No sooner had Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar floated the idea of appointing rather than electing the Indiana’s attorney general than House Speaker Brian Bosma shot it down.
“AWK-ward,” Bosma said when asked about the proposal Monday at the chamber’s annual legislative preview luncheon at the Hyatt Regency.
Brinegar, in his opening remarks, suggested it might make sense to include legislation to appoint the attorney general when the General Assembly takes up the issue of moving up the appointment of the superintendent of public instruction in 2021, rather than 2025 as is now planned.
Brinegar said that in the past, the attorney general at times has worked at cross-purposes with the governor.
“They’ve not always been aligned and we think the attorney general should have the governor as his client,” he said, adding that he wasn’t singling out current Attorney General Curtis Hill for criticism.
Nor did the suggestion have anything to do with the allegations that Hill groped a lawmaker and three legislative staff members during an end-of-the session party in March, Brinegar stressed.
Bosma, one of four legislative leaders on a panel discussing the upcoming session, quickly said that now is not the time to make a change like that. None of the other lawmakers on the panel—House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne; Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper; and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson—responded to the suggestion.
Hill later weighed in on the proposal in a statement, saying: “There’s a good reason that 43 of America’s 50 states have attorneys general who are elected by the people. Namely, we have a rich tradition in our democratic republic of respecting the people’s wisdom in choosing their leaders.”
Former Attorney General Greg Zoeller noted that the trend nationally has been to move from appointing attorneys general to electing them.
Lawmakers in 2017 voted to make the superintendent of public instruction appointed, and are expected to easily move forward with speeding up the timetable to make the switch in 2021. The current superintendent, Jennifer McCormick, has announced she will not seek a second elected term.
Among other issues, the chamber proposed raising the cigarette tax by $2 per pack, for a total of $3 per pack, to reduce smoking and deter teenagers from taking up the habit. Bosma indicated that might be difficult to pass next session, noting their members did not run on a tax increase in this year’s elections. He was more optimistic about raising the smoking age to 21 from the current 18.
Brinegar reiterated the chamber’s support for a hate—or bias—crime statute that would include penalty enhancements for crimes motivated by bias against individuals, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
But Bosma said legislation that would make hate crimes a separate statute rather than adding aggravating factors to existing law would run into trouble.
“This is a big knock-down dragged out RFRA-esque discussion,” Bosma said, referring to how Indiana was the center of a national controversy when lawmakers passed a religious freedom law allowing businesses to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation of gender identity.
“Does it cover all protected classes?” Lanane asked, adding that gender identity needs to be included in any legislation. If lawmakers fail to pass a bill, “then shame on us,” he added.
The chamber also unveiled workforce development proposals that would prioritize training for the current job market and require high school students to take at least one career or technical course as a requirement for graduation beginning with the class of 2023.
Janet Williams is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.