Tag Archives: World’s Worst Legislature

Indiana’s Fools Aren’t Just For April…

When it comes to politics in Indiana, one of the savviest observers is Jack Colwell, who writes for the South Bend Tribune. A recent column documenting reasons the Indiana General Assembly still deserves to be called the World’s Worst Legislature is a good  example.

After reading it, I decided that a discussion of our legislature would be appropriate for April Fool’s Day.

Colwell’s list–while not exhaustive–is illustrative. He began by noting that Indiana’s legislature has historically been ridiculous.

Indiana’s legislature long has been the subject of ridicule, going back historically to a time 134 years ago when violence among members forced the end of a session.

Later came influence of the Klan, influence of money that brought scandals and prison and decades of influence by naysayers who found progress too risky.

Sometimes it became a national joke, as with a bill to establish the state’s own definition of pi. Not pie, as in apple, cherry or pumpkin, but Indiana’s own mathematical value of pi.
 
In 2015, there were all those jokes by comedians on national TV about Indiana’s Freedom to Discriminate Act.

Colwell then enumerates the disaster that is the 2021 session: in the face of Governor Holcomb’s largely effective measures to contain the pandemic (whatever your “take” on the Governor’s efforts, it is undeniable that he has been more decisive–and effective–than most Republican Governors), the legislature has moved to remove his authority to act in a future emergency.

Colwell notes that “pressure from the Freedom to Infect Caucus” also has pushed Holcomb to end the statewide mask mandate a bit prematurely.

Speaking of the pandemic, some businesses have acted in ways that endangered the health–and lives– of their workers and others. Our General Assembly to the rescue–of the businesses, not the victims. It passed a. bill awarding COVID-19 civil immunity for businesses and prohibiting class action lawsuits against them. 

Is climate change a looming danger? The General Assembly–especially members who  develop real estate–  wants further limits on the protection of wetlands. (Who cares about the world their grandkids will inhabit? Or the purity of the water we’re all drinking now?)

Speaking of the environment, replacing  a significant amount of emissions by encouraging and enabling mass transit is one of the many, many reasons such systems are important. So our legislature is trying to destroy Indianapolis’ belated effort to create a workable and environmentally-friendly mass transit system. 

Has the nation recently been stunned by still more mass shootings? Indiana’s General Assembly wants to eliminate the need for a license to carry a gun. As Colwell says,

Why require unnecessary cost and bureaucratic delay for someone wanting a gun? Some law-abiding citizen might want a gun quickly for a visit to a spa. A new recruit of the Proud Boys should not be inconvenienced.

And then, of course, there’s the persistence of the “White Legislative Caucus.” Colwell notes the ugly episode during the current session, where Republican legislators booed their Black colleagues.

Coincidentally, the same day his column ran, the Indianapolis Star had a front-page report about Representative Jim Lucas, Republican from Seymour whose Facebook page has been the subject of numerous accusations of blatant racism. (Our daughter has previously told us that she had visited that page, and was horrified by the “out and proud” bigotry she saw.)

The Star article reported on a conversation between Lucas and a Black surgeon, which the surgeon experienced as racist. Lucas evidently feels that any rhetoric or action short of lynching isn’t really racist, but as the newspaper noted

Lucas has a history of making troubling comments. The Indiana State Conference of the NAACP has called for his resignation after past actions.

Last year, Huston removed him from two committees as punishment for other controversial Facebook posts. On Twitter there’s a hashtag used by some critics, “#LucasMustGo.”

I’m clearly not the only Hoosier who is mortified by the people elected to “represent” me.

What’s The Matter With Indiana?

Remember Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas? Unfortunately, it’s not just Kansas. Indiana is governed by Republicans who refuse to believe science–and for that matter, routinely reject any reality inconsistent with an ideology firmly grounded in the 1950s.

Most recently, our embarrassing and self-aggrandizing Attorney General joined the state with others suing the Biden Administration for confronting the threat of climate change.The states we are joining are hardly economic powerhouses: Missouri, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. (A recent study out of Yale describes “low road states” like these as those laboring under  legacies of “conservative governance,” characterized by lower minimum wages, anti-union policies, and underfunded education and infrastructure.)

The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court in Missouri as a response to President Joe Biden’s sweeping environmental protection order called “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”

Biden signed the order into action Jan. 20. It set in motion the reversal of a bevy of Trump administration-era policies that promoted economic growth over environmental regulations.

The lawsuit is a stark example of the refusal of far too many lawmakers in too many states to admit that climate change is real, and that it poses an existential threat to civilization–a threat that is daily becoming harder to ignore. It’s hard to know whether the group of Attorneys General who are participating in this lawsuit are truly among the “deniers” or simply pandering to state populations unwilling to confront reality.

It isn’t just our current, unfortunate Attorney General. This year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly offers evidence–if any was needed–that our lawmakers have absolutely no interest in America’s environment, or even in combatting their own state’s high levels of pollution.

