Tag Archives: Indiana legislature

Indiana’s Arrogant Legislature

Here we go again.

Indiana’s legislature–more accurately, its Republican Super-Majority (courtesy of gerrymandering)–has a habit of making decisions it is unequipped to make. In the past,  friends who are schoolteachers have seethed as lawmakers who never spent a day in a classroom prescribed the precise methods they should use to teach reading.

Now, lawmakers propose to tell medical doctors what methods they can and cannot use to terminate a pregnancy.

HB 1211 would ban the most common method used in second trimester abortions, usually called “D and E” for dilation and evacuation. The only alternative to D and E, which is generally considered the safest and most medically-appropriate way to terminate a second-trimester pregnancy, is induction, which requires a woman to go through labor. It must be done in a hospital-like setting, is far more expensive–and has a higher risk of complications than D and E.

Also, most hospitals don’t offer the procedure.

Now, you might be asking yourself, why would the sponsors and proponents of this bill think they–and not the woman’s medical doctor–should make this sort of decision? Why would they only allow second-trimester abortions to be performed using a procedure that is both more painful and more risky?

You know why. As Planned Parenthood points out, passage of HB 1211 would effectively end second trimester abortions in Indiana.

What is particularly ironic, previous legislative measures that have made it difficult for women to obtain safe, legal abortions are the reason for many of the delays that push the procedure into the second trimester: waiting periods, fewer clinics with longer waits for appointments and other barriers erected by lawmakers who want us to think they know more than medical professionals do, and who believe they are entitled to have their religious dogma become the law of the state.

Recent polls suggest that 70% of Americans want to keep Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. Thanks to the Electoral College, Donald Trump has been able to put right-wing judges on the Federal Bench, up to and including the Supreme Court, to ensure that the preferences of that significant majority won’t count for much. Until Roe goes, Indiana’s paternalistic legislature can’t ban abortions outright, but it continually tries to achieve that result by subterfuge. HB 1211 is just one example.

So let’s see: this bill would insert government between a woman and her doctor;  impose the religious beliefs of certain Christian denominations on nonbelievers and adherents of the many religions and denominations that allow abortion; and in the rare cases where a doctor and hospital are willing to use induction, subject the woman to unnecessary pain and an elevated risk of complications.

Nicely done, “Christian” warriors.

HB 1211 has been scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wed. March 27th at 9 am.

Sen. Randall Head is the chair of the committee and he has the power to stop this bill.

I hope everyone who finds this cynical measure appalling will call Senator Head and ask him to kill this travesty of a bill.

You might also remind him and other “limited government” Republicans –the guys who don’t think government belongs in their boardrooms–that government also doesn’t belong in a woman’s uterus.

The issue really isn’t abortion–it’s who gets to make the decision. And the answer  to that question shouldn’t be government.

 

“Ethical Objections” And Women’s Rights

As I have previously noted, Doug Masson is one of Indiana’s most thoughtful and knowledgable bloggers; his essays are particularly helpful when the legislature is in session, because in addition to being a lawyer, he was once on the staff of Legislative Services, the agency charged with drafting bills that will actually do what lawmakers want to accomplish (assuming, of course, that those measures are passed).

Doug recently looked at one of the anti-choice measures that are repeatedly and inevitably introduced in Indiana.

S.B. 201 provides that pharmacists and nurses can’t be required to administer or dispense an “abortion inducing drug” if they claim to have an ethical objection. (Evidently, according to Doug, the statutory definition of an “abortion inducing drug” excludes Plan B, for whatever comfort that might provide.) But analyzing which medications would fall under the bill’s parameters and which ones wouldn’t is really beside the point.

As Doug puts it:

Beyond that, of course, there is the impact on women who want control over their own bodies. And there’s the question of why abortion should be entitled to special pleading when it comes to employee’s ethical concerns over their employer’s operations. What if a health care provider finds drug use immoral and objects to treating addicts? What if a gun store employee objects to selling firearms to guys who abuse their wives? What if a bank employee objects to their employer’s lending practices? Usually we tell employees to go work somewhere else, but this legislation seeks to carve out a special exception for a medical service that, for the time being anyway, remains a Constitutional right.

That is, of course, the crux of the matter. The male legislators who simply cannot abide the notion that a woman should control her own reproduction evidently assume that ethical principles are limited to situations that offend their personal religious beliefs (or threaten patriarchal dominance.)

The Bill of Rights limits the decisions that government can properly make. The issue isn’t abortion. The issue is who has the right to make that decision. In our system, the government doesn’t get to decide what prayer you say, or if you pray at all; it doesn’t get to decide what book you read or what political positions you endorse. Government doesn’t get to decide who you can love, whether you can use contraception, or whether a woman will carry a pregnancy to term.

The real issue is power.

