Category Archives: Local Government

Inexcusable

Policy debates are rarely one-sided. Even when I feel strongly that side A is obviously, clearly, self-evidently the right way to go, I know deep down that sides B and C have their points too. And as I tell my students, cases don’t get to the Supreme Court unless there are at least two sides (often more) to the issue.

But every rule has its exception, and the Indiana General Assembly periodically refuses to take an action that is self-evidently, obviously right. As Indiana Public Media has reported,

House Republicans this week voted down Democrats’ attempts to help ensure Indiana’s voting machines are more secure in the 2020 election.

More than half of Indiana’s 92 counties have voting machines without a paper backup. Election security experts say those backups are critical to electoral integrity.

The General Assembly budgeted $10 million last year to help upgrade. But that amount only covers about 10 percent of the machines that need it. And they plan to get to the rest of them by 2030.

Really? By 2030? How helpful!

Rep. Carey Hamilton (D-Indianapolis) says waiting 10 years to fully upgrade the machines is a mistake.

“Providing secure elections based on the best available technology that we know exists, that we know the Secretary [of State] could utilize in an efficient way before November elections is the right thing for us to do,” Hamilton says.

According to WFYI, Secretary of State Connie Lawson (a Republican, it should be noted) had asked the legislature for additional funds, but had been rebuffed

Lawson says she initially asked budget writers for more money.

“But they told us to get real,” Lawson says. “So, we got real and we tried to hone it down to where it was possible to get the dollars.”

Get real? “Real” is something our lawmakers know very little about–or choose to ignore.

What is “real” is the importance of public confidence in the integrity of the vote. What is “real” is the significant decline in the public’s trust in government. What is “real” is the growing cynicism and anger fed by blatant gerrymandering and multiple, visible Republican vote suppression efforts around the country.

Here in Indiana, what is also “real” is the legislature’s animus toward urban counties, and lawmakers’ continuing efforts to privilege both rural Hoosiers and the deep pockets of their contributors, constituencies that just happen to favor Republicans. (How else can we interpret efforts this session to protect coal and landlords, and to sabotage public transportation?)

Donald Trump may insist that American Intelligence operatives who continue to warn about Russian interference with our elections are part of some “deep state hoax,” but rational people know that those who work for our Intelligence agencies are far more credible than the buffoon who stands to benefit from that interference. Ensuring that our voting machines are tamper-proof, providing a paper trail, and taking other precautions against threatened interference (or for that matter, domestic game-playing and/or malfunction) is simply common sense.

Granted, common sense has never been the most obvious attribute of Indiana’s General Assembly.

If there is “another side” to providing proper election security, I don’t know what it is.

 

 

Games Indiana’s GOP Plays…

Oh, Indiana!

Ours is a state so gerrymandered that control of our legislature remains firmly in the hands of a Republican super-majority. To say that the lack of competition has given us state lawmakers who reflect the party’s ideological extremes would be an understatement.

So what is the “World’s Worst Legislature” (h/t to the late Harrison Ullmann) doing this year?

Well, our lawmakers are no longer trying to change the value of Pi, which I suppose is progress of a sort. What they are trying to do is keep Indiana utilities from phasing out their dependence upon coal;  persisting in their efforts to elevate the rights of fertilized eggs over the rights of women; refusing to fund election security measures; and demonstrating their ignorance of the separation of powers.

There has been a bill protecting religious mental health workers who deny emergency assistance to those they consider “sinners” and another prohibiting athletes who were born male from competing against cis women in sports. Another “protective” measure would prevent employers from implanting chips in their workers (a practice not currently occurring in the state, but hey! It might happen, so let’s talk about that rather than the very real problems we face.)

The majority is also moving new legislation to create a “cross-check” bill to facilitate the purging of (certain) voters, after a previous effort to do so was struck down by the courts as blatantly unconstitutional.

And of course our legislators are continuing to divert resources from the state’s public education system in order to prop up the religious institutions that make up some 95% of “voucher” schools.

