Mental aerobics to get you in shape for the new year

Laura McPhee
Laura McPhee's Blog

The 150 men and women who make up our state Legislature returned to work in the first few days of January this year — at a time when most of us are still fine-tuning our resolutions to get in shape during the upcoming months. We at NUVO have come up with a way to combine these two winter rituals in an exciting new series of workout sessions designed to help our readers gain, build and strengthen their own political muscle. Conventional wisdom has it that most Americans are too lazy to seriously participate in the running of our democracy, and that may be true. But we believe a greater number are simply a little out of shape. They want to be informed and active participants in democracy but aren’t sure where to start or how to go about it. We want to get you in shape for the November election. Seventy-five percent of the men and women in the Indiana General Assembly, those who make the laws we follow and spend the taxes we pay, are running for office this year. It behooves us all to have the facts about who these people are, what it is they do, how, where and when they do it and, most importantly, why. There is no magic pill, however — not for weight loss and not for civic responsibility. By engaging in the political process, citizens uphold certain democratic values including justice, freedom, equality, diversity, authority, privacy, patriotism, human rights and rule of law, tolerance, mutual assistance, self-restraint and self-respect. It’s a hell of a lot of work. That’s why we’ve put together this 11-month plan to get you in shape to tackle the big issues and stories in the weeks and months leading up to the election. One size does not fit all; and we respect your right to retain your individual ideas and opinions no matter what shape, size or shade they might be. But we can all benefit from a regular workout regime of civic responsibility. We’re here to get you started. We all know that muscles atrophy if not used enough, and those same muscles need some warming up to get them going. Your brain is no exception. Think of it as mental aerobics. Don’t overdo it. If you’re a little out of shape and all of this talk of politics and government starts to seem exhausting, take a break between sidebars and catch your breath. Remember: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Ready? WHO: Indiana General Assembly Session: The Indiana General Assembly meets “part-time,” for 60 days in even-numbered years and 90 days in odd-numbered years. The governor can call the part-time legislators back for special sessions when necessary. This year the “short” session will last from Jan. 4–March 14. Membership: The legislative branch of Indiana state government consists of a state Senate and a House of Representatives. There are 50 members of the state Senate, serving staggered four-year terms (one-half elected every two years), and 100 members of the House of Representatives, serving two-year terms (all elected every two years). Requirements: Indiana legislators are required to be at least 25 years old, a U.S. citizen, a resident of Indiana for at least two years prior to the election and an inhabitant of the district to be represented. Salary: Each member of the General Assembly is paid a salary of $11,600 per year plus per diem and expense reimbursement. Total average compensation for “part-time” legislator position: $45,000 per year. Duties: Legislators in Indiana have broad powers to enact laws, set tax types and rates, create and abolish agencies of state government, determine state budget operations and oversee local government and schools. Politics: Republicans are the majority party in Indiana. They hold 33 of 50 seats in the Senate and 52 of 100 seats in the House of Representatives. Though they have a clear majority, the slim lead in the House will require votes on both sides of the aisle in order to pass most legislation. Location: The Statehouse, also known as the state capitol, is located in downtown Indianapolis on the far eastern axis of the Circle (Soldiers and Sailors Monument). Its official address is 200 W. Washington St. Schedule: Senators and representatives will be doing the people’s business Monday through Friday until March 14, 2006. The Indiana General Assembly Web site provides online calendars detailing the meeting times and places for nearly all House and Senate business, including committee hearings and where a bill stands in the legislative pipeline.

