Business fired up at the Indiana General Assembly on a snowy Tuesday morning this week, following the Martin Luther King Day holiday.
Lawmakers have yet to vote on whether the gay marriage amendment, House Joint Resolution 3, and its so-called "clarifying" bill, House Bill 1153, will proceed to the House floor. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which last week held a hearing lasting more than three hours on the matter, asked House Speaker Brian Bosma to reassign the bill after determining that his committee did not have the votes to advance the matter. So Bosma announced on Tuesday that bills would be transferred to the House Elections and Apportionment Committee, which is set to hold another round of hearings the following afternoon, Jan. 22, at a time that, as of press time, was yet to be determined.
"The caucus wants an opportunity to vote and represent their districts — it is one of the major issues they want to address," said a GOP spokesperson Tuesday, noting that those votes could be for or against the measure, and adding that the legislative process, "is an ever-changing landscape."
Victims on hold
The hold-up in the Judiciary Committee as lawmakers grappled with whether the government will advance homophobic policy (against the interests of some of the state's largest employers and the unanimous opinion of the Christian Theological Seminary's president and board, among others) held up other business before the committee, such as HB 1014, the effort by Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, to improve the state's response to victims of domestic violence who are attempting to divorce their abusers.
Kubacki declined to comment on leadership priorities that would hear the gay marriage debate before hearing a domestic-violence-response bill, but she did offer an impassioned explanation of why she thinks the bill is necessary.
Currently an abused spouse requesting a divorce faces a 60-day waiting period. "For people that don't understand domestic violence, when a victim makes that decision to leave, it is a huge decision. It is wrong to hold it up in the courts. I want to fast track that."
Domestic violence is "swept under the rug," Kubacki added. "This is what is important to me: to make Indiana a no-tolerance state."
A companion bill, HB 1016, which would enable a minor to request a protective order without adult consent, has also failed to gain traction thus far as the gay marriage sucked the air away from the other 24 bills and three resolutions waiting for Judiciary Committee action. Kubacki is also pursuing HB1106, legislation which would require a prescription for compounds containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. While people worry about the inconvenience of seeking a prescription for these substances, which are key ingredients in popular cold medications as well as methamphetamine, Kubacki said she is much more worried about the kids affected by meth addiction, which, she noted, make up a disproportion of the kids assigned to the care of the Department of Child Services.
"Our district has a huge issue with meth ... no one is advocating for the children being taken from these meth homes," she said."When you see these kids ... my heart breaks. I've officially made myself the mother of Indiana. I'm going to protect all children."
Two local lawmakers, Reps. Christina Hale and Karlee Macer, both Democrats, have also introduced bills to improve the lives of Indiana women. Hale's HB 1137, would require state agencies to study domestic and sexual violence and how to better serve victims so that Indiana can reduce the current statistic that estimates 1 in 6 Hoosier girls has been a victim of sexual violence. The House Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee has yet to hear it. Meanwhile, Macer's HB 1117 would improve services for Hoosier women veterans, who Macer noted often struggle to find services they need to escape homelessness because they are grappling with childrens' needs as well. The bill advanced from committee and is waiting for a hearing on the floor.
Get on the bus
Tuesday also marked the beginning of big push by transit advocates this week at the Statehouse in support of Senate Bill 176, which is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Tax & Fiscal Committee. The bill, authored by Indianapolis Republican senators Pat Miller and Brent Waltz, is similar to transit bills introduced in past sessions, but it does shake up the question of financing. Previous versions of the bill would have required Central Indiana counties wishing to expand mass transit options to vote on whether residents were willing to support an increase in local option income taxes. SB 176 spreads those costs around by, in addition to the vote on local option income tax increase, imposing on corporations in counties that opt in a county income tax or a county employment tax and mandating that fares cover at least 25 percent of the transportation system's costs.
The Indianapolis Congregational Action Network held a press conference in the Statehouse Rotunda Tuesday at noon to underscore their belief that SB 176's passage would benefit the city in several ways.
"As people of faith É we believe in taking care of our neighbors É in a building public systems that recognize that we are all connected," said Rev. Linda McCrae of Central Christian Church, noting 1,500 volunteers were engaged with IndyCAN's voter engagement program.
Rev. Darren Cushman Wood of North United Methodist added his belief that: "Mass transit can bring us together. Indianapolis is marked by economic segregation; mass transit can be a cornerstone for breaking down those barriers."
