Environment and Government and Economic Development

STATEHOUSE DISPATCH: Lawmakers struggle amid chaos, but order will come

March 21, 2005

If you're having a tough time following the twists and turns of the political soap opera that is the 2005 Indiana General Assembly, you are not alone. Legislators find themselves so perpetually distracted by all sorts of peripheral issues and actions that Eli Lilly and Co. might want to consider a new market for its adult ADD medication.

What do we mean by this legislative attention deficit disorder?

Think back to December, when the first order of business seemed to be devising a fix to the budget deficits plaguing the state. The deficits threatened to derail virtually any new spending and forced lawmakers to question whether funds would even be available to maintain current spending levels.

Then came January with the inauguration of the new governor, and the beginning of a new era replete with new hopes and expectations.

January was characterized by a major gubernatorial push for economic development initiatives. Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, convinced lawmakers to approve his Indiana Economic Development Corp. legislation in short order and the new IEDC recently convened for the first time.

After January's economic development blitz, lawmakers turned their attention in February to what we recently described for you as "the stuff of government," legislation that interested certain parties, but which would not have led to the demise of the Hoosier state as we know it had it failed.

The budget also moved along through the House, but that was accomplished in short order and without the involvement of many lawmakers. It did not require much of their time.

March roared in like a lion, bringing with it the events that derailed more than 130 active bills in the House. When Democrats returned to meet quorum calls, the lawmaking focus turned back to the governor's legislative agenda, and a few other controversial matters, such as the voter identification measure and the resolution banning same-sex marriage.

Some of these items found their way into the "Top 40" list Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, had cobbled together as he tried to resurrect a series of concepts that had ostensibly died in the walkout.

And even as the Indiana General Assembly is seeking to solve the weightier issues that confront the state today-from same-sex marriage to property tax caps-the task of building a government continues. The full attention of the governor cannot be on legislative activities.

Daniels continues to assemble a retinue of department heads and other key policymakers. And he has other substantive and titular responsibilities that consume his attention, from