Ours is a state so gerrymandered that control of our legislature remains firmly in the hands of a Republican super-majority. To say that the lack of competition has given us state lawmakers who reflect the party’s ideological extremes would be an understatement.
So what is the “World’s Worst Legislature” (h/t to the late Harrison Ullmann) doing this year?
Well, our lawmakers are no longer trying to change the value of Pi, which I suppose is progress of a sort. What they are trying to do is keep Indiana utilities from phasing out their dependence upon coal; persisting in their efforts to elevate the rights of fertilized eggs over the rights of women; refusing to fund election security measures; and demonstrating their ignorance of the separation of powers.
There has been a bill protecting religious mental health workers who deny emergency assistance to those they consider “sinners” and another prohibiting athletes who were born male from competing against cis women in sports. Another “protective” measure would prevent employers from implanting chips in their workers (a practice not currently occurring in the state, but hey! It might happen, so let’s talk about that rather than the very real problems we face.)
The majority is also moving new legislation to create a “cross-check” bill to facilitate the purging of (certain) voters, after a previous effort to do so was struck down by the courts as blatantly unconstitutional.
And of course our legislators are continuing to divert resources from the state’s public education system in order to prop up the religious institutions that make up some 95% of “voucher” schools.
But absolutely the most consistent legislative behavior, year after year, is the General Assembly’s adamant refusal to allow cities and towns to do–well, pretty much anything— unless and until their overlords in the legislature deign to give local elected officials their official blessing. (Especially Indianapolis, which the Republicans who represent mostly rural districts irrationally resent.) It took three sessions for Indianapolis to get permission to hold a referendum on whether to tax ourselves to improve public transit, and then only on condition that we not include light rail. Why no light rail? Who knows? And this session, legislators continue to offer roadblocks to planned expansion of the city’s rapid transit lines.
The most recent–and arguably this session’s most egregious–example is the legislature’s move to foreclose Indianapolis’ effort to protect tenants from landlord abuses. Even the Indianapolis Star was offended.
Mayor Joe Hogsett’s proposal to provide more protections to Indianapolis renters now faces an uncertain future.
Indiana lawmakers added language to a bill Monday that would prevent any city from regulating landlord-tenant relations without approval by the General Assembly, including at least two key items in Hogsett’s proposal: requiring landlords to notify renters of their rights and responsibilities, and fining landlords who retaliate against renters for reporting problematic housing.
Senate Bill 340 initially moved through the Indiana Senate as a bill addressing laws about condemned properties. An amendment added at the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee, though, would undercut a legislative priority of Hogsett, a Democrat, now in his second term as Indianapolis mayor.
The Hogsett administration saw its proposal as a way to balance the scales against unscrupulous landlords, many out of state, who take advantage of lax government oversight in Indiana to prey on desperate renters.
Any lawyer who has practiced real estate law in Indiana– I am one–is aware that Indiana law is heavily weighted in favor of landlords. (I’m sure this favoritism has nothing to do with the fact that the tenants who are disadvantaged by our legal framework are far less likely to be political contributors than their landlords.)
When this year’s (mercifully short) session comes to an end, we’ll see what passed and what didn’t. But one thing we can predict with confidence: local jurisdictions still won’t have anything that looks remotely like home rule.