Tag Archives: Indiana legislature

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?

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.