A government that can tell women they can’t abort has the power to tell women they must abort. (See: China) Our system doesn’t give government the authority to make those decisions for individual citizens.

Government also doesn’t get to decide whose “ethical objections” deserve to be honored and whose can be ignored.

If a pharmacist’s religious beliefs interfere with his ability to dispense medications, he needs to find another profession. And if a lawmaker’s religious commitments outweigh his fidelity to the U.S. Constitution (despite the oath he takes when he assumes his position) he shouldn’t be in the legislature.

Under Cover Of Jargon

The Indiana Statehouse is confusing. Often, that confusion is intentional. Lengthy bills are written in turgid “legalese,” and go on for pages. I’m a (recovered) lawyer and my eyes frequently glaze over.

And very often, you don’t have to be a hard-core libertarian to wonder: is this law really needed?

That was my first question when I received an email asking about Senate Bill 471, described as follows:

Would heighten the penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure by creating the offenses of “criminal infrastructure facility trespass” and “critical infrastructure facility mischief.” The bill provides that an individual who knowingly enters critical infrastructure facility without permission commits critical infrastructure facility trespass, a Level 6 felony punishable by up to 30 months in prison. Under the bill, recklessly or knowingly defacing such a facility constitutes critical infrastructure facility mischief, punishable by up to six years in prison as a Level 5 felony. In either case, the individual may additionally be liable to the property owner for damages, costs, and attorney’s fees. An organization found to have conspired with an individual who commits either offense may also be liable for a fine of $100,000. The bill newly defines “critical infrastructure facility” under Indiana law to include a range of oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities, as well as any “facility that is substantially similar” to one of the listed facilities.

No one wants to see a “critical infrastructure” damaged. But a bit of digging suggests that more is going on with this bill–being pushed in several states by ALEC, evidently in reaction to Dakota pipeline protests– than the protection of “critical” utilities.

As my correspondent notes,

This description is accurate, but to get into more specifics one of the most troubling provisions is Ch. 10, Sec. 4 that says if an organization is found to be a conspirator with a person convicted of either trespassing or committing criminal mischief on “critical infrastructure” the organization can be fined up to $100,000. Sec. 5(a) could also potentially be interpreted as creating a cause of action by someone who has suffered damages not only against the person who caused the damage, but an organization found to be a conspirator with that person, to recover those damages. If that was the case the organization could be liable for more than a $100,000.

A Sierra Club officer explains the effect:

A couple of years ago the Hoosier Chapter was in discussions with some Northwest Indiana groups about a protest at the BP Whiting Refinery to oppose its expansion to allow it to process tar sands petroleum. When it became clear that some of the groups were contemplating civil disobedience, the chapter withdrew from the discussions, since the Sierra Club forbids illegal activities. In the event, about 40 people sat in front of an access to the refinery and were arrested for trespassing. I believe that most were let go without a fine. Under the proposed law, could we be found to have participated in the protest even though we withdrew? Could we be found liable for informing the public about the protest via our website, FB, and twitter, even though we didn’t support the civil disobedience? Certainly we would have to think long and hard about even participating in such discussions under this bill.

And that, I think, illustrates the actual purpose of the bill: to stifle dissent.

Indiana already has laws against trespassing and damaging property. S.B.471 ramps up the severity of the potential charges–from misdemeanors to felonies–and greatly increases the penalties. Although the bill contains a recitation that it is not intended to apply to “constitutionally-protected activities” (a provision added to mollify opponents of the measure), the question from the Sierra Club officer illustrates the chilling effect.

If one or two people at a protest inflict damage that was unintended and unforeseen by others, those others–including not-for-profits and civic organizations–run the risk of being hit with enormous fines. Of course they would “think long and hard.” That’s the whole point.

I am aware of no evidence that existing measures against trespass and property damage are inadequate or ineffective. But unnecessary and chilling as it may be, S.B. 471 is apparently moving “under the radar” toward passage.

This is how it’s done by the big “players” who understand how the system works.

While public attention and media coverage (such as it is) are focused on high-profile measures like bias crimes and teachers pay, troubling laws get a pass–in both senses of that word.

 

 

The Inmates Running Indiana’s Asylum

Meanwhile, on the local front….

As I was busy avoiding last Friday’s Inauguration, a reader sent me the digest of an bill introduced in the Indiana legislature, demonstrating that insanity isn’t confined to Washington, D.C.

The official synopsis of House Bill 1127 reads as follows:

Nullification of EPA regulations in Indiana. Nullifies all regulations imposed in Indiana by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Provides that the department of environmental management shall provide environmental protection for the citizens of Indiana. Effective: July 1, 2017.