www.in.gov/legislative/session/calendars.html

. Here’s where the mental strain can really be too much sometimes, and we recommend you do some warm-ups before diving right into the “issues” portion of the workout. The two-year state budget was passed in the last session, and so this year promises to have a lot more free time for the type of squabbling our legislators are famous for. The Republicans and Democrats in our General Assembly have a history of verbal sparring and tantrum throwing that often includes one party walking out like 3-year-olds. Sure, it’s good drama for us and good cardiovascular exercise for them, but it’s also a colossal waste of time. Here are a few issues guaranteed to make headlines, tantrum fodder and campaign stump-speeches from now until November. God Though he lost his case in federal court, Speaker of the House Brian Bosma has vowed to keep the name of Jesus in the Indiana Statehouse. In addition to saying, “We will have prayer here, even if I have to give it myself,” Bosma has instructed his lawyers at the Indiana Attorney General’s Office to file an appeal on his behalf and continue fighting the ruling handed down by Judge David Hamilton last month. Hamilton ruled in favor of the four Christian plaintiffs who brought the suit asking that the speaker of the House not allow House sessions to open with proselytizing prayer. The suit was filed after nearly every meeting during the 2005 session opened with prayers to “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” or the equivalent. In addition to keeping Jesus in the Statehouse, Bosma is leading the charge along with other Republicans to require Indiana public schools to include intelligent design in their science curriculum. Thirty-six legislators have queried their constituents to see how important the issue is to voters, though not all have made the results of the poll public yet. According to The Indianapolis Star, State Rep. Woody Burton, R-Greenwood, said of about 180 responses he received, 63 percent favored intelligent design being taught alongside evolution. Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis, said an early tally showed 53 percent of his constituents who responded to his survey favor intelligent design being added to the curriculum. Hinkle told Star reporter Mary Beth Schneider “he believes in God, Jesus and voting the will of his constituents.” And he doesn’t believe evolution is science. Taxes Republicans are looking for ways to cut property tax bills, even if it’s just a temporary measure. House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Jeff Espich has been working overtime to find funding solutions to the state’s ongoing budget shortfalls that don’t include raising property taxes, but he admits they might be unavoidable. Republicans are also considering proposals to give local governments more authority to raise revenue from sales and income taxes, rather than property taxes. Should Republicans find a way to decrease property taxes, they have already begun discussing increases in gasoline, cigarette and sales taxes to make up the difference. Democrats will probably make the biggest issue of property taxes. Claiming that welfare levies will raise close to 40 percent this year, the minority party warns that a $105 million statewide property tax increase is imminent. They are calling for Gov. Mitch Daniels to use the money collected during the state tax amnesty program, an estimated $195 million, to offset the welfare increase rather than raise property taxes. Privatization Though the proposed privatization of the I-69 highway will dominate the debate over privatizing state jobs and resources, look for it to come up in other areas as well. Democrats say Daniels has plans to “take another 4,000 jobs away from Hoosier workers” by privatizing state services and hospitals. In particular, Democrats oppose Daniels’ plan to privatize services provided by the Family and Social Services Administration, including eligibility determination for food stamps and Medicaid. Opponents claim that because these private companies operate on a for-profit basis, the incentive to spend money helping those applying for the services is decreased and puts those in need at risk. Sex The amendment to the Indiana state Constitution banning same-sex marriage and withholding the rights of marriage (including inheritance, medical decisions, child custody and investment rights) from unmarried persons probably won’t come up directly this year. The Joint Resolution passed both the House and the Senate during the 2005 session. It will be reintroduced next year, after the next election. Should it pass then, it will be added to the ballot in November 2008 and the majority of voters must support it in order for the amendment to take effect. But the lack of advancement on the constitutional amendment doesn’t mean homosexuality won’t be the subject of legislation. Last year’s proposed measures to prevent gay persons from being foster or adoptive parents didn’t receive a final vote, and will certainly be reintroduced this year. In addition, Sen. Patricia Miller is expected to reintroduce her controversial legislation that will criminalize “unauthorized reproduction” — the impregnation by means other than sexual intercourse of persons who have not been approved for their “petition of parentage.” The original bill made marriage a requirement for the approval to parent, but Miller has said she will not pursue that portion of the bill. The new version, however, will most likely include language that prevents gay and lesbian couples from becoming parents through reproductive assisted therapy such as in vitro fertilization or surrogacy. The big news this year, however, will be abortion. On his first day at work in the new session, Republican Rep. Troy Woodruff introduced legislation that will make it illegal for doctors in the state of Indiana to perform abortions in almost all cases and sentence them to prison terms of two to eight years if they do. House Bill 1096, “Provides that human life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm. Makes performing any abortion that is not necessary to prevent a substantial permanent impairment of the life or physical health of the pregnant woman a Class C felony.” (See “Overturning Roe v. Wade” in this week’s Dispatch section for more on this story). Education This may be the biggest battle in the Statehouse this session. Gov. Mitch Daniels released his new “Dollars to the Classroom” proposal at the end of December, in which he outlined actions he believes will allow Indiana schools to focus on student achievement. A large part of the proposal calls on schools to reduce administrative and overhead costs and direct a larger portion of their budgets towards classroom costs. “The resources we use in our schools do not fall from the sky. Our hard working Hoosier taxpayers provide them. And they deserve to see them used as much as possible on the student’s actual instruction, learning and achievement,” the governor said in his introduction to the new plan. “The damage has already been done to our schools,” Senate Minority Leader Richard Young (D) said in his response to the governor’s propositions for new education funding. “Thanks to the state budget that was passed by the Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, and that Governor Daniels signed into law, 143 school corporations saw their state funding slashed.” Stay in Touch Here’s an exercise you can’t skip. Yes, it’s sometimes tedious. Yes, it sometimes seems like there are no results. But trust us, communicating with your elected representatives is a necessary part of any good civic diet and crucial for a healthy government. And seriously, it couldn’t be any easier. You don’t even have to get off the couch if you don’t want to. Where to begin Find out who your legislators are and how to get in contact with them. Indiana state government makes good use of the Internet, and voters have no excuse for being uninformed. Just about anything you want to know about what the Indiana Senate and House of Representatives are up to can be found at www.in.gov/legislative/, including a full list of elected representatives, their contact information, their committee assignments and their voting records. Official State of Indiana Web site:

