Tag Archives: Indiana General Assembly

What The NRA Hath Wrought…

When I saw this headline, “Owner of stolen handgun not liable for child’s death even when weapon is kept loaded and visible on car seat,” I couldn’t believe a court would rule this way on so obvious a case of negligence.

When I read the article, I understood.

Matthew Kendall, 16, of Huntingburg, died July 22, 2016, after he was shot in the head with a Glock 9 mm handgun that was taken earlier that day by a 15-year-old boy who was showing the weapon to Kendall when it discharged, according to court records.

Kendall’s mother, Shelley Nicholson, sued Christopher Lee, of Huntingburg, seeking damages for negligence in connection with Lee leaving his loaded handgun visible through the windows of Lee’s unlocked and unattended truck.

However, both the Dubois Circuit Court and a unanimous three-judge Court of Appeals panel said Nicholson’s case cannot proceed because Indiana law immunizes gun owners from civil liability for any subsequent use of their stolen firearms.

The court quoted the law as providing immunity from civil liability based on “an act or omission” of the owner, if the weapon was stolen and later used to commit a crime or harm someone.

Judge John Baker, writing for the Court of Appeals, said the plain language of House Enrolled Act 1349 required the court rule in favor of Lee, because regardless of how Lee stores his handgun, if the handgun is stolen, he is statutorily immune from liability for any resulting harm.

The Judge considered himself bound by what he called “the clear intent of the General Assembly,” which was to shield gun owners from liability even in situations like this, when an owner failed to take even the most minimal precautions to safely store his gun.

It’s hard to imagine anything more negligent than leaving a loaded gun on the passenger seat of an unlocked car. Absent the statute enacted by the Indiana legislature–undoubtedly under the influence of the NRA–the owner would be liable for his own careless behavior, as he should be.

Americans who own homes or other properties are routinely sued by folks who fall on steps or sidewalks that have been negligently maintained, or who are harmed by other obvious hazards that a normal person knows or should know are capable of  causing harm to a visitor. Laws that punish us for our own neglect or irresponsibility are there for a reason: to remind us that we have a duty of care, and should avoid negligent behaviors that can cause harm to innocent others.

It is absolutely scandalous that lawmakers (presumably in thrall to the clout of the NRA’s gun nut lobby) decided that a standard of behavior that has informed tort law pretty much forever just needn’t apply to people who might be careless with an inherently dangerous possession–a weapon that has one use and one use only–to injure or kill.

If you have a tree with a loose limb in your yard, you need to take care that it doesn’t fall and hurt someone who might sue you. But if you have a loaded gun available to whoever walks by, no worries.

The Indiana General Assembly has protected you. And gerrymandering protects them.

Telling It Like It Is

What was that line from Jaws? It’s baaaack…

“It” in this case is the Indiana Legislature, which is beginning its “long” session. (I don’t know how other state’s lawmaking bodies work, but in Indiana, which has a two-year budget cycle, the session is longer the year the budget is considered.) When I last looked, over 300 bills had been filed by members of the State Senate, and 150 or so by members of the House. As you might imagine, a number of them won’t see the light of day–and most probably shouldn’t.

For that matter, Hoosiers would be better off if some of the bills that will survive quietly died. But that’s a post for another day…

Indiana’s teachers had hoped this year’s budget would include funding for a much-needed raise. That may still happen, and it clearly should, but several lawmakers have issued opinions to the effect that, yes, teachers should get raises, but the school corporations that employ them should just take the money for those raises from another part of the school budget.

This is totally unreasonable, of course, because most of those “other” funds are needed and/or legally earmarked for a variety of purposes, but Indiana’s legislators rarely allow their lack of understanding of the way things actually work get in the way of their opining.