The fiscal analysis of the measure (which evidently assumes that there is no such thing as the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution) is blunt: According to the Legislative Services Agency’s Office of Fiscal and Management Analysis,

the bill nullifies all regulations imposed in Indiana by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It provides that the Department of Environmental Management shall provide environmental protection for the citizens of Indiana… The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) would be solely responsible for providing environmental protection for the state due to the nullification of U.S. EPA regulations provided in this bill. The impact to IDEM would be the loss of federal funds from the U.S. EPA that are used to run programs and provide funding for the staff assigned to those programs. This would also result in a reduction of the amount of state matching funds (about $11 M in dedicated funds annually) that the state would have to provide to receive the federal funds. If IDEM continues the programs, the costs would be funded only through state appropriations.

This bill could result in the loss of about $22.5 M annually in federal funding from the U.S. EPA. Of this amount, about $2.2 M was disbursed to local units in FY 2016…. Local units receiving funding from U.S. EPA grants through IDEM could experience a decline in funding. For FY 2016, local units received about $2.2 M in grant funding through U.S. EPA funds received by IDEM.

The operative phrase, of course, is “If IDEM continues the programs…” It is fairly obvious that the purpose of this legislation is to allow Indiana to discontinue programs that protect the state’s air and water.

I have no idea whether this retrograde effort will get a hearing, nor do I know anything about Representative Judy, who introduced it. We can hope that legislative leadership recognizes both the unconstitutionality of the measure–after all, states cannot simply “nullify” federal regulations with which they disagree, no matter how much they might want to–and the considerable political capital it would cost them.

Despite the rejection of climate science by Republican ideologues and Trump cabinet nominees, survey research confirms that large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats accept settled science and strongly favor environmental protections.

Bills like this raise the question–perennial in Indiana–WHO ELECTS THESE PEOPLE??

Thankfully, a Lot of People Don’t Find Redistricting Boring….

The second meeting of Indiana’s Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, of which I am a lay member, was held yesterday. Despite the fact that it was a Thursday afternoon, and the meeting started at 1:00, there were well over 100 citizens present; they filled the House Chamber and from where I was sitting, it looked like they filled the balcony too.

The purpose of this meeting was to hear expert testimony. (Discussion leading to the committee’s recommendations will come at the next two meetings. I’ll blog the dates and times when I know them.)

There were two presentations; one from a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, affiliated with New York University Law School, and the second from the Senior Legal Counsel to the Iowa LSA–the person responsible for directing Iowa’s redistricting process.

The Iowa presentation was a description of that state’s use of an independent commission to draw district lines–from all reports, a very successful effort to draw districts in a fair, transparent and nonpartisan way, and one that has earned the strong approval of most Iowa voters.

The first presentation, by Michael Li of the Brennan Center, focused upon the negative consequences of gerrymandering, and the current efforts of several states to reform their processes. He included a couple of interesting points that tend to get lost in discussions about gerrymandering’s more obvious effects.

Li pointed out that the redistricting “nitty-gritty”–the drawing of the lines–isn’t handled by local politicians; instead, the national parties send in teams of “experts” whose expertise is in manipulating data and computer programs, and who know little about the politics or culture of whatever state they are carving up. This dependence on national party operatives facilitates the contemporary shift of power and influence from state policymakers to national ones– further nationalizing America’s political parties.

Li also noted that although redistricting reform might not effect much change to the partisan composition of a state’s legislature, especially in very Red or Blue states, it does tend to change the nature of the partisans who hold those seats. (Social science research supports that observation; in states using independent commissions, Representatives of both parties tend to be less rigidly ideological and more willing to work across the aisle.)

This last observation is particularly important, because one of the arguments used by defenders of the current system (like Senator Hershman today) is to claim there are states where redistricting reform has changed a very minimal number of seats, and that shows the current system isn’t really a problem.

As Li quite properly responded, partisan shift is not the metric we should apply. In Republican states like Indiana, redistricting reform is unlikely to change control of the Senate, for example. If fewer elections are decided in the primaries, if fewer general elections are uncontested, if new people emerge to challenge incumbents, and –when those incumbents die or retire–if there is genuine competition for the open seat, then reform has worked.

When Senator Pat Miller challenged the notion of “nonpartisan” commission members–making the point that everyone has political opinions–Li agreed that most people have what we might call “political orientation,” although he noted that there is a difference between redistricting done by people who are deeply involved in the political process and that done by people who are not politically active. He compared the process to the composition and operation of juries; people serving on juries have prejudices and opinions, but most who serve take their responsibilities very seriously, evaluating the evidence and following the judges’ instructions.  ( I found the comparison compelling because when I was a practicing lawyer, I saw juries in operation, and saw the same seriousness of purpose.)

The one thing that seemed clear in the wake of the meeting was that Senators Hershman and Miller are not going to be voting for reform of any kind. But I have high hopes for the rest of us.