capable of deciding whether other citizens should be denied equal access to a fundamental human right.

Tell me again–how did we elect these people?

A Pox on Thy House (and Senate)

I am in an utterly foul mood. I guess that’s what I get for following the news.

In the last few days, lawmakers from near and far have engaged in a contest to see who can offer the stupidest laws while ignoring constituents’ most pressing problems. A couple of days ago, I reported on some craziness from Tennessee and South Dakota, opining that those states’ legislatures were making a bid for the coveted “worst” title; several comments here and on Facebook attempted to reassure me that Indiana lawmakers would come through to win that accolade before the session was over. They were right–although North Carolina just made a gutsy play. Their legislature just voted to establish a religion and declare the state exempt from the Establishment Clause (and, presumably, the Supremacy Clause).

Indiana’s intrepid lawmakers have been working overtime to exasperate reasoning people. Is gun violence a worry? Let’s require an armed person in each public school. What could possibly go wrong there? (As Matt Tully noted, the NRA and the Indiana Legislature are a match made in hare-brained heaven.) Is a family planning clinic prescribing a (legal) pill to induce early abortions? Require the clinic to meet standards devised for surgical facilities. Pill, surgery–same thing, right?

What really has me gritting my teeth and contemplating a move out of state, however, is what our retrograde legislature is doing to Indianapolis.

In the last few days, the Indiana General Assembly has taken pains to remind us that home rule is a foreign concept. The Republican Super-Majority, in a display of really breathtaking arrogance, has reminded residents of Indianapolis and its collar counties that they don’t like cities and they really don’t like democracy.

Mike Young’s bill to create an “imperial Mayor” is sailing through (although we all know it will be repealed the day after Indianapolis elects a Democrat as Mayor); and lawmakers have once again derailed the measure that would allow us to decide for ourselves whether we want mass transit enough to pay for it.

The Indiana legislature has long been dominated by rural and small-town interests. Legislative hostility to Indianapolis is simply a fact of Indiana life. That doesn’t make it any less infuriating. At the Statehouse, there is an absolute lack of sympathy for–or understanding of–urban issues. It’s bad enough that most of our lawmakers really do not care about Indianapolis’ problems; what’s worse, not only do they refuse to address our issues, they won’t allow us to tackle them either.

The imperial mayor bill is an invitation to corruption. While most of the media attention has been on the proposal to eliminate the at-large council seats, the most dangerous parts of the bill give the mayor control of the Development Commission and remove council oversight of many–if not most–spending decisions. It effectively removes important checks and balances on administrative behavior at a time when local media oversight is virtually non-existent. Actions by the Development Commission can move big money; for one thing, the Commission can ensure successful financing for a project that would otherwise be unable to secure such backing. The current appointment structure was intended to prevent decisions based upon cozy relationships and political connections rather than sound principles of land use. The imperial mayor bill will facilitate cronyism.

The refusal to allow Indianapolis citizens to decide for ourselves whether we want mass transit is the most infuriating action taken in a legislative session that has produced plenty that is infuriating. The notion that a study committee is needed is laughable–Central Indiana transportation organizations have studied the matter for the last twenty years. Let’s call it what it is: a giant “fuck you, Indianapolis” from the General Assembly to the region that generates the bulk of the state’s tax receipts.

And let’s call the Indiana Legislature what it is: an embarrassment.

The World’s Worst Legislature

Harrison Ullmann used to call the Indiana General Assembly “The World’s Worst Legislature.”

At the start of each legislative session, my husband used to warn everyone to watch their pocketbooks and count their spoons–”Like the shark in Jaws, they’re baaack…”

Yesterday, I linked to the Star article detailing the cozy relationships, conflicts of interest, and general lack of sensitivity to ethics that characterize the Indiana legislature. Today’s lesson involves a law that has been sailing through the process with little or no conversation–a measure that illustrates perfectly the perils of being a city in a state with no home rule in a state governed by a herd of petty dictators.

Senate Bill 213 would invalidate Indianapolis’ hard-won ordinance that protects gays and lesbians against job discrimination. By its terms, the law–which has passed both houses and awaits Mike Pence’s signature–denies cities and towns the right to pass employment measures inconsistent with state or federal law. The sponsors insist that their goal was to address the hodgepodge of wage and hour laws around the state, not to invalidate the grant of civil rights, and profess surprise that the measure could be interpreted to do so.

