Tag Archives: Indiana legislature

Guns, Gays and Greenhouse Gases…Welcome to Indiana’s Legislature

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when Indiana’s (mercifully part-time) legislature is in session, I tend to break out in hives. Thanks to our massively gerrymandered election map, a number of people who get elected to that august body tend to advocate measures that don’t reflect the opinions of most Hoosiers.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, in many cases, Indiana’s lawmakers’ actual constituencies are the special interests–the NRA and gun manufacturers, the Christian Right, Big Agriculture….

A quick look at some of the bills being considered this year may illustrate the point:

Let’s start with guns. Every year, guns kill some 33,000 Americans. The Indiana General Assembly isn’t deterred by that number, or by repeated massacres of children and innocents. No siree. This year, bills have been introduced 1) to get rid of Indiana’s requirement of a license to carry a handgun, 2) to allow guns at public universities and state office buildings, and 3) to make it easier for repeat alcohol offenders to get a handgun license.

What could possibly go wrong?

I’ve posted previously about the reluctance of our lawmakers to just bite the bullet and admit that LGBT folks are citizens and taxpayers entitled to the same civil rights protections that apply to women, racial minorities and religious folks. (Although it has been sort of enjoyable to watch the discomfort of legislators who are used to doing the bidding of both the Religious Right and business interests—constituencies that are on opposite sides of this issue.)

Survey research has uniformly found a solid majority of Hoosiers favor adding “four words and a comma” to the state civil rights statute. Employers large and small are lobbying for that approach, and significant numbers of clergy and other representatives of faith communities have come out to support it–but our lawmakers have thus far been reluctant to incur the wrath of the small (but shrill and intensely homophobic) Christian Right.

Then there’s HB 1082, authored by Representative David Wolkins. Dubbed the “no more stringent than” bill, it would forbid Indiana agencies from making or enforcing any environmental rule that is more stringent than those established by the federal government. As the Palladium-Item noted

Indiana consistently ranks near the bottom of the states regarding environmental quality. If State Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, has his way, Indiana will stay there.

As the Hoosier Environmental Council points out, the situation in Flint illustrates precisely those gaps in federal regulation that Indiana would be prevented from addressing under HB 1082: For example, under federal regulations, drinking water systems can continue to deliver lead-tainted water to households and businesses for up to 24 months while a variety of fixes are attempted. In 24 months, children’s health and cognitive abilities can be permanently damaged.

In fact, there are a number of areas where EPA regulations are considered weak, among them pollution from fracking, factory farm manure pits, and outdoor wood boilers. There are probably others.

Why would we want to prevent Indiana from addressing areas where federal regulations may prove to be inadequate for our needs? It isn’t as if the absence of a “no more stringent” bill would require the state to act. Why tie the hands of those charged with citizens’ public health and safety?

I’m sure a closer examination of the bills that have been introduced would uncover still others belonging to the category that I call “good god, what were they thinking?”

Maybe I should just drink until they go home….

Civil Rights and the Religious Right

Yesterday at the Indiana statehouse, hearings were held on three bills taking different approaches to GLBT civil rights. None of those bills as originally written actually extended civil rights protections to the gay community—at their best (which wasn’t particularly good), they were efforts to look like the state is protecting the rights of LGBT Hoosiers without actually doing so— efforts to avoid the wrath of both a business community that supports real civil rights protections, and the Christian Right, which most definitely does not.

Of course, some of our legislators aren’t even pretending.

When I went to bed last night (we’re old and I go to bed early), the worst of the measures, a bill that had been dubbed “super RFRA,” was dead (at least for the moment), and a hearing on the others was still going on. This morning, I learned that SB344–which will now move to the Senate floor, would repeal RFRA and replace it with”protections” neutered by religious exemptions.

Genuine extension of civil rights to the LGBT community would be simple: four words and a comma added to the Indiana law that currently protects people from being discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, gender, and national origin. (Interestingly, there aren’t religious exemptions to those categories: if your religion preaches separation of the races or subordination of women, tough. You still can’t fire black people or refuse to serve women.)The convoluted measure that emerged is pretty strong evidence that Indiana legislators really don’t want gays and lesbians (and definitely not transgender Hoosiers) to be treated as citizens entitled to equal treatment.

These legislators are in thrall to the diminishing number of fundamentalist religious activists who want to be able to pick on gay people without worrying about some law requiring owners of public accommodations to actually accommodate all members of the public.

Ironically, all these howls of religious righteousness, all this deference to the delicate religious sensibilities of Christian literalists, is taking place at the same time that leaders of those groups are displaying the highly selective nature of their religiosity. Yesterday, Jerry Falwell, Jr.—one of those who finds homosexuality to be an “abomination”— endorsed Donald Trump for President.

