Another session of the Indiana General Assembly has come to a close, just as colleges are hosting commencement ceremonies and high schools are reviewing for final exams. If we looked at the Indiana Statehouse as a big high school and the lawmakers as the students how would we, the teachers (as in the

public who elected them to office), grade them on their performance?

There is plenty of evidence that says if the statehouse were a school, it would be destined for the takeover list for failing, which just might happen in the 2016 elections.


WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Powdered or crystalline alcohol. The law makes it a Class B infraction to possess, purchase, sell, offer to sell, or use powdered or crystalline alcohol, with exceptions for research purposes. It also urges the legislative council to assign to the public policy interim study committee topics related to powdered or crystalline alcohol.

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) authored the law, selling it as a proactive stance to prevent access to a dangerous product similar to "bath salts," an illegal synthetic substance that is responsible for numerous deaths and injuries. The inventor of powdered alcohol, Mark Philips, believes the liquor lobby had a hand in pushing the ban throughout the country.

WHY IT SUCKS: Talk about an instant smackdown on a person's freedom of choice! Philips created powdered alcohol, trademarked as "Palcohol," as a way to enjoy his favorite cocktail when it wasn't practical to haul around bottles of liquor. It is a product that will be regulated, monitored and taxed just like regular liquid alcohol, which is perfectly legal in this state. All arguments against the product were presented without evidence and based on hearsay since production hasn't even begun on Palcohol, much less distribution. "I was never invited to testify or speak to any committee about Palcohol," said Philips. He was initially prohibited from speaking publicly about Palcohol until the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau approved his packaging proposal. However, once approval was granted, Philips has been able to change the minds and rulings of several state legislatures and get bans on his product reversed or vetoed. Unfortunately, due to the supermajority here in the Hoosier state, the best Terri Austin (D-Anderson) could do was get the legislature to agree to study powdered alcohol. What's also a shame is that Philips is shopping for a location to build a factory for production. By passing this bill, Indiana just said "no thanks" to the potential for manufacturing jobs.

WHERE IT STANDS: It passed with unanimous support in the Senate and on a 90-4 vote in the House. At the least Reps. Peggy Mayfield (R-Martinsville), Curt Nisly (R-Goshen), Rhonda Rhoads (R-Corydon) and Thomas Washburne (R-Evansville) thought there were enough questions still unanswered to warrant a "no" vote. Gov. Pence signed the act into law April 29. The law took effect immediately after it was signed.

GRADE: F. This bill should not have been introduced in the first place. Everything about it stands against the foundation of this country — free choice and free enterprise. There is no need to legislate against something until you have a legitimate reason to do so.



WHAT IT'S ABOUT: State board of education governance. Adds a statement of legislative intent regarding the roles of the general assembly, the state board of education (state board), and the department of education (department) relating to education. Makes changes, beginning June 1, 2015, to the composition of the state board. Provides that the state board may hire staff and administrative support. Provides that, after December 31, 2016, the state board shall elect a chairperson annually from the members of the state board. Provides that the state board shall, after June 30, 2015, elect a vice chairperson annually from the members of the state board. Provides that at least eight of the members of the state board appointed by the governor must have professional experience in the field of education. Provides that the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the senate shall each appoint one member to the state board. Provides that a state board member serves a four-year term. Provides that the state board and the department are considered state educational authorities within the meaning of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Requires the chairperson to provide notice of a state board meeting on the state board's and the department of education's Internet web sites at least five days before the meeting.

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Authored by Sens. Travis Holdeman (R-Markle) and Brandt Hershman (R–Buck Creek), this bill was urged by Gov. Pence and every Republican still pissed that a Democrat won the Superintendent of Public Instruction's office in 2012.

WHY IT SUCKS: "If you can't beat 'em, change the rules until you win" is the mantra behind this bill. Since January 2013, it has been no secret that Glenda Ritz as state schools superintendent and Gov. Pence, through the State Board of Education comprised of members he appointed, have been at odds with each other over education policy for this state. His first attempt to change the rules was through the creation of the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI). Although billed to Hoosiers as something different, CECI was in direct conflict and competition with the state Dept. of Education. Both groups were tasked with working with the state education board, but somehow CECI got all of the positive reinforcement and the DOE was treated like the red-headed stepchild. Conflicts between the state board and Ritz, who by the nature of her elected title was also the chair of the state education board, continued to arise and make headlines. Outraged by the media embarrassment, Republicans vowed to make it right – by taking away the voice of the people who elected Ritz to do a job and instead redefining that job through law. Democrats thought this was the fuel they would carry into 2016 as a reason for change — but that was before RFRA came along. (RFRA also redefined media embarrassment like Crocodile Dundee redefined a "knife" in 1986.)

