Tag Archives: Indiana General Assembly

Speaking Of The World’s Worst Legislature…

Every time I refer to Indiana’s General Assembly as “the World’s Worst Legislature” (note capital letters), readers remind me that there are other worthy contenders for that title–Texas and Florida among the standouts.

Granted, the competition is fierce, but Indiana’s lawmakers–not content to rest on their embarrassing laurels–have engaged the contest with what I can only describe as a bravura performance. As James Briggs of the Indianapolis Star explained:

While you were preparing for Thanksgiving, and maybe for a run in Broad Ripple, the Indiana General Assembly’s gobbledygook plot to set a new speed record for bad policymaking ended in a sloppy, embarrassing fiasco.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s understandable, because you were probably supposed to miss it. Legislative Republicans barely a week ago revealed that, as part of a rare one-day session intended to help Gov. Holcomb end the state’s public health emergency, they also were going to jam through severe constraints on businesses that require workers to either get vaccinated or find a new job.

As Briggs patiently explained, this effort was insane both substantively and procedurally. The bill that had been drafted would have required employers requiring vaccinations to adhere to onerous testing burdens. It would have required them to accept any and all “religious objections,” despite the inconvenient fact that no major religion has asserted that getting a COVID-19 vaccines violates its faith.

Perhaps most egregiously, the draft language gives credence to vaccine disinformation by carving out an exemption for pregnant women despite no evidence that vaccines pose a risk to them and much evidence that COVID-19 kills pregnant women at higher rates than women who are not pregnant.

And as Briggs also noted, as ridiculous as the draft language was, the process by which the Republican super-majority planned to ram it through was worse. They intended to pass the employer vaccine mandate ban on Monday, “the first business day after a major holiday weekend, while bypassing normal procedures to establish a consequential law faster than anyone could remember.” Even Kevin Brinegar, CEO of Indiana’s extremely conservative, Republican-loving Chamber of Commerce, testified that in his 42 years interacting with the  Indiana General Assembly, he’d never seen anything like what they were preparing to do.

“The chamber and, I believe, the entire employer community is opposed to this legislation,” Brinegar said.

Briggs described the seven-hour hearing as a disaster filled with vaccine lies and confusion, and he noted that the most effective–albeit unintentional– opponents of the bill were the anti-vaxxers in attendance who were urging lawmakers to pass it. Following the fiasco, the Speaker informed lawmakers that the one-day session was cancelled.

One item missing from Briggs’ report was how much that fiasco cost Indiana taxpayers. The last one-day session, held in 2018, cost 30,000.

The issue of employer vaccine mandates could return once the legislature begins its session in January, but the brake-slamming suggests that a critical mass of Republicans either were horrified by what they heard during the committee hearing or they were unwilling to consent to ramming through new rules for employers on an extraordinary timeline.

If you have been reading this and thinking “this is insane–why would the presumably “pro-business” party, a party that has been unwilling to regulate even the most socially harmful business practices, call an expensive special session and ignore their own rules of procedure in order to prevent businesses from safeguarding the health of their employees and customers? Especially as news of a new COVID variant is emerging?

If rational Hoosier voters need any more evidence that the state GOP has gone completely off the rails, this exercise should provide it.

A recent Doonesbury Sunday cartoon captures the moment, illustrating that Republicans are not only willing to infect their families and friends, they are willing to die  from an almost completely preventable disease–all in order to “own the libs.”

In the contest for “worst,” I submit that Indiana’s legislature has secured a place in the very top tier…..

This Isn’t Governing–It’s Pandering

When he was alive, Harrison Ullmann, a former editor of NUVO, always referred to the Indiana General Assembly as “The World’s Worst Legislature.” I know a lot of states have been competing for the title lately, but he wasn’t far off.

When I was scanning the (embarrassingly thin) news covered by the Indianapolis Star, I saw that the Republicans who have gerrymandered a super-majority in Indiana’s General Assembly are preparing for the upcoming session by discussing plans to cut taxes. After all, thanks to the federal administration they routinely excoriate, the state is currently flush.

The House is considering both a reduction in business equipment property taxes and income tax rate reduction. Senate leaders have at least committed to evaluating whatever legislation the House sends their way. 