Committees have been called the “workhorses” of the Indiana General Assembly, the places where Hoosiers can testify on bills and lawmakers can hash out their differences.

But one committee has been missing in action this year.

The House Environmental Affairs Committee has not met a single time. Not because it didn’t have any legislation assigned to it. Thirteen bills were filed, many dealing with weighty topics.

One would have required preschool and daycare facilities to test for lead and address any high levels that are found. One would have prohibited utilities from keeping contaminating coal ash in unlined ponds where it pollutes groundwater. One would have limited the amount of toxins known as “forever chemicals” in drinking water.

But since the deadline to hear bills from the House has now passed, all of them died without any consideration. And while it’s common for bills to die in committee — most do — it’s unusual for a committee not to meet at all.

As the linked article notes, lawmakers have found time to advance bills making popcorn the official state snack, providing protections for children’s lemonade stands and preventing Indianapolis from changing its name. They just couldn’t be bothered to address the state’s high levels of pollution.

According to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, using data from 2019, the most recent, Indiana releases more chemicals and pollutants per square mile compared to any other state. And those releases have health implications: EPA data also shows that pollution poses a higher risk to public health in Indiana than in most other states.

If there is one characteristic shared by Indiana’s GOP lawmakers, it is willful ignorance.

Gerrymandering explains why the state’s voters continue to install super-majorities of the retrograde, but there are other reasons so many Hoosiers have only the dimmest understanding of science, economics or the operation of government, including the allocation of governmental authority under federalism. Michael Hicks– director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University–recently pinned Indiana’s multiple problems on lawmakers’ refusal to adequately support education.

Indiana is failing at the single most important thing the state does to ensure a growing economy: educate our children and young adults. Our “Mississippi Strategy” of low taxes, declining educational attainment and huge tax incentives to businesses is finally having an effect. It is precisely what an economic model would predict; declining relative wages, declining productivity and the need to offer even larger incentives to lure employers into our state. That isn’t a strategy any Hoosier should be proud of supporting. But, it is certainly having an effect.

It sure is. What was the lyric in that great Tom Lehrer song about the environment? “Don’t drink the water and don’t breath the air.”

The World’s Worst Legislature

During his too-brief life, former NUVO editor Harrison Ullmann was best known for his repeated assertion that Indiana had the “world’s worst legislature.” Participants in the current session are once again demonstrating the accuracy of that label–and given the number of other legislative bodies that could plausibly win that title–especially, after yesterday, the United States Senate– awarding it to the Hoosiers in the Indiana Statehouse is really saying something.

The current session has seen a steady stream of bills by sponsors who haven’t even tried to obscure outrageous conflicts of interest: efforts by real estate developers to eliminate environmental protections like wetlands, a bill from a homebuilder/legislator that would disallow local design oversights. (Respecting the environment and following minimum design standards costs money, you know…)

An obscene number of measures take aim at Indianapolis.

I have previously pointed out that municipalities in Indiana have no genuine home rule–that the same lawmakers who bemoan “unfunded mandates” from Washington are perfectly happy to impose ridiculous constraints on Indiana’s cities and towns. It certainly won’t surprise anyone living in Indianapolis that our legislature– dominated by rural interests– has once again aimed its animus at the state’s largest city. But this year, the effort to spit in the face of the state’s economic driver–to punish Indianapolis for being “blue”–has gone into overdrive.

One bill would remove the police department from the control of the mayor and city council. Another would remove the city’s legal authority to provide bus rapid transit. Yet another would prevent the city from regulating the placement of 5G wireless devices.

A truly despicable bill that seems likely to pass is a legislative smackdown of a city ordinance that provided (minimal) extra protections for tenants. That measure, which passed previously, was vetoed by Governor Holcomb; legislators now propose to override that veto.  Indiana  law has historically and unfairly favored landlords; the Indianapolis City-County Council had begun to redress that imbalance.

As Michael Hicks recently wrote in a column for the Howey Report,

These are unusual issues for a state legislature to become involved in, but there’s more. One bill would prevent Indianapolis, or any other city, from changing its name. To be fair, that bill might be targeted at Russiaville, Toad Hop or Slab Town, not Indianapolis. Another would limit the powers of Indianapolis to undertake land-use authority within its city limits… 

This flurry of legislation aimed at the heart of Indiana’s largest municipal government seems to signal that something unseemly is happening in Indianapolis. 

What is “unseemly,” of course, is that Indianapolis is now a reliably Democratic city in a reliably Republican state.

The proposed punitive legislation wouldn’t just affect Marion County. (For those readers who don’t live in Indiana, the city limits have been essentially coterminous with the county’s since the early 1970s.) This is, as Hicks noted, different from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the surrounding counties. Much of the proposed legislation would affect both the City of Indianapolis and the surrounding metropolitan area that depends upon the success of the city.

Hicks also notes that–far from demonstrating “unseemly” governance,  the metrics show that Indianapolis has been far more successful than the rest of the state.

 Indianapolis has been responsible for the lion’s share of state population growth.

