Statehouse

Tuesday at the Indiana Statehouse was exciting for new lawmakers being sworn in on Organization Day, especially for Republicans who maintained their supermajority.

Meanwhile, outside the House and Senate chambers were advocates, protesters, and survivors from around the state.

On a day when political parties set their goals for the coming session, these Hoosiers were here doing the same.

REDISTRICTING REFORM

On the steps outside the Statehouse, protesters assembled to call for redistricting reform. One man even dressed like the father of “Gerrymandering,” Elbridge Gerry.

George Hegeman, of Bloomington, was carrying a sign with the League of Women Voters, protesting the present way in which we draw our legislative districts.

“We need a nonpartisan, independent commission composed of citizens and other disinterested parties to properly draw the legislative boundaries rather than having politicians who are self-interested in establishing their own precincts and maintaining incumbency in the legislature,” he said.

The issue is of particular interest this year to Hegeman as the Census nears in 2020, and new maps are drawn in 2021.

“It's a political process in which the party in power draws the boundaries,” he said. “Legislators choose their voters rather than the voters choosing their legislators, which in itself is an unfair, undemocratic process.

States across the country have moved to independent redistricting, but not Indiana.

“Several legislators have put forward proposals,” said Hegeman, “but they never saw the light of day thanks to Speaker [Brian] Bosma and the powers that be.”

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Bosma is involved in the process of revising the sexual harassment policies at a time when an ethics complaint has been filed against him for using campaign funds to investigate a woman who said she had a sexual relationship with him in the early 1990s.

The personnel subcommittee of the Legislative Council was commissioned by the Indiana General Assembly in the last session to prepare and recommend sexual harassment prevention policies. The subcommittee met in a closed-door executive session on Nov. 7 to finalize the proposed policy changes. Tuesday was the deadline for approval.

Dr. Jennifer A. Drobac, a law professor at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, told The Statehouse File these guidelines were “shockingly dated” and designed to insulate lawmakers from liability.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill may soon face a civil lawsuit from four women who accused him of sexual misconduct during a party celebrating the end of the last legislative session.

During Orientation Day, on the first floor of the Statehouse, while all the legislative action was taking placing upstairs, Melissa Bruhn, of Noblesville, was silently pacing the halls in front of Hill's office carrying a sign reading, “BELIEVE WOMEN.”

“I went inside his office and I took a picture with my sign right beside his office when they opened the door, then they courteously asked me to stand outside his office because I don't think he likes to see those things,” she said. “I'm just very concerned about the fact that there doesn't seem to be equal treatments of the parties involved in the sexual harassment allegations. It just highlights we have so few women in our General Assembly and we can't even participate on a lot of the committees.”

The following are the statements issued to NUVO by Hill's four accusers and their attorney, Hannah Joseph, after the approval of the guidelines:

● We have patiently waited for the State of Indiana to create policies and procedures that would protect future victims of sexual harassment and assault. Today we are deeply disappointed in their lack of meaningful action. — Niki DaSilva, Legislative Assistant for the Indiana Senate Republicans

● While we are pleased the topic of preventing sexual harassment, as we faced at the hands of Curtis Hill, is being discussed by the state legislature, the report created by the subcommittee is light on details, analysis, supporting materials and specific recommendations to create an effective sexual harassment prevention policy. The recommendations today do not go far enough to improve the current framework for preventing, recognizing, and remedying sexual harassment. We want to help protect future colleagues who need to file complaints and ensure they are heard and protected in their work environments, so they don’t have to go through what we had to endure. — Gabrielle McLemore, Communications Director for the Indiana Senate Democrats

● We had hoped members of the committee would, at the very least, attempt to address reporting policies and investigation procedures when a complaint is made against a statewide elected official, a lobbyist or perhaps even by a member of the public who is here to testify on a bill in committee. These proposed policies still do not do enough to address this issue for which those in charge admitted they weren’t prepared. — Samantha Lozano, Legislative Assistant for the Indiana House Democrats

● If Curtis Hill won’t be held to the honor system, even after the official reports of the Special Prosecutor and Inspector General, there must be legislation and policies made to hold him accountable and to make sure this doesn’t happen again to another person. — Niki DaSilva, Legislative Assistant for the Indiana Senate Republicans

Hannah Joseph, Lawyer:

● All Hoosier workers, including state employees and our elected officials and representatives, deserve to feel safe in their work environment and protected from wrong doers. Today’s recommendations do not go far enough to protect current and future State employees that work with elected officials.

● While we are pleased the topic of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, as our clients faced, is being discussed by the state legislature, the report created by the subcommittee does not create a uniform policy that applies to all individuals working in and around the General Assembly with a consistent reporting structure, a consistent body overseeing the policy, training, enforcement and a mechanism to ensure a process to update policy if needed. This is truly disappointing.

● The recommendations do not fully address how to protect legislators and other elected officials from sexual harassment in the workplace. These individuals should be entitled to work in a harassment free environment. The report also does not include individuals working in and around the General Assembly such as lobbyists.

● The General Assembly had the chance to help ensure sexual harassment and assault cannot happen in the workplace, yet the recommendations are not comprehensive enough to make sure all Hoosiers feel safe in their work environment. If someone commits sexual harassment or assault, and does not have the honor to step down and dignify their elected office, then there must be other options in place to hold them accountable.

● We have grave concern with the recommendation that the Ethics Committees will be the only people empowered to determine what discipline will be issued given the fact that such decisions could be made on a partisan basis, be politically motivated or impacted by the cronyism that is rampant in politics. It is safe to assume that sexual harassment investigations and disciplinary decisions will be difficult to trust.

● We also believe the definition of sexual harassment, as proposed in the recommendations, falls short of an acceptable definition based on how courts across the country apply the legal definition and the lack of clear boundaries as to what is or is not tolerated behavior.

PRESS FREEDOM

Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, was standing outside the House chambers, watching Bosma address the legislative body in his introductory remarks on the many TV screens.

Key said one of the issues the HSPA would continue to support in the Legislature was freedoms for high school and college journalists. Rep. Edward Clere, R-New Albany, introduced House Bill 1016, to give student journalists more protection.

“It's more protecting government transparency to keep from death from a thousand cuts,” said Key.

Last month, the Interim Committee on Government voted to continue to require cities and towns publish an annual financial report in local newspapers.

However, the Environmental Rules Board proposal to eliminate the required publication of notices of Air Quality Permit applications in newspapers was unanimously approved.

“So now you have a company in your neighborhood wants to put more pollutants in the air, you won't be finding out about that in your newspapers through public notice advertising,” said Key. “You would have to know to go to go to the IDEM website and look for them, and it's not going to happen.”

One bill Key said he his not worried about this coming legislative session is a proposal by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, to license journalists, in response to licensing gun owners.

“[It] was more to make a political point. 'Well, if you're going to license me to carry a gun, then we should we license your First Amendment. If you go after my Second Amendment, beware.' So, I wasn't overly concerned when that was filed because I saw it for what it was, it was an effective ploy to get some publicity on the point he was trying to make, but it wasn't a serious piece of legislation.”

 

Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at rburgess@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.

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News Editor