Tim Vaughn, a deacon with Christian Love Missionary Baptist Church, detailed his daily ordeal of waking at 3:30 a.m. to make it to his job at 7 a.m. by traveling first Downtown to get to Castleton, then walking 45 minutes to East 96th Street.
"It takes 14 hours to get paid for 8 and I lack quality time with my family," Vaughn said, noting that in inclement weather he is often forced to walk in the street. "I don't believe we should have to risk our lives to do what's right for our family and community."
Transit advocates will regroup at the Statehouse Thursday for Transit Day with the hope the bill will be heard and passed through committee — and, ultimately, across the governor's desk.
Here is a snapshot on some other issues pertaining to Hoosier ecology that are currently in the legislative mix:
The digest of this bill authored by Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, explains, its mandate "that back-country areas of Yellowwood State Forest, Morgan-Monroe State Forest, Jackson-Washington State Forest, and Clark State Forest may not be developed in a manner that permits motorized access, sale of timber, or commercial activity." This represents a small percentage of the forestland managed by the state. The bill has yet to be heard by the House Natural Resources Committee. Monday is likely its last chance, so forest advocates must get busy. SB 398 is also seeking to support state wilderness areas.
In addition to outlining some annual recycling data reporting requirements, this bill would establish a state goal to recycle at least 50 percent of all municipal waste by 2019. The House Committee on Environmental Affairs passed this bill and it is waiting to be heard on the House floor. Senate Bills 324, 298 and 399 could also bolster recycling efforts.
This is a statutory rather than constitutional attempt to enshrine a "Right to Farm."
The House version of the bill remains in committee, while senate version was up for third reading Tuesday. Killing this bill is the Hoosier Environmental Council's No. 1 legislative priority this session because advocates believe it will interfere with environmental accountability. [Read what former Minnesota Republican State Rep. John Tuma said about conservative opposition to such legislation when he delivered the keynote address at HEC's "Greening the Statehouse" symposium in November.]
This bill is of concern to environmental advocates because it would prohibit state government from enacting any law that would establish environmental standards "more stringent than" federal law. This is another bill that irks HEC.
It's back, but has yet to proceed to a floor vote in either chamber. The Hoosier State Press Association's Steve Key emailed me this update from the Senate Tuesday: Sen. Holdman had the bill amended today in Sen. Mike Young's committee. It eliminated the First Amendment concerns and now only deals with criminal mischief and criminal trespass and the penalties if the damage is done to an agricultural operation. HSPA does not oppose the language that came out of committee."
This bill, currently stalled in the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee, would make appraisal and relocation documents prepared by Indiana's Department of Transportation Land Acquisition division of public records after negotiations are terminated or property is acquired. This follows an Indianapolis Star investigation revealed several questionable transactions along the I-69 construction path.
Freedom of Information
Speaker Bosma spearheaded this effort last session in partnership with the Hoosier State Press Association. Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, authored the bill this session, but Rep. Kevin Mahan, chairman of the House Government and Regulatory Affairs Committee, has yet to hear it. The HSPA's Steve Key explains that the bill does two things: "Allows government units to impose a search fee if a voluminous records request results in more than two hours of search time by the unit to fulfill the request; it puts the option in the hands of the requester of records kept in electronic format to receive them in that format. (Current law allows the unit to tell the requester to drive down to the office and pick up a paper copy.) HSPA believes this language offers something to government units in dealing with complicated requests and something to the public that wants the word document or excel spreadsheet in that format can have that happen."
Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, is gaining traction on HB 1032, which aims to achieve better balance in the once-a-decade chore of redistricting. The bill has passed out of committee and received approval during the House's second reading on last week and on Tuesday they sent it on to the Senate. Election watchdogs Common Cause and the League of Women Voters have endorsed the effort.
This issue is requiring lawmakers to find a balance between limiting the costs rental property owners must pay for property inspections with the need to support robust enough inspections to avoid tragedies such as the one Hammond city officials testified about Tuesday, in which three children, aged 6 months, 3 and 4, were died in a fire two weeks ago in a single-family home illegally converted to a multi-family rental. House Government and Regulatory Reform Chair Mahan, opted to skip a vote on the matter Tuesday so that more work on compromise between various interested parties could be attempted.
This bill, which is a tenant of House leadership's legislative agenda and is favored by Gov. Mike Pence, has stirred concerns from local government officials who fear a "race to the bottom" as counties feel pressure to cut as many taxes as possible, even as a recent Legislative Services Agency study has found that killing this particular tax will have the effect of shifting the financial burden of paying for schools and libraries. It is currently waiting for action in the House Ways and Means Committee.