March 19, 2014

THEIR VIEW: Session helped some but got distracted


---- — If Hoosiers disregard all the hubbub in the General Assembly concerning gay marriage and guns in locked vehicles on school property, then the just-ended session had some redeeming moments.

First, the legislature wasted too much of the session debating whether to add a gay marriage ban to the Indiana Constitution. The issue drew hundreds of protesters to the Statehouse and never should have been a legislative waste of time and energy.

Gov. Mike Pence banged through some of the bills he sought after going back-and-forth with Republicans. They included a package of business tax cuts, a two-year $400 million funding for state highways and a pre-school program for nearly 40,000 low-income children. All are promising.

Locally, Madison County was drawn into Senate Bill 176, which allow this county and five others to hold voter referendums on funding mass transit programs through income taxes. It needed Pence’s signature. In addition, 10 percent of the funding is to be raised by a nonprofit that will work with businesses. The bill also allows townships to hold voter referendums on transit funding if the county declines to hold one. The complicated bill is likely good for Marion County but will take a tough sell in Madison County where even a daily commute to Indianapolis seems shorter than waiting on a bus.

Locally, Sen. Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson, authored a bill to create a redistricting commission to study General Assembly and congressional districts. He pushed for cultural sensitivity training among law enforcement officers. But, as ranking minority member, much of his time was diverted into the gay marriage debate.

Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, took on topical issues including the authorship of House Bill 1420 where an employer may not request an employee or applicant for employment to grant access to a personal Internet account. She also authored a bill that would have increased the penalty for animal cruelty based on neglect or abandonment of an animal if it resulted in serious injury or death to the animal. The bill arose after horrible living conditions were found at a farm near Summitville. But being in the House minority, Austin’s bills died in committee, which is a travesty since both addressed serious issues.

Rep. Robert Cherry, R-Greenfield, pursued farm-related bills and got one through that redefines a “farm vehicle” which, in part, helps farmers address rules on overweight vehicles when farming. Some farm vehicles can register as commercial vehicles, which could increase state revenues from registration fees.

Rep. Jack Lutz, a Republican who represents the northern half of Madison County, didn’t author a single bill though he put his name as co-author on a bill to authorize table games at racinos, a concept the legislature is unwilling to consider at the present time and a bill, also co-authored by Austin, to study economic development incentives which has received overwhelming support as struggling cities and towns offer various incentives to lure industry.

Some efforts were noble among our local legislators but the contentious debate over gay marriage -- an issue that could work against government efforts to bring new businesses into the city and county -- dominated legislative discussions. It’s a social debate that should be replaced by discussions about jobs, taxes and education.

— The Herald Bulletin, Anderson

THE ISSUE The recent session of the Indiana General Assembly THEIR VIEW IIt helped with funding pre-school for low-income children, highway expansion and business tax cuts but went off course on the issue of gay marriage.