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Monday, May 27, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - Commentary on legislative summer study committees

Updating this ILB entry and this one, both from May 23rd, here are two interesting commentaries.

The first is Lesley Weidenbener's column in the Sunday Louisville Courier Journal, headed "Indiana lawmakers should take summer studies seriously." A few quotes:

Issues often go to study committees because the questions seem too tough to tackle in the deadline-driven atmosphere of a legislative session. Study committee topics are often complicated and controversial.

The goal is — or should be — to conduct a thorough and fair study of an issue so the group can make thoughtful recommendations for lawmakers to consider when they return to the Statehouse for a legislative session.

But sometimes, that’s just not the case. The testimony at study committee meetings is too often just a replay of information that was considered months before during a session. Some groups do little “studying” and, frankly, lawmakers often don’t have the staff to do anything more in depth.

These kinds of cursory glances do little to advance legislative knowledge of issues.

Of course, that’s not always the case. Some committees do exceptional work on difficult issues and make recommendations that improve the legislative process.

The column then discusses two interim committees last summer that were the exception, and then concludes:
It would be great for Hoosiers if all committees took their jobs so seriously –especially this year as lawmakers examine some important issues.

They’re slated to take on problems with ISTEP, the state’s standardized testing program, and consider whether to keep implementing Common Core, a set of curriculum standards meant to unify education across states.

Committees will be considering mass transit for Central Indiana, how to pay for changes to the state’s felony sentencing laws, and whether every school should be required to have a staff person onsite with a gun.

Fortunately, legislative leaders have given study committees freedom this year to meet more often, even though that costs more. It’s a smart move. These issues are too important to short change.

Tom LoBianco of the AP writes today:
The summer after the 2011 session was dominated by highly partisan and divisive hearings on the right-to-work ban on union fees, replete with daylong hearings and hundreds of chanting union protesters. Not surprisingly, the right-to-work battle overshadowed the 2012 session. Last summer was dominated by lengthy, involved and bipartisan efforts to respond to troubles at the Department of Child Services. The resulting answers, including money to hire new caseworkers and changes to the centralized hotline system, were approved this year.

The growing interest in summer study committees, and their potential power, has leaders on the General Assembly's Legislative Council pondering how to balance the many requests against the constraints of lawmakers who meet in Indianapolis a few months out of each year. The council sets the schedule for study committees.

"This year there were more required studies than I can ever remember in my 18 years on legislative council, statutorily-required 'We must study this'" studies, said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. The greater number of mandatory hearings could become the subject of new limits in legislation itself next year, Bosma said, noting that he might seek the use of more routine, standing committees each summer instead of establishing a new committee for each issue.

The agenda for this summer was already largely well-known by the end of the 2013 session last month. Tough questions about implementing national Common Core education standards, raising taxes to pay for transit in central Indiana and others were all "sent to study," as they say around the Statehouse, instead of being decided on immediately.

But a few important issues were added to the roster only recently.

The high-profile arrests last week of Indianapolis civic leaders and public officials accused of flipping vacant homes for personal profit through the city's land bank program spurred Bosma and others to request a review of land bank programs statewide. And an investigation by The Indianapolis Star into problems with how casino money was used on economic development projects, including the failed Carbon Motors project in Connersville, will likely be plumbed by the Legislature's tax and fiscal policy study panel, Bosma said.

It's unlikely that any issue will draw quite the amount of protest and rancor that the right-to-work hearings did in 2011. But the inquiry into problems with the online portion of this year's high-stakes ISTEP+ online test is already looking to be the highest-profile review. Testing was disrupted for two days across the state as computer screens froze and students were forced to log in repeatedly. Some districts, including Fort Wayne Community Schools, have said they won't accept the results of the scores, which determine student performance, school rankings and teacher merit pay, without a review by an independent third party.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 27, 2013 04:03 PM
Posted to Indiana Government