www.in.gov

Indiana General Assembly:

www.in.gov/legislative

To contact your state legislator by e-mail The Indiana General Assembly provides a full listing of e-mail addresses for all state legislators, as well as an automatic e-mail form. Go to

www.in.gov/cgi-bin/legislative/contact/contact.pl

. To contact your state legislator by mail Legislator’s Name Statehouse 200 W. Washington St. Indianapolis, IN 46204 To contact your state legislator by telephone Senate: (317) 232-9400 or (800) 382-9467 House: (317) 232-9600 or (800) 382-9841 Political parties (listed alphabetically) Indiana Communist Party

www.indianacp.org

Indiana Democratic Party

www.indems.org

Indiana Green Party

www.indianagreenparty.org

Indiana Libertarian Party

www.lpin.org

Indiana Republican Party

www.indgop.org

Who Else? After you get in touch, it’s time to get informed and involved. It doesn’t matter if you are just beginning to exercise your civic responsibility or you’re a hardened pro looking to add something new to your routine — finding a like-minded group of individuals and working together for a cause is one of the best possible ways of shaping public policy. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started. If you don’t see something you like here, do a little research. There are dozens of grassroots organizations throughout the state dedicated to shaping public policy at the Statehouse. The following organizations are but a few that have a strong lobbying presence in the Indiana General Assembly, and all are great places to start your new political awareness regime. Accountability Common Cause is a national nonpartisan nonprofit advocacy organization designed for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest. The grassroots organization advocates for greater accountability in government, election reform (including spending, fund-raising and term limits) and ethics in government. Founded in 1970 by John Gardner, Common Cause now has nearly 300,000 members and supporters and 38 state organizations. Common Cause remains committed to honest, open and accountable government, as well as encouraging citizen participation in democracy. Common Cause Indiana P.O. Box 1603 Indianapolis, IN 46206-1603 (317) 767-0209 Julia Vaughn, policy director E-mail:

jvaughn@citact.org www.commoncause.org

Equality Indiana Equality is committed to full equality for all Indiana residents regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. To achieve this goal, a strong coalition of regional and statewide organizations have come together from all corners of the state including Human Rights Campaign Indiana, Interfaith Coalition On Nondiscrimination, Justice, Inc., Indiana Action Network, PFLAG, Citizens for Civil Rights — Greater Lafayette and the Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber of Commerce. Indiana Equality and its advocacy network were instrumental in the passage of the recent Human Rights Ordinance passed in Indianapolis, prohibiting education, employment or housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Indiana Equality P.O. Box 20621 Indianapolis, IN 46220-0621 Phone: (888) 567-0750 E-mail:

ie@indianaequality.org www.incoalition.org

Environment The Hoosier Environmental Council is dedicated to educating the media, elected officials and the public on environmental issues; promoting communication among Indiana’s environmental organizations; advocating sound environmental policies before state and local environmental boards and commissions; stopping environmentally damaging actions and undoing damage that has already occurred through legal action. Last year, HEC lobbied state legislators on environmental rulemaking, renewable energy, air quality, sewer overflows, agricultural emissions, landfills and changes in state forest management. Hoosier Environmental Council P.O. Box 1145 Indianapolis, IN 46206 (317) 685-8800 E-mail:

hec@hecweb.org www.hecweb.org

Reproduction Join the Planned Parenthood Action Network of Indiana to receive updates of Planned Parenthood news and legislative activity that will hold each member of the Indiana General Assembly and Indiana’s U.S. congressional delegation accountable to the majority of Hoosier voters who support access to age-appropriate, medically accurate sexuality information; affordable contraception and cancer/STI screenings; and safe, legal abortion services. On Thursday, Jan. 12 at 5:30 p.m., Planned Parenthood’s Public Policy Director Michael McKillip and Public Policy Field Manager Jen Jorczak will hold an informal discussion and update of 2006 legislative issues pertinent to Planned Parenthood’s mission. For more information contact Mandy Baker at mandy.baker@ppin.org or 317-637-4301. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana 200 S. Meridian St. P.O. Box 397 Indianapolis, IN 46206 (317) 637-4362 E-mail:

advocates@ppin.org www.ppin.org
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