Either the sponsors are being disingenuous, or they are unbelievably naive. By its terms, the bill invalidates any provision of an employment contract that gives employees benefits not granted by the state or required by the federal government. Nowhere does the language limit its effect to wages.

Municipalities in Indiana whose own residents have engaged in the democratic process and passed civil rights protections for GLBT employees include Bloomington, Lafayette and West Lafayette, Michigan City, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Evansville and New Albany. But then, what do the citizens of those cities know? Why should they be allowed to make their own decisions about the requirements of fair treatment?

Even if you believe that this is a case of unintended consequences, the essential lesson remains: our arrogant lawmakers believe they know better than local folks what we should be able to pay workers and how we should be able to treat them. That attitude is manifest in the discussions about mass transit–why should we allow central Indiana residents to decide for themselves whether they want transit enough to pay for it?

I remember the political activism that preceded Indianapolis’ passage of the current ordinance. A lot of people worked very hard to pass the measure–exactly the sort of civic activism that all politicians claim to respect, and that teachers try to encourage.

Yesterday, during a discussion of political activism, several of my undergraduate students justified their political apathy by expressing a belief that individuals really can’t do anything that would change or otherwise affect “the system.”

Indiana’s legislators are working hard to prove them right.

Conflicts of Interest

Matt Tully has begun a series of articles highlighting the numerous conflicts of interest at the Indiana Statehouse. My husband’s reaction was “so what’s new?” And it is depressingly true that here in the Hoosier state we get these revelations every few years. Nothing seems to change.

On the one hand, there is a legitimate dilemma in states like Indiana, where our legislature is part-time and those we elect have “real world” jobs. One of the arguments for such legislative arrangements is that those who serve will have expertise in the private sector that can illuminate the lawmaking process. If a state representative knows a lot about banking or insurance, for example, should we not avail ourselves of that knowledge?

The problem is, the sorts of conflicts Tully describes go far beyond recognition of specialized knowledge. It’s one thing to listen to a legislator-banker’s opinion on a pending bill, and another to put him in a position to advance legislation benefitting bankers–or worse, a position to derail efforts to regulate them.

I’ve talked with members of the City-County Council and legislature who simply cannot see their own conflicts. It’s easy to convince yourself that what’s good for your law firm, or industry, is good for the city or state as a whole–that you are actually adding value because of your specialized knowledge. But human nature being what it is, it is a very rare individual who can shake off the attitudes and interests of their daily experience and look objectively at proposed rules that will affect his own livelihood.

The examples Tully describes are well beyond the pale. Unfortunately, these conflicts are not new to the Indiana landscape. Whatever corrective measures may come from the first article, or others in the promised series of revelations, it would be comforting if we dealt with the problem this time around by thoroughly revising the system that continues to produce these ethical lapses.

It’s long past time to impose a meaningful code of ethics on the Indiana General Assembly. One that might remind our lawmakers that they are supposed to be acting in the public interest–not their self-interest.

Define Benefit

State Senator Luke Kenley is quoted in a news story about the public transportation bill currently before the General Assembly.

“I have a surprisingly large number of constituents who are strongly opposed to this,”  says Sen. Kenley (R-Noblesville.)  “They just feel like it’s going to be a tax increase on them without any particular benefit.”

There are a number of responses that come to mind: the most obvious is that all the bill requires is an opportunity for the citizens who will be taxed to vote on the matter. Those opposed will have an opportunity to make that opposition known.

That said, the belief that those who wouldn’t use public transportation wouldn’t benefit from its availability is incredibly short-sighted. We all benefit from cleaner air, economic development and improved quality of life–all outcomes associated with the availability of good public transportation systems. The attitude displayed by Kenley’s constituents reminds me of people who don’t want to support good schools, because their own children are grown, despite ample evidence that a good school system adds to property values and an educated workforce is a requirement for economic development.

These are all tangible benefits that even the whiners will enjoy. But we might also wonder whether there isn’t some intangible benefit in creating a community that works for everyone, not just the self-satisfied “makers” with two cars parked in the garage of their suburban home in a gated community.