By removing Ritz, or the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, as the automatic chair of the State Board of Education, lawmakers have taken away the meaning of the electorate's vote for that office. The influence of her office is further removed by allowing the state education board to hire its own staff and administrative support instead of using the existing resources from the Department of Education, which is another waste of tax dollars.

WHERE IT STANDS: The final bill passed the House 60-38 and the Senate 31-17 with a handful of Republicans in each chamber joining Democrats in opposition. Pence encouraged the action when he disbanded the CECI last year and is expected to sign it. The provision regarding Ritz will take effect January 1, 2017, following the 2016 elections. The staff and administrative support takes effect June 1. The new vice-chair position and new board appointments take effect July 1, 2015.

GRADE: D-. The State Board of Education may benefit from a shake-up in its structure as far as the number of board members and the origins of their appointments, but nothing else about this bill is about moving education in a positive direction. It was all about politics.

BILL: ???? {The bill that was never filed}

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A repeal of Indiana Code 31-11-1-1 (same-sex marriage ban)

WHO'S BEHIND IT: No one. That was the problem.

WHY IT SUCKS: Indiana Code 31-11-1-1 is the statute that prohibits same-sex marriages in Indiana. However, the law was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The law was voided by a court order and marriage equality was in fact achieved in Indiana. So why didn't anyone think to submit a bill or resolution to repeal the law? Indiana Code should reflect what is legal and valid in the state of Indiana.

WHERE IT STANDS: An interim summer study committee was created to look at all errors and invalid laws currently on the books. The committee is scheduled to report back at the end of this summer. The ACLU of Indiana says the argument is over in Indiana despite the U.S. Supreme Court's current deliberations following oral arguments on marriage equality from the cases in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Conservative leaders have been quiet about whether or not they would re-address the issue in Indiana depending on the high court's decision, expected in June. Hopefully the U.S. Supreme Court's decision will erase Indiana Code 31-11-1-1 once and for all.

GRADE: D. Talk about missing low-hanging fruit. AND if the bill had been submitted, it would have been the perfect place to add an amendment to strengthen the state's civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.


BILL: HEA 1019

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Repeals the common construction wage statute. Repeals related statutes superseded by the repeal of the common construction wage statute. Increases the "small project" cap for a public works project from $150,000 to $300,000. Unless required by federal or state law, prohibits a public agency from establishing, mandating, or otherwise requiring a wage scale or wage schedule for a public works project.

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Although repealing the common construction wage was not a formal part of Gov. Pence's agenda, he did push for it with the support of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, which is a euphemism for the Koch brothers.

WHY IT SUCKS: It is a bona fide play out of the Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's playbook on how to deconstruct unions in your state. The common construction wage in its 1935 inception, was originally designed to shuffle government construction contracts to Indiana companies who were losing work to out-of-state companies thanks to horribly low bids and crappy work. It paved the way for strong apprenticeships and solid training through unions for an educated workforce. It also gave local communities a direct voice in how their local tax dollars were spent. Local boards sat down with construction companies and worked out the details of a wage scale and schedule for their local public works projects. Local units of government knew exactly what they were getting and what they were paying for. The repeal takes that power away and creates a veil blocking transparency. Instead of using trained electricians from the local IBEW, what's to stop a construction company from hiring a couple of guys they found buying couplings at the nearby Menards? It's one thing to replace an outlet in your own home after reading a do-it-yourself book you checked out of a library. However as a taxpayer, I'm comfortable with my money going to pay an electrician who has trained and apprenticed and is the best at his or her job, even if it costs a little more.

WHERE IT STANDS: The bill was one of just a few that split the supermajority pitting Republicans against each other. The House passed the measure 54-40. The Senate passed it 27-22. Gov. Pence is expected to sign it. Takes effect July 1, 2015.

GRADE: F. There was nothing broken and nothing to fix.


WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Integrated resource plans and energy efficiency. Requires a public utility to submit an integrated resource plan to the utility regulatory commission (IURC). Requires certain electricity suppliers to submit an energy efficiency plan to the IURC at least one time every three years. Provides that evaluation, measurement, and verification procedures required to be included in an electricity supplier's energy efficiency plan must include independent evaluation, measurement, and verification. Provides that the IURC may not require a third party administrator to implement an electricity supplier's energy efficiency program or plan. Provides that if the IURC finds an electricity supplier's energy efficiency plan to be reasonable, the IURC shall allow the electricity supplier to recover or receive certain energy efficiency program costs. Provides that a retail rate adjustment mechanism proposed by an electricity supplier to recover program costs may be based on a reasonable forecast. Provides that if forecasted data is used, the retail rate adjustment mechanism must include a reconciliation mechanism to correct for any variance between forecasted and actual program costs. Specifies that an industrial customer's previous opt out of an energy efficiency program of an electricity supplier constitutes an opt out of an energy efficiency program that is part of the electricity supplier's required energy efficiency plan.

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Although authored by Sens. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) and Randy Head (R-Logansport), the bill was a part of Gov. Pence's agenda. It is the result of his promise to replace the Energizing Indiana plan after supporting its demise in the 2014 legislative session.

WHY IT SUCKS: The Energizing Indiana plan, a plan developed by the Daniels administration, was a great plan that was supported my numerous environmental groups. It put energy efficiency directly into the hands of consumers enabling them to determine their own savings through education. This new plan puts the creation and implementation of energy efficiency plans into the hands of power companies. I've been racking my brain to figure out how this plan is supposed to achieve energy conservation and cost savings for consumers. When your business model is all about providing energy to the masses at a cost that will turn a profit for your stockholders, I just don't see how the creation of a plan that encourages your customer base to use less of your product with no incentive to do so is going to achieve the desired goal. In fact, I can't seem to determine what the goal even is. The objective of Energizing Indiana was simple and the measurements of achievement were tangible. All plans must to be approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, yet there is no incentive for plans to be submitted and no penalty if companies fail to submit plans. According to the Sierra Club, Indiana homes waste more energy than homes in neighboring states like Michigan and Illinois. This results in higher energy bills for Hoosiers despite the fact that the cost of energy in Indiana is lower. "We need to stop wasting energy and save money for hard-working Hoosiers, so they can keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets," said Jodi Perras, Indiana Representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "Hoosiers deserve to be free from utility control over their wallets. We can lower energy bills with strong energy efficiency goals and accountability."

WHERE IT STANDS: The bill passed along party lines in the Senate 38-10 and in the House 72-26. Pence is expected to sign it. Once signed, the law takes effect immediately.

GRADE: F. This legislation completely missed the point of the assignment. It's like asking a drug dealer to staple rehab flyers to dimebags.



WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides a procedure for remedying a violation. Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law. Prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer.

WHO'S BEHIND IT: The "religious" right, the Koch brothers, those who were angry as hell when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the same sex marriage case in Indiana, etc.. Although Sens. Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis), Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) and Brent Steele (R-Bedford) authored the legislation, it was championed by groups who didn't "win" the marriage equality debate.

WHY IT SUCKS: As soon it was reported the bill would be written, the ACLU of Indiana began talking about the discriminatory implications of the bill. The lack of protections for the LGBTQ community in state statute put gays and lesbians at risk for discrimination. And there was no question that discrimination was the intent of the bill when Advance America listed that as a benefit of the bill on its website multiple times. Why did Freedom Indiana say it was a license for a business, like a bakery, to deny services to a gay or lesbian couple? Because not only had it actually happened before, Advance America said on its website RFRA would allow it to happen again! While it was mentioned several times during debate of the bill that the federal RFRA did not apply to states as written, the need for the bill at the state level was never distinctly proven. There wasn't a single case in Indiana that supporters could point to where someone's religious freedom had been compromised. All case studies that were presented in argument were cases outside of Indiana that had been corrected or properly defended by the federal law. So we got a needless bill that pissed off a LOT of people — with good reason.

WHERE IT STANDS: SEA 101 took effect immediately after Gov. Pence signed it March 26. The firestorm of "WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO?" also immediately took effect.

GRADE: F. Really it should be an E-F for "epic fail" but for some reason the E was dropped from the A-F grading system. It certainly can't be an E for effort, unless the intended effort was to increase the social and political divide in the state. That effort was certainly accomplished.


WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Anti-discrimination safeguards, also known as "the fix." Indicates that the law related to adjudicating a claim or defense that a state or local law, ordinance, or other action substantially burdens the exercise of religion of a person (SEA 101): (1) does not authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public; (2) does not establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public; and (3) does not negate any rights available under the Constitution of the State of Indiana. Defines the term provider.


WHO'S BEHIND IT: House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and Senate Pro Temp David Long (R-Fort Wayne) were backed into a corner by those who saw the discriminatory practices that were possible in the state's version of RFRA. So without the help of their Democratic counterparts, the Republican leaders reached out to business leaders to help come up with a fix.

WHY IT SUCKS: This "fix" is cosmetic at its core. The language used is a set of smoke and mirrors designed to help the state "save face" in the midst of the national public outcry that cost millions in lost jobs, business and tourism dollars. Think of this legislation as a battered wife putting concealer over a black eye before heading off to work. The bruise isn't seen but the damage is still there. The law says that religious freedom cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against anyone covered by local or state statute as a protected class. For our LGBTQ friends and loved ones in about 12 Indiana communities that have civil rights law listing sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, that is good. State law cannot trump those local ordinances. However, sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes statewide. Democrats in both chambers tried to correct that oversight in the Indiana Code by offering amendments to this and several other bills only to be cast aside by the super majority. There is one positive thing that this legislation has done. It has ignited a movement on both sides of the issue. Equality groups like Freedom Indiana and the ACLU of Indiana have already pledged to make an overhaul of the state's civil rights laws a priority for the next legislative session. In closing statements at the end of the legislative session, Senate Democratic leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) and House Democratic leader Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) both said adding those protections to the state's civil rights laws will be their number one priority in the 2016 legislative session.

Ministers who supported the RFRA in its original form have since protested the actions of the governor and the Republican leadership, claiming the fix betrays their interests and weakens RFRA. Interestingly enough, both sides have pledged to "vote the bums out" in the 2016 elections. That is kind of funny considering the original bill proposed under number 50 was a change in who could challenge the eligibility of a candidate.

WHERE IT STANDS: The "fix" bill passed the House 66-30 and the Senate 34-16. Took effect immediately after passage.

GRADE: D. The D stands for "didn't really do anything".

BILL: HEA 1001

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: State biennial budget

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Dr. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, have the unfortunate task of drafting the budget. However the components of the education funding, which accounts for more than half of the budget, can be placed at the feet of all of the Republican Party leaders.

WHY IT SUCKS: The task of determining how to spend millions of dollars in taxpayer funding is not an easy lift. The education funding formula for schools has been the stuff Harvard mathematicians could spend years studying for the next great doctoral thesis. House Speaker Brian Bosma pledged at the beginning of the session to simplify the formula. This was supposed to be the year for education. But when you boil it down, taking money away from school systems that need it and re-directing that money to schools already rich with resources says "EPIC FAIL." Fundamentally, the formula puts a price tag on each student to pay for the cost of educating him or her for that year. In the eyes of the government, every student is valued the same. However, teachers, principals, superintendents and school districts know that each student doesn't spend the same amount in resources. Some students cost a lot more to educate than others. So the resources to educate those students cost more. School districts that lose students also lose the money that goes with them. Growing suburban school districts like Hamilton Southeastern stand to gain a lot more in state funding compared to urban school districts like Indianapolis Public Schools. Economists and public policy analysts have said that a community is only as strong as its school district. Weak school districts create weak communities which prevents families from wanting live there which creates fewer students to attend the school districts resulting in less funding and so on and so on. The Catch-22 is a swirling vortex of doom for schools that are often tasked with educating the students in the most need.

WHERE IT STANDS: The budget is the only thing the legislature was required to do in this legislative session. The disparity in the education funding caused it to pass along party lines. The House passed it 69-30. The Senate passed it 40-9. The Governor will sign it and it will take effect July 1, 2015.

GRADE: C-. It's a budget, but not a great one and children in Indiana will suffer because of it in certain school districts.

Not all of the laws passed in this legislative session were bad.

There were a few A+ bills:

HEA 1053 – Any combination of a microbrewery, winery and artisan distillery that occupy the same building can now sell the beer, wine and liquor from the same service bar by the glass without separating the service.

SEA 297 – Small beer brewers can now manufacture up to 90,000 barrels per calendar year for sale or distribution. (Previously they were limited to 30,000 barrels.)

SEA 420 – We officially should use the term "intellectual disability" instead of the more insulting term "mental retardation."


News Editor

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