So let me get this straight (pun intended). Gay people—even the most exemplary gay people in long-term, loving relationships—are sinners not to be accorded civic equality or human dignity. But a three-time married megalomaniac who has repeatedly used bankruptcy laws to screw over his creditors, who has flaunted his sex life in the tabloids, who has separated poor people from their money in his casinos, lies constantly and has repeatedly exhibited the crudest racism, sexism and xenophobia—that man is entitled to your “Christian” approval and endorsement.

If there was ever any doubt, Falwell’s endorsement makes one thing clear: This pious insistence that religious objectors should be accorded “special rights” to discriminate isn’t theology. It isn’t based upon their (selective and convenient) reading of their bibles.

It’s bigotry. And our lawmakers should not accommodate it.

 

 

I Don’t Think D- Is A Good Grade…

Here in Hoosierland, we like to grade stuff. Well, some stuff.

We assign grades to public schools despite the dubious nature of some of the criteria used. We are less enthusiastic about the grades given to our infrastructure by the Corp of Civil Engineers, although we’ve seen some grudging acknowledgment of those scores, given that our crumbling roads and bridges are hard to hide or ignore. (A former student tells me that a big chunk of the bridge from I70 into downtown Indy just fell off yesterday…)

Then there’s a grade I’m betting we won’t hear very much about: the grade for ethical government, awarded by the Center for Public Integrity. Indiana got a D-. (If you click through, you can see the scoring criteria, and the categories.

You may recall lawmakers’ promise to make ethics reform the centerpiece of the last session :

During the 2014 legislative session, a top Republican House leader, Rep. Eric Turner, privately lobbied his fellow Republicans — who control both chambers — to scuttle a proposed ban on nursing home construction that would have hurt his family’s business. A House investigation cleared him of wrongdoing, but he was later stripped of leadership roles and stepped down after being re-elected. Department of Transportation official Troy Woodruff took advantage of an ethics law loophole that allowed him to skirt a one-year cooling-off period and become an independent contractor for an Indianapolis firm he’d regulated. And former state education superintendent Tony Bennett only had to pay a $5,000 fine for questionable campaign practices, including the use of state staff and computers, even though the state’s inspector general condemned his actions as wire fraud and misuse of state resources. Bennett wasn’t charged.

Ultimately, legislators approved an ethics reform law, effective in July. But even during the reform debate, two lawmakers floated proposals that drew conflict of interest charges and sharp criticism.

To be blunt, the vaunted “reforms” were more atmospheric than effective. Indiana earned F’s in numerous categories, including public access to information, political financing, state budget process, judicial accountability, ethics entities and civil service oversight. The only B’s were earned by the state pension systems (B+) and internal auditing practices (B-).

Ironically, Indiana’s score was better in 2012. Before “reform,” we earned a C-.

Knowledgable observers cite many reasons we consistently  fail to clean up our act: lax enforcement of guidelines, a culture of quid pro quo, and most of all, a gerrymandered state where 80% of the legislative seats are uncompetitive, making it highly unlikely that unethical behavior will be punished at the ballot box.

That’s what happens when lawmakers choose their voters, rather than the other way around….

While We Remain Uninformed….

Yesterday’s blog addressed our abysmal lack of real journalism, especially at the local level.

As an astute Facebook commenter noted, “the legislature is in session, Israel is days away from an election, ISIS continues to murder homosexuals by throwing them off roofs, a huge report about Ferguson MO using African Americans as ATMs was released, the Affordable Care Act is awaiting a verdict, the 50th Anniversary of Selma just passed, and a US Senator is about to be indicted,”–and the lead story in the Indianapolis Star was “Stink-free Super Bowl has Southsiders asking: What about us?” Other “news” addressed by the Star concerned middle school basketball game brawls, IU basketball, Reggie Wayne, an exhibit at the Historical Society, a Daylight Savings Time story, a Pacers story, and a “review” of the Mercedes C300.

And while our local media ignores the statehouse in order to focus on trivia and infotainment, state lawmakers are busy undermining our right to vote.

Senate Bill 466 would discourage students from registering to vote in the counties where they reside, study, raise children, worship and consider themselves part of the community. It also prevents disabled Hoosier voters from allowing caregivers to assist with their absentee application.

Senate Bill 535 creates an unnecessary extra step for those voting by mail by requiring a voter registration number from the state or local clerk’s office to apply for an absentee ballot. This additional burden creates an unfunded mandate for local governments that will wind up costing our state $1.3 million annually to administer.

House Bill 1008 eliminates straight ticket voting, which will lead to longer voting times for Hoosiers, fewer choices and longer lines at the polls. In 2012 and 2014, knowledgeable voters cast more than 1.5 million straight ticket ballots. Those who wanted to vote on individual races were still able to do so.

The only reason I know about these efforts is because Trent Deckard, co-director of the Indiana Election Commission, sent out an email alert. To the best of my knowledge, no “news” reporter–either newspaper or electronic–has seen fit to bring these efforts to make voting more difficult to the public’s attention.

Fans of irony might note that Indiana lawmakers are mounting this assault on the right to vote on the 50-year anniversary of the march on Selma.

Some things, evidently, never change.

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?