Indiana ended its 2021 fiscal year at the start of July with nearly $4 billion in reserves due in part to an influx of stimulus money, unintentionally triggering an automatic refund to taxpayers worth $545.3 million. Since then, revenues have exceeded April estimates by over $560 million…

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, wants to see a longer lasting tax cut — assuming revenues continue to exceed expectations —  instead of relying on another automatic refund to give taxpayers more money in their pockets.

“My biggest fear is if we keep it, we’ll spend it,”  Huston said Monday during the Indiana Chamber’s Legislative Preview.

Well, goodness gracious Mr. Huston–we taxpaying citizens sure wouldn’t want that! We wouldn’t want to see you use any of those dollars to patch a few of the gaping holes in Indiana’s pathetic social safety net (TANF pays a munificent $130 per month to households with one parent and one child).

We Hoosiers know it would be too picky to expect you to earmark some of those funds to maintain any of the roads and bridges that the federal infrastructure bill will finally repair–you know, the infrastructure you “fiscal conservatives” have ignored for years.

For that matter, it is highly unlikely that the federal bill will provide Indiana with monies to repair all the crumbling roads and dangerously deteriorated bridges that need such repair. In a state served by a less irresponsible legislature, those “extra” funds might actually be put to that use. (There are 19,327 bridges in the state, and over 1100 of them are classified as structurally deficient. The state has identified 3,198 that need repairs, and has estimated the cost of doing those repairs at $2.3 billion. The feds are highly unlikely to cover all of that–even with a Hoosier as Transportation Secretary.)

We also wouldn’t want to use that money to improve public education, or to replace any of the education funding that Indiana’s legislature has siphoned off and sent to private, mostly religious schools. After all, we aren’t (yet) the worst–Indiana ranks 47th among the states for per pupil spending. That means there are three states worse than us, so no worries, right? And we do even better in teacher pay–why, we are way up there at 38th!

I hate to break it to you, GOP legislators, but “fiscally conservative”lawmakers don’t continue to ignore the multiple needs of the state in order to use an obviously temporary influx of dollars to reward the business interests that donate to their campaigns. They don’t cut taxes so that they can plead poverty when urban areas need added funds for public safety or public works, and so they can keep telling teachers the state can’t afford to pay them competitively. 

Fiscally prudent lawmakers establish sinking funds to retire bonds, plan for the ongoing maintenance of infrastructure, and pay TANF recipients enough to buy food and diapers. They fund education adequately, recognizing the importance of an educated workforce and polity. They don’t act like pigs in slop, “spending” a temporary windfall to curry favor with their donors and supporters while shortchanging everyone else.

Honest to goodness, Indiana! Stop proving Harrison Ullmann’s point!

 

 

 

Indiana’s Fools Aren’t Just For April…

When it comes to politics in Indiana, one of the savviest observers is Jack Colwell, who writes for the South Bend Tribune. A recent column documenting reasons the Indiana General Assembly still deserves to be called the World’s Worst Legislature is a good  example.

After reading it, I decided that a discussion of our legislature would be appropriate for April Fool’s Day.

Colwell’s list–while not exhaustive–is illustrative. He began by noting that Indiana’s legislature has historically been ridiculous.

Indiana’s legislature long has been the subject of ridicule, going back historically to a time 134 years ago when violence among members forced the end of a session.

Later came influence of the Klan, influence of money that brought scandals and prison and decades of influence by naysayers who found progress too risky.

Sometimes it became a national joke, as with a bill to establish the state’s own definition of pi. Not pie, as in apple, cherry or pumpkin, but Indiana’s own mathematical value of pi.
 
In 2015, there were all those jokes by comedians on national TV about Indiana’s Freedom to Discriminate Act.

Colwell then enumerates the disaster that is the 2021 session: in the face of Governor Holcomb’s largely effective measures to contain the pandemic (whatever your “take” on the Governor’s efforts, it is undeniable that he has been more decisive–and effective–than most Republican Governors), the legislature has moved to remove his authority to act in a future emergency.

Colwell notes that “pressure from the Freedom to Infect Caucus” also has pushed Holcomb to end the statewide mask mandate a bit prematurely.

Speaking of the pandemic, some businesses have acted in ways that endangered the health–and lives– of their workers and others. Our General Assembly to the rescue–of the businesses, not the victims. It passed a. bill awarding COVID-19 civil immunity for businesses and prohibiting class action lawsuits against them. 

Is climate change a looming danger? The General Assembly–especially members who  develop real estate–  wants further limits on the protection of wetlands. (Who cares about the world their grandkids will inhabit? Or the purity of the water we’re all drinking now?)