In an op-ed for the Lafayette Journal and Courier, the Superintendent of the West Lafayette School System, Rocky Killion, responded. He began with the obvious:

This week the House Education Committee, on a partisan vote of 9-3, passed House Bill 1003.  House Bill 1003 affirms increasing teacher salaries but provides no additional funding to public schools to do so.  Instead, the GOP calls on public schools to spend differently…

What they do not seem to understand is that unless more revenue is provided, there will be less money to provide custodial, maintenance, secretarial, health, special education and other support services for students and teachers.

Then he turned the tables–very effectively.

If legislators are serious about increasing teachers’ salaries without increasing school funding, I would suggest the same to them, spend differently on public education.  Here are three ways to increase teacher salaries without increasing school funding:

Killion’s first suggestion was to quit spending over $100 million annually on standardized testing. As he quite correctly points out, standardized testing doesn’t improve student learning; what he doesn’t say–but many education scholars confirm–is that such testing distorts what happens in the classroom, because teachers feel impelled to spend more time on subjects that will be  tested than on subjects (like civics, for example) that won’t.

 A statistically sound approach for measuring student achievement and holding school corporations accountable for student learning is that of measuring student academic growth over time, which standardizing testing does not do.  Reallocate this resource to teacher salaries.

His second recommendation was similar:Quit spending over $10 million on IREAD-3 testing.

Teachers do not need this test to determine whether or not a student is reading at a third-grade level.  The best, most efficient way to find out if a third-grade student is reading at a third-grade level is by asking a third-grade teacher.  Reallocate this resource to teacher salaries.

I unequivocally endorse his third recommendation, which was to quit spending over $70 million on student vouchers, and reallocate those resources to teacher salaries.

Vouchers were Initially justified as a way to allow children to escape “failing” public schools, but 60% of Indiana’s vouchers are used by students who have never attended a public school.

What Killion was too “politically correct” to mention in his op-ed was that researchers have found no improvement in academic achievement by voucher students. (A couple of studies have found a decline, at least in math.) It has become quite clear that Indiana’s voucher program–the largest in the U.S.–is simply a way to take money from public education and give it to the religious schools that constitute over 90% of the schools accepting vouchers.

Voucher programs were a strategy devised to evade the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits tax support of religious institutions. The courts accepted the argument that the money was “really” going to the parents, and not to a parochial school. That it was always a specious argument has become glaringly obvious.

Indiana’s public school teachers ought not continue to be underpaid so that religious schools can suck at the public you-know-what.

 

A Sensible Proposal In the Indiana General Assembly?

Astonishing as it seems, news occasionally emerges of rational proposals at the Indiana Statehouse.

The Indianapolis Business Journal recently reported on one:

An Indiana Senate Republican wants to reward businesses with tax credits when they raise pay for their minimum-wage workers.

State Sen. John Ruckelshaus of Indianapolis has introduced a bill that would provide a credit against state tax liability for employers of minimum-wage workers that give raises to their workers after those workers complete a training program that would improve their education level or skills.

Since being elected to the General Assembly, Ruckelshaus has reminded me of the highly principled Ruckelshauses I used to know. (I believe they were his father and uncle.) They were the kind of Republicans I routinely encountered before the party devolved into today’s iteration–a cross between a cult and a comedy writer’s Mafia. (Senator Ruckelshaus is also sponsoring one of this session’s anti-gerrymandering measures, so kudos to him.)

Ruckelshaus said Senate Bill 15 is designed to incentivize businesses to help their minimum-wage workers move up the economic ladder.

“They’re trapped because they don’t have the skills to move up the ladder,” Ruckelshaus said. “The whole concept is it’s a two-way street between the employer and employee. It’s a tax credit to employers. For the worker that receives an increase in pay, they’re able to raise their skills up and be more attractive in the workforce, and be able to make more than a minimum wage.”

Aside from being good policy, this sort of approach inadvertently illustrates what is wrong with the “trickle down” economic theory that Congressional Republicans always trot out to justify their persistent work on behalf of the already-rich–a theory they repeatedly recited when defending the obvious inequities of their recent tax “reform” bill.