But absolutely the most consistent legislative behavior, year after year, is the General Assembly’s adamant refusal to allow cities and towns to do–well, pretty much anything— unless and until their overlords in the legislature deign to give local elected officials their official blessing. (Especially Indianapolis, which the Republicans who represent mostly rural districts irrationally resent.) It took three sessions for Indianapolis to get permission to hold a referendum on whether to tax ourselves to improve public transit, and then only on condition that we not include light rail. Why no light rail? Who knows? And this session, legislators continue to offer roadblocks to planned expansion of the city’s rapid transit lines.

The most recent–and arguably this session’s most egregious–example is the legislature’s move to foreclose Indianapolis’ effort to protect tenants from landlord abuses. Even the Indianapolis Star was offended.

Mayor Joe Hogsett’s proposal to provide more protections to Indianapolis renters now faces an uncertain future.

Indiana lawmakers added language to a bill Monday that would prevent any city from regulating landlord-tenant relations without approval by the General Assembly, including at least two key items in Hogsett’s proposal: requiring landlords to notify renters of their rights and responsibilities, and fining landlords who retaliate against renters for reporting problematic housing.

Senate Bill 340 initially moved through the Indiana Senate as a bill addressing laws about condemned properties. An amendment added at the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee, though, would undercut a legislative priority of Hogsett, a Democrat, now in his second term as Indianapolis mayor.

The Hogsett administration saw its proposal as a way to balance the scales against unscrupulous landlords, many out of state, who take advantage of lax government oversight in Indiana to prey on desperate renters.

Any lawyer who has practiced real estate law in Indiana– I am one–is aware that Indiana law is heavily weighted in favor of landlords. (I’m sure this favoritism has nothing to do with the fact that the tenants who are disadvantaged by our legal framework are far less likely to be political contributors than their landlords.)

When this year’s (mercifully short) session comes to an end, we’ll see what passed and what didn’t. But one thing we can predict with confidence: local jurisdictions still won’t have anything that looks remotely like home rule.

 

Lies, Damned Lies and Sanctuary Cities

A week or so ago, a commenter to this blog asked for an explanation of Sanctuary Cities and States. The question was understandable, because the Trump Administration–beginning back when Jeff Sessions was Attorney General– has consistently misrepresented the issues involved.

Anti-immigration activists and apologists for the administration insist that “sanctuary” cities and states are places where the rule of law has been suspended — places where evil Democratic-controlled governments have formed alliances with “open borders radicals” (as Sessions once put it) to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from arresting unauthorized immigrants even when they’ve been convicted of crimes.

Back when Sessions was threatening to withhold federal grants from cities and states that dared to declare themselves Sanctuaries, Vox did one of its “explainer” columns, in an effort to dispel misunderstandings on both sides of the political divide with what it termed “the wonky truth.”

The federal government has spent the past 20 years using local government (especially law enforcement) as a force multiplier to help it find, arrest, and deport immigrants more efficiently — and for almost as long, progressives have been trying to reassert local autonomy. At this point, the line between “obstructing” federal law enforcement and simply deciding not to help isn’t as clear as one might expect.

In the courtroom, the fight over sanctuary cities is narrow and technical. Outside the courtroom, it’s a culture war.

One of the problems is that–as the article points out–“Sanctuary city” is not an official government term. In fact, it has no legal meaning.

Lots of people use the unofficial term “sanctuary city” to refer to local jurisdictions (not just cities but counties and sometimes states) that don’t fully cooperate with federal efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants. If that sounds vague, that’s because it is, and it gets at the tension between federal policy and local law enforcement generally used to carry out those laws.

One reason for the confusion is that local police departments aren’t legally required to assist the federal government with just any policy the federal government might want to enforce. In 1997, in Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court confirmed that the federal government “may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the State’s officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.”