Since 2000, the Indy metro area has grown by 35%, the City of Indianapolis by 12%, and the whole rest of the state by 2.1%. The City of Indianapolis saw more population growth this century than the 80 non-Indy metro counties combined. So, whatever concern about crime, zoning or building design residents have about Indy, they are worse everywhere else. 

What about jobs?

Since 2000, the Indianapolis metro region has added some 154,000 jobs. Of those jobs, the City of Indianapolis can account for 18,000 new jobs over the same time period. Here’s the rub; over the same time period, all the rest of Indiana lost a whopping 151,000 jobs. 

Speaking of economic impact, Hicks tells us that, annually, residents of Marion County send a net of more than $500 per person in tax revenues to residents of the rest of the state.

All told, 20 Hoosier counties pay more taxes to the state than they receive in tax revenues from the state. Five of those are in the Indianapolis metro area. So, just to summarize it clearly, Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis region as a whole, are growing leaps and bounds faster than the rest of the state. At the same time, they bear a greater state tax burden, of which a significant share is sent to other counties. They get far less back in tax dollars than they spend.

In the World’s Worst Legislature–coming to citizens courtesy of extreme gerrymandering–resentful representatives of dwindling rural areas are intent upon killing the goose that sends them the golden eggs.

 

They’re Back….

Lock up the silver and hide the children’s eyes–the Indiana General Assembly is back in session.

The motley crew we citizens elect to what the late Harrison Ullmann used to call The World’s Worst Legislature is already hard at work on measures ranging from treatment of wild hogs to mandating the teaching of cursive writing. I’m sure their attention to these world-shattering issues reassures us all.

Most of the trivial, unwise and the just plain wacky proposals will eventually die in committee. I just hope that one bill in particular lands in that graveyard: the proposal to allow students to carry guns on campus.

This is the second time this proposal has surfaced, and it mystifies me. What problem, exactly, is this misguided measure intended to correct? What is the purpose of encouraging an armed student body? Has anyone considered the consequences of adding firearms to venues occupied by large groups of stressed-out college students, many still adolescent and hormonal?

I once was sued in Small Claims Court by a student to whom I had given a grade of B-. When he had exhausted the (extensive) campus appeal process without convincing anyone of the great indignity of that assessment, he brought suit. (In light of the stupidity thus displayed, I am convinced that the B- was a gift–but I digress.) Arm this unhinged young man, or others not unlike him, and he might well have skipped the lawsuit and just blown me away.

I’m one of those who would like to see some reasonable limits placed on access to guns. Like most people who advocate for more control, I have no illusions that we can rid American society of the millions of guns already out there, and frankly I have no great passion to confiscate them. But I get impatient, to say the least, with the utter paranoia of the gun fringe, with the NRA’s ridiculous belief–rebutted by all credible research–that the way to ensure public safety is to arm everyone.

I’ll tell you one thing that will happen if students are allowed to pack heat on campus. There will be a lot fewer professors willing to teach. Maybe that’s the real motive?

Our Despicable State Legislature

What can anyone say about Indiana’s legislature that adequately captures the perversity, the stupidity and the venality of the place?

It is hard to believe the sheer amount of embarrassing antics they have managed to cram into a short session. From the patently unconstitutional (teaching creationism, really? Every court that has ever considered the matter has said the same thing–you can’t teach religion in public school science class) to the teaching of cursive (breaking news: you weren’t elected to the school board, and by the way, what happened to your pious devotion to local control?) to Right to Work (go ahead and spend zillions of dollars on slick ads promising jobs, but everyone knows this is all about hardball politics and Republicans weakening the unions because they have the votes), our elected Representatives have spent the session giving the middle finger to the citizens of Indiana.

As if they hadn’t done enough harm, they have now killed the bill that would have allowed Indianapolis to hold a referendum on whether to tax ourselves to support adequate public transportation.

Think about this. These are the lawmakers who’ve been pontificating about the importance of job creation–that’s how they’ve justified Right to Work, which–according to unbiased research–has absolutely no effect on job creation. Good public transportation, on the other hand, is a proven job creator and economic development generator.

So why the hypocrisy? Why deny the citizens of Indianapolis the right to decide for ourselves whether we are willing to pay a few extra bucks on our tax bill for decent transportation?

It is galling enough that we have to go hat in hand to the State for permission to conduct our own business. It is absolutely infuriating that the legislators whose rural districts survive by virtue of taxes generated in central Indiana–the state sales and income taxes that come primarily from the urban areas they routinely piss on–are the ones willing to kill the goose that lays their golden eggs. Our transportation bill was killed by the very people who would share the benefits without contributing to the costs.

I wish I thought we would throw these bums out in November, but Indiana political history suggests that we will go like sheep to the polls, and vote for the same old same old–after all, these are the candidates who promise to arrest immigrants, keep the “wrong” people from voting, and push gays back into the closet where they belong.

Harrison Ullmann was right: Indiana has The World’s Worst Legislature. But we elected them.