News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 6, 2013

EDITORIAL: No diversions, please

Legislative session needs to stay on task

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Time will be wasted in the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly. Count on it.

Acknowledging that political inevitability, Hoosiers should implore new Gov. Mike Pence and the leaders of the Legislature to resist the temptation of using their Republican Party dominance in the Statehouse to fritter away precious hours, days and weeks on detrimental and unnecessary bills. Only Pence, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long can apply boundaries of reason on their party cohorts in those two chambers of government. Republicans hold super majorities in both bodies, meaning there are not enough Democrats to counter-balance and block extremist legislation.

Pence has stated that he is focused on taxes, education and jobs. Likewise, Bosma told the Indianapolis Star that House Republicans “all understand our focus. … We’re going to focus on what’s important: budget integrity, job creation and improving education.”

What an excellent agenda. Lawmakers should roll up their sleeves and get to work on those topics when the session begins this week.

Instead, some state reps and senators will muddy the process with headline-grabbing, primary-election-posturing bills related to social issues that involve never-ending debates, bitter division and no possibility for resolution. At best, those gestures — from amending the Indiana constitution to ban same-sex marriage to allowing public school districts to require recitation of one religion’s prayers — give the state the image to citizens, visitors and prospective residents and employers as an unwelcoming place. At worst, pursuit of such bills sinks the Legislature into that mud, letting its wheels spin instead of progressing toward meaningful action.

A prime example is last week’s news that state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, has filed a bill permitting school districts to require students to recite The Lord’s Prayer, though individuals could opt not to participate. Long, the Senate leader, wisely assigned Kruse’s bill to the body’s rules and legislative procedure committee, which the Star called “often a burial ground for bills.” Long said he suspected the bill “was probably unconstitutional” and the Senate legal staff termed it, in Long’s words, “a clear violation of the interpretation of the First Amendment by the United States Supreme Court.”

Kruse acknowledged he sought the bill “to make a statement, not expecting a hearing.”

“Statements” regarding the value and importance of religious faith are already well-spoken by clergy, lay people, parents and mentors throughout every Indiana community. Legislation cannot improve upon those freely given testimonies, which also validate the First Amendment.

Pence, Bosma and Long need to keep their colleagues on task. They could spend the entire session crafting a plan to publicly fund preschool programs for needy kids, just as many educators and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce have recommended. If they tackled that more quickly than expected, they could use any leftover time building a new state-supported research institute, just as Pence and the Chamber have proposed, or making college more affordable in a state with a per-capita income 14 percent below the national level.

Last month, state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, filed a bill to prevent the Indiana Economic Development Corporation — a quasi-state agency handling public-funded tax incentives — from keeping secret the actual number of jobs created by firms receiving those incentives. As Delph told Indianapolis TV station WTHR, “The bottom line is, people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.”

Right on, Senator. Tax integrity. Jobs. Educating the public. Those should be the bullet points of the 2013 session, ladies and gentlemen of the Legislature. Now, get busy.