Tag Archives: Indiana legislature

Shame On Indiana–Again

During this year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly, environmental organizations followed–and lobbied against–an effort to roll back Indiana’s already inadequate regulations of the state’s wetlands. As usual, when there is a conflict between science and profit, profit won.

After the bill emerged from the legislative process, 110 organizations and individuals wrote a letter to Governor Eric Holcomb, “respectfully requesting” that he veto it. Governor Holcomb has proved to be far more rational than Republican members of the state legislature–more in the mold of Republicans of days-gone-by– and he had even allowed members of his administration to testify against the bill as it proceeded through the House and Senate, so there was some reason for optimism.

That optimism was dashed. Holcomb is defending his decision to sign the measure by saying that, in its amended form, the bill was less objectionable. Environmental scientists beg to differ, asserting that it ‘puts wellbeing of millions of Hoosiers at risk, now and well into the future.”

Indiana’s existing wetlands law was written in 2003, and it was admittedly due for review and revision now that the state had several years of experience with it. But experts say that rather than improving and fine-tuning the existing law, the changes made by this particular legislation will do “substantial harm to Indiana’s water future.”

According to the environmentalists and other concerned citizens who petitioned Holcomb, the legislation he has now signed puts  the vast majority of Indiana’s wetlands–and there are at least 500,000 that are under state rather than federal jurisdiction– in jeopardy. Indiana already ranks fourth among the states with the greatest loss of wetlands . The likely negative results of this measure will be increased flooding and erosion, loss of groundwater recharge and water supplies, water purification, safe recreation and tourism opportunities, and loss of the diverse wildlife that (according to the letter) “makes Indiana special.”

I am sorely tempted to offer some snark about what I think “makes Indiana special,” but I’ll restrain myself. Let’s just say it is neither respect for expertise or appreciation of nature’s bounties…

The signatories to the letter appended background information detailing the function of wetlands, and offering policy alternatives. They should have saved their pixels.

The letter was signed by a diverse number of organizations, as well as by science professors in relevant fields, and–notably–by several Indiana cities and mayors, and by religious organizations. (The latter evidently take seriously the biblical admonition to be “stewards” of the Earth.)

The letter, the list of signatories, and the science-heavy addendum are widely available online, and the addendum, especially, details the science bolstering the very serious concerns expressed. Our legislators, however, have a history of ignoring science (if you doubt that, take a look at the number of medically-inaccurate assertions they’ve included in their various attacks on reproductive choice) and they have routinely privileged the short term economic interests of their supporters over the long term best interests of Indiana citizens. 

In this case, according to those who followed the bill, the legislative priority was protection of land developers who might find themselves unable to pave over or otherwise wrest profit from every inch of property they own, even under Indiana’s relatively weak regulations.  

Oh, Indiana….will Hoosiers ever grow up?






 

 

Stop The World, Indiana Wants To Get Off

I have posted before about the Indiana Legislature’s rear-guard effort to protect the increasingly obsolescent coal industry.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a bill preventing Indiana utilities from switching from coal to cleaner, cheaper energy. The bill effectively blocked utilities in Indiana from closing any coal-fired power plant unless the closure had been mandated by the Trump administration – something that would never happen, given Trump’s repeated–and increasingly empty– promises to “bring back coal.”

The bill did contain one exception: a coal plant could be closed if the utility owning it could “prove” to state utility commissioners that it would be in the public interest. Even that  exception was framed to provide coal companies opposed to the closure a mechanism to drag the issue through the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the courts. That would cost utilities and ratepayers huge sums of money and further delay the transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Indiana thus joined the rearguard action against the market forces that are making renewables and natural gas cheaper than coal. (So much for the vaunted Republican respect for the market.). A Democratic legislator memorably offered a snarky amendment to the bill that would have protected whale oil, too.

The state did convene a commission to study the situation, and that body has now issued its recommendations.

According to the IBJ,

Seven months after Indiana lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting utilities from shutting down coal-fired power plants before May 2021, a state energy task force is considering a sweeping array of measures that seem to favor existing large-scale utilities, many of which still burn coal, over providers of renewable energy.

The Indiana 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force, which was set up to guide lawmakers in crafting a long-term energy plan, released draft recommendations Wednesday after months of testimony.

Consumer advocates and environmental groups both sharply criticized the draft recommendations, charging that they would extend the life of coal plants and delay Indiana’s transition to renewable energy.

The draft didn’t include any recommendations on energy efficiency, net metering or on-site generation.

“The Task Force should resoundingly reject this draft report,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. “It completely ignores substantial testimony given throughout the process and dismisses the current business plans Indiana utilities already have on file.”

A longer article from the Indianapolis Star included criticisms from the academic members of the commission and others who were especially concerned with the substantial areas of vagueness in the recommendations.

The vote to accept the draft report broke down along partisan lines, with the Democrats voting against and the Republicans voting to accept the draft.

It is notable that the Chair of the Commission, Ed Soliday, was the author of the above-referenced bill slowing the transition from coal (the “save whale oil” bill). Citizens Action Coalition, among others, gives him poor marks for consumer protection, and Follow the Money lists substantial contributions he has received from utilities, coal, mining, oil, natural gas, steel, and environmental services & equipment. 

Welcome to Indiana.

A historian friend of mine once characterized Indiana’s political culture as “quid pro quo.” Another friend–the late and much-lamented NUVO editor Harrison Ullmann– called the Indiana General Assembly “the world’s worst legislature.” (In all fairness, he didn’t live to see the U.S. Senate under the control of the vile Mitch McConnell.) It’s no wonder we share the distinction of being one of the 10 least environmentally friendly states with the likes of Kentucky and West Virginia.

But then, we rank near the bottom on all sorts of indices. Health, education, quality of life. And thanks to gerrymandering, those “good ole boys” who exemplify Indiana’s “quid pro quo” political culture fully intend to keep it that way.

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….

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.