Immigration law is federal law. Not only is immigration enforcement not a local law enforcement priority–as the article points out, local police don’t usually get involved with the enforcement of, say, federal tax law either–most police chiefs argue that helping apprehend otherwise law-abiding immigrants is a “net negative” for local law enforcement, because it makes immigrant communities leery of police and less likely to report crimes or cooperate with investigations.

So exactly how much assistance local governments should provide in immigration enforcement is an ongoing fight. At heart, it’s been a policy fight over what local governments should do. But under the Trump administration, in particular, it’s taken on the color of law: the idea that cities are refusing to do something they’re obligated to do.

The Trump administration alleges that local ordinances or state laws that bar the sharing of information about immigrants — like California’s SB 54, which prevents jail officials from telling ICE when a prisoner will be released (in many cases) unless ICE has a warrant signed by a judge — violate the federal law. Cities and states that have passed such policies, however, argue that sharing information about when someone will be released from jail or prison is different from sharing information about their immigration status, so it’s legal for the state to put restrictions on the former.

Whatever the technical legal arguments, the real fight over sanctuary cities or states is political and cultural. As the Vox article notes, in the aftermath of Trump’s election, a number of mayors signaled their “resistance” by declaring themselves sanctuary cities. It was also a way to reassure immigrant residents that while Trump might be making them feel unwelcome in red America, they would always be welcome in America’s (almost all blue) cities.

In response, Republicans have continued to stoke fears with dishonest rhetoric about those “criminal immigrants” and blaming cities and states controlled by Democrats.

Today’s Republicans are waging war with anyone who is  “other.” Meaning anyone who isn’t a white Christian native-born male.  They’re just reluctant to put it that baldly, so they settle for exaggeration and confusion.

 

 

They Don’t Even Want To Hear It…

In the U.S. Senate, Republicans are repeating a line made infamous by Indiana’s own Earl Landgrebe during the Nixon Impeachment: My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.

Landgrebe’s line also describes the current Indiana GOP, which has declined to hear any debate about a good government measure offered by Rep. Ed Delaney as an amendment to House Bill 1414. (Regular readers will recall my post on this effort to tell Indiana’s utilities that they won’t be permitted to go ahead with their plans to close down their inefficient, costly and carbon-producing coal plants unless the EPA has mandated the closure.)

After noting that what he termed HB 1414’s “coal bailout” would raise the cost of electricity for Hoosiers and worsen the air quality in the state, Delaney proposed an amendment that would make it a Level 6 felony for a coal interest or person who has a vested interest in coal to make a contribution to a political candidate or committee.

“I’ve grown concerned about the growing distrust Hoosiers have in our political system,” DeLaney added.

“If the state is going to subsidize an industry at the expense of taxpayers, lawmakers should not be allowed to take political contributions from that industry. Special interests shouldn’t be influencing such impactful legislation. The amendment I offered today would’ve held the coal industry to the same standards as casinos who can’t contribute to political campaigns. I am concerned to restore a greater sense of trust between Hoosiers and their legislators.”

The amendment was blocked from debate on the House floor by House Republicans.

At all levels of government, when Republicans have the power to do so, they block efforts to conduct the sorts of full and fair explorations that would be likely to  inform the public but would be politically detrimental to the GOP.

If the facts make them look bad, they simply refuse to allow discussion of those facts.

In the case of HB 1414, as I noted previously, the utilities oppose it, environmentalists oppose it, and consumers get screwed by it. Coal companies must therefore depend upon their friends in the legislature to ignore the facts and protect them–and no one is friendlier than a lawmaker who benefits from an industry’s generous campaign contributions.

Representative Delaney’s amendment would remove the impression that coal interests had “purchased” the “friendship” of state legislators. Surely, if the impression is incorrect or unfair, lawmakers would be delighted to publicly debate it and pass it.

In Washington, they’re following in Earl Landgrebe’s footsteps. Despite taking an oath to act as impartial jurors, they are prepared to exercise raw power to prevent testimony that would confirm the accuracy of what they already know, because that testimony would be further evidence that they value party and power more than country or integrity.

