Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Ind. Gov't. - First half of legislative session drawing to a close
Both the Senate and House convene this morning to act on the bills remaining on their 3rd reading calendars. Here is the House calendar; the Wednesday Senate calendar is not available yet, but will be here.
Here are some news reports of action this week:
- "Balanced budget measure advances" - Niki Kelly, FWJG:
By a vote of 47-3, the Indiana Senate on Tuesday passed [SJR 19,] a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
The vote is the first in a long journey to amend Indiana’s Constitution. The measure next moves to the House. If the House approves, it would need to pass the General Assembly again in 2017 before going to the public for a vote in 2018.
All area senators supported the measure.
The change is sought by Gov. Mike Pence, who said Indiana is one of only a few states without a constitutional balanced budget requirement.
Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said lawmakers have always interpreted an existing provision in the Indiana Constitution as a ban on debt. But he conceded after doing research that the provision is not explicit.
“We drafted language to prevent some of the games played in other states,” he said.
But the amendment provides an “escape hatch” if the economy falters; the legislature could waive the requirement during an emergency with approval by two-thirds of the lawmakers in the House and Senate.
- "Senate passes ‘religious freedom’ bill" - Tony Cook, Star
- "Religious freedom bill passes Senate" - Niki Kelly, FWJG:
“You don’t have to look too far to find a growing hostility toward people of faith,” said Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis.
He is co-author of Senate Bill 101, which is being carried by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.
Kruse called it a good piece of legislation that simply mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The law says a state or local government action cannot substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion.
But it isn’t an automatic win for someone who would sue under the statute.
A judge would still have to determine that the action was essential to a compelling government interest and it was achieved in the least restrictive way.
But Democrats believe the law can be used to discriminate against Hoosiers – especially gays and lesbians who aren’t protected by state anti-discrimination laws.
Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, also pointed out the bill expands the federal law to cover businesses – not just individuals.
It now moves to the House for consideration. House Speaker Brian Bosma has been coy on the topic, saying he needs to delve into the issue soon.
Kruse has said the effort is not in reaction to legalized gay marriage in Indiana but instead to the federal Hobby Lobby case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the government could not force the company to offer insurance coverage for certain contraceptive methods that go against its religious beliefs.
The federal law has been on the books since 1993, but it doesn’t apply to states. * * *
One major concern is whether a business may deny services to someone because of race, gender, disability, religion or other reason.
Sexual orientation is not a protected class, but 12 Indiana cities, including Fort Wayne, have human rights ordinances that protect gays.
These local laws generally – with some slight differences – say a business can’t discriminate in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Opponents believe the state law will trump these local protections. Republicans turned back an attempt Monday to ensure that local human rights ordinances would not be affected.
- "House says not so fast to speed cameras" - Dan Carden, NWI Times
- "Sunday alcohol bill meets a familiar fate" - Tony Cook, Star:
Supporters of Sunday carryout alcohol sales — who have fought in vain for years to overturn the Prohibition-era ban — had a lot of reasons to be optimistic this year.
As the 2015 legislative session ramped up, leaders in the House expressed unprecedented support for the idea. Corporate powerhouses such as Kroger and Wal-Mart threw in lobbying power. And a new coalition called Hoosiers for Sunday Sales hired a top-notch campaign manager to spearhead a grass-rootseffort.
But after more than two months of intense lobbying by liquor stores, which oppose the measure, the bill evolved into a collection of stringent new restrictions on alcohol sales at groceries, drugstores and convenience stores. Big-box retailers — who support Sunday sales — turned on the measure, fearing lost sales and expensive store renovations. As for the top-notch campaign manager, she resigned after being charged with drunken driving.
On Tuesday, the bill met a familiar fate when its author, House Public Policy Chairman Tom Dermody, unceremoniously announced he would not call the measure for a vote.
- "Sunday sales bill dies with no vote" - Niki Kelly, FWJG
- "Surprise battles enliven Indiana's legislative session" - Tom LoBianco, Star:
The 2015 session wasn't supposed to be an all-out blockbuster, with all the acrimonious debate that filled 2014's same-sex marriage fight or 2012's union battle — but at the midpoint, lawmakers are facing down a pair of surprise fights on very similar measures.
A "religious freedom" measure that soared through the Senate this month drew out the same coalition of activists who successfully fought a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage last year. And the surprise arrival of the "common wage" labor battle a little more than a week ago has split the Statehouse along the same lines that punctuated the 2012 "right to work" fight.
Add to that a partisan fight for control of Indiana's State Board of Education, which drew hundreds of teachers and public school activists to the Statehouse, and the 2015 session is shaping up to be as wild as any the state has seen in the past few years.
None of the state leaders started the session with a promise of controversial issues and divisive fights. Instead, Republican leaders, overseeing strengthened supermajorities in the Senate and House, and Gov. Mike Pence promised that education spending, fiscal restraint and ethics reform would dominate the 2015 session.
But long-simmering issues found air this year during the state's "long session." Although gambling expansion was not at the center of anyone's 2015 legislative agenda, the item has occupied more time and effort than most other issues this session. * * *
The midpoint marks a key deadline for House measures to advance to the Senate and vice versa, and it's hardly the end of the session, but it does give a better idea of what will define the 2015 session.
A few surprises have popped up along the way. House Speaker Brian Bosma slapped a lid on a proposal sought by Indiana utilities that had environmentalists and renewable energy company leaders up in arms. He also withdrew a proposal to bring speed cameras to Indiana at the last minute Tuesday evening.
Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 25, 2015 08:32 AM
Posted to Indiana Government