Speaking of the environment, replacing  a significant amount of emissions by encouraging and enabling mass transit is one of the many, many reasons such systems are important. So our legislature is trying to destroy Indianapolis’ belated effort to create a workable and environmentally-friendly mass transit system. 

Has the nation recently been stunned by still more mass shootings? Indiana’s General Assembly wants to eliminate the need for a license to carry a gun. As Colwell says,

Why require unnecessary cost and bureaucratic delay for someone wanting a gun? Some law-abiding citizen might want a gun quickly for a visit to a spa. A new recruit of the Proud Boys should not be inconvenienced.

And then, of course, there’s the persistence of the “White Legislative Caucus.” Colwell notes the ugly episode during the current session, where Republican legislators booed their Black colleagues.

Coincidentally, the same day his column ran, the Indianapolis Star had a front-page report about Representative Jim Lucas, Republican from Seymour whose Facebook page has been the subject of numerous accusations of blatant racism. (Our daughter has previously told us that she had visited that page, and was horrified by the “out and proud” bigotry she saw.)

The Star article reported on a conversation between Lucas and a Black surgeon, which the surgeon experienced as racist. Lucas evidently feels that any rhetoric or action short of lynching isn’t really racist, but as the newspaper noted

Lucas has a history of making troubling comments. The Indiana State Conference of the NAACP has called for his resignation after past actions.

Last year, Huston removed him from two committees as punishment for other controversial Facebook posts. On Twitter there’s a hashtag used by some critics, “#LucasMustGo.”

I’m clearly not the only Hoosier who is mortified by the people elected to “represent” me.

Inexcusable

Policy debates are rarely one-sided. Even when I feel strongly that side A is obviously, clearly, self-evidently the right way to go, I know deep down that sides B and C have their points too. And as I tell my students, cases don’t get to the Supreme Court unless there are at least two sides (often more) to the issue.

But every rule has its exception, and the Indiana General Assembly periodically refuses to take an action that is self-evidently, obviously right. As Indiana Public Media has reported,

House Republicans this week voted down Democrats’ attempts to help ensure Indiana’s voting machines are more secure in the 2020 election.

More than half of Indiana’s 92 counties have voting machines without a paper backup. Election security experts say those backups are critical to electoral integrity.

The General Assembly budgeted $10 million last year to help upgrade. But that amount only covers about 10 percent of the machines that need it. And they plan to get to the rest of them by 2030.

Really? By 2030? How helpful!

Rep. Carey Hamilton (D-Indianapolis) says waiting 10 years to fully upgrade the machines is a mistake.

“Providing secure elections based on the best available technology that we know exists, that we know the Secretary [of State] could utilize in an efficient way before November elections is the right thing for us to do,” Hamilton says.

According to WFYI, Secretary of State Connie Lawson (a Republican, it should be noted) had asked the legislature for additional funds, but had been rebuffed

Lawson says she initially asked budget writers for more money.

“But they told us to get real,” Lawson says. “So, we got real and we tried to hone it down to where it was possible to get the dollars.”

Get real? “Real” is something our lawmakers know very little about–or choose to ignore.

What is “real” is the importance of public confidence in the integrity of the vote. What is “real” is the significant decline in the public’s trust in government. What is “real” is the growing cynicism and anger fed by blatant gerrymandering and multiple, visible Republican vote suppression efforts around the country.

Here in Indiana, what is also “real” is the legislature’s animus toward urban counties, and lawmakers’ continuing efforts to privilege both rural Hoosiers and the deep pockets of their contributors, constituencies that just happen to favor Republicans. (How else can we interpret efforts this session to protect coal and landlords, and to sabotage public transportation?)

Donald Trump may insist that American Intelligence operatives who continue to warn about Russian interference with our elections are part of some “deep state hoax,” but rational people know that those who work for our Intelligence agencies are far more credible than the buffoon who stands to benefit from that interference. Ensuring that our voting machines are tamper-proof, providing a paper trail, and taking other precautions against threatened interference (or for that matter, domestic game-playing and/or malfunction) is simply common sense.

Granted, common sense has never been the most obvious attribute of Indiana’s General Assembly.

If there is “another side” to providing proper election security, I don’t know what it is.

 

 

Games Indiana’s GOP Plays…

Oh, Indiana!

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.