The Republican super-majority in Indiana has declined even to debate the propriety of a rule against legislative bribery, presumably because citizens who followed such a debate (few as they are likely to be in the absence of local journalism) would see them protecting their ability to raise money from industries they subsidize.

Talk about a quid pro quo…

 

Thank God It’s A Short Session…..

Yesterday, I posted about one of the more odious bills being considered by Indiana’s legislature.

It’s just one example of why I always get an uneasy feeling when Indiana’s General Assembly is in session. Indiana’s legislators are an unpredictable mix; there are some thoughtful people who can genuinely be characterized as public servants, and then there are the others–religious zealots, wheeler-dealers, and a collection of rabid partisans for whom politics is a sport and their only loyalty is to their team.

This year, the legislature meets for its 60-day short session. (In Indiana, regular and short sessions alternate.) The fact that time to consider bills is limited, however, doesn’t prevent our culture warriors from introducing divisive and/or ridiculous proposals, which is one reason why Harrison Ullmann, the now-deceased editor of NUVO, our local alternative paper, always referred to Indiana’s General Assembly as “the World’s Worst Legislature.”

It isn’t just Rep. Soliday’s proposed gift to coal companies. A week or so ago, I posted about a bill authored by one Representative Curt Nisly–in addition to prohibiting all abortions, the bill presumed to forbid the courts to declare the measure unconstitutional or the executive branch to enforce any such court decisions if made. While I grant that the degree of constitutional ignorance displayed by that measure puts Nisly in a class of his own, plenty of other bills  demonstrate the often bizarre, corrupt and/or inhumane priorities of too many Indiana lawmakers.

In the “bizarre” category, the Northwest Indiana Times reports, tongue firmly in cheek:

The Indiana House is poised to vote Tuesday on what may be the most significant piece of pro-worker legislation since Republicans took majority control of the chamber in 2011.

It’s not an increase in the state’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage, unchanged since 2009. It’s not a requirement that businesses provide employees with their work schedules a week in advance. And it certainly won’t make it easier for workers to organize into unions and collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

Instead, House Bill 1143 would expressly prohibit an employer from requiring an employee, or a job candidate, to have an identification or tracking device implanted in their body as a condition of employment.

According to the Legislative Services Agency, there are currently no employers in the U.S. requiring such implantation. But hey–it might happen. You never know…

The ACLU of Indiana has a list of pending bills that threaten civil liberties, including one that Doug Masson analyzes at Masson’s Blog prohibiting persons born biologically male from competing in school sports contests against females. As he concludes:

As far as I can tell, this legislation isn’t so much an effort to address a real problem as it is simply a vehicle for expressing unhappiness that society is increasingly recognizing that gender identity is not perfectly correlated with biological sex.

Indiana’s lawmakers tend to be fixated on issues around sex and sexuality. Case in point is a measure that definitely belongs in the “inhumane” category: Indiana Senate Bill 300. This effort to allow discrimination in the service of (certain people’s) religion would allow mental health professionals to turn away clients seeking emergency services for suicide prevention and emergency interventions, “on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, those who have received reproductive services, those who are divorced, etc.”

Ironically titled “Conscience protection for mental health providers” the measure would prohibit a hospital or other employer from discriminating against or disciplining such a professional because of the “sincerely held ethical, moral, or religious belief” that impelled that “professional” (note quotation marks) to withhold emergency assistance to desperate people of whom he or she “sincerely” disapproves.

Indiana’s public schools are underfunded. Our teachers are underpaid. Indiana’s infrastructure is crumbling. Hoosiers are embarrassingly unhealthy. The opiod epidemic has been brutal here. I could go on and on.

But thanks primarily to gerrymandering, those issues get short shrift. The bills referenced above are a very small sample of the damaging nonsense that our legislators prefer to address, and that we Hoosiers have come to expect.

At least it’s a short session….