How often have we heard that recitation?  If we just give tax breaks to the wealthy (no strings attached)–that money will be used to invest in businesses that will hire workers. Those tax giveaways to the “makers” are necessary in order to create jobs!

I have frequently asked what seems like a reasonable question: if these tax cuts and loopholes so favorable to the wealthy are really intended to create jobs, why aren’t they targeted to that result, in much the same way as Ruckelshaus has proposed; that is, why not limit proposed incentives to employers who can demonstrate that they have provided the intended benefit? It would seem simple enough to attach some “accountability strings” that would base federal tax incentives on jobs created–to provide that, for every added job an employer could document, she would receive a tax deduction. Or better yet, a tax credit.

I’m confident that most Americans would applaud a tax “cut” that was carefully targeted and constructed to reward actual job creation, rather than the munificent giveaways that are not conditioned upon providing any evidence of public benefit. Research confirms that these no-strings-attached windfalls routinely find their way into shareholder dividends and management bonuses rather than job creation or workers’ pay.

Kudos to State Senator Ruckelshaus. May his tribe–and his approach–increase.

Paying for Secrecy

Indiana doesn’t have money for adequate infrastructure repair and maintenance, or for preschool for at-risk children, or …well, you know the drill. There are all sorts of things normal citizens expect their state government to do only to be told by our elected overlords that the money isn’t there.

But there’s always enough money to pay the lawyers to defend our lawmakers’ misplaced priorities or ethically indefensible actions.

Did Indiana’s Governor refuse to resettle Syrian refugees, despite the fact that under long-settled law, he doesn’t have the legal authority to make that decision? Let’s have the Attorney General defend him in the inevitable lawsuit, and then appeal the (equally inevitable) adverse verdict.

Is the Environmental Protection Agency trying to bring 19th Century environmental policies into compliance with the realities of 21st Century problems? Sue the EPA and insist that Indiana won’t go along.

And don’t get me started on the entirely  voluntary participation of Indiana in several culture war lawsuits aimed at derailing equal rights for LGBT Americans. We do like to keep our AG busy!

Most recently, we learn from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (not from the Indianapolis Star, which is too busy reporting on the “beer beat” and obsessing over the broom guy to cover city or state government) that

Hoosier taxpayers have paid $160,000 in legal fees to shield Indiana House and Senate communications from public view in just eight months.

The final tab will be higher because the most recent tally from the Indiana Auditor’s Office doesn’t include a bill covering the March 17 oral argument before the Indiana Supreme Court.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition. “It would have been a lot cheaper just to honor the public records law.”

“Follow the money” is a time-honored mantra that can mean many things. But one thing it almost always means is that people allocate resources based upon their actual priorities.

Indiana may not “have money” for preschool, or road repair, or environmental protection, but we seem to have unlimited resources to protect the perquisites of the powerful…

Bagging Home Rule

The IBJ reports on a measure approved by the Indiana Senate that would prevent local government units from taxing or restricting the use of disposable plastic bags by retailers, including grocery stores.

Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said businesses, industry groups and many consumers oppose regulation of bag use.

Many consumers are also citizens who believe the cities they live in should have the right to determine their own policies–on plastic bags, on public transportation, and on the myriad other issues pre-empted by state legislators who believe that they know better than local officials what rules Indiana residents should follow, and what programs and/or initiatives those residents should be allowed to implement.

Whatever your opinion about plastic bags or public transportation, the high-handedness of our statehouse overlords on those and other issues ought to infuriate you.

It is particularly offensive that decisions affecting residents of urban areas are routinely made by representatives of suburban and especially rural populations, whose grasp of the challenges and realities faced by elected officials in metropolitan areas is limited, at best, and whose hostility to the needs of Indianapolis and Central Indiana is a perennial statehouse reality.

This disinclination to allow Indianapolis to govern itself, to make decisions about its own affairs, is particularly galling because the city is the economic driver of the state.

Talk about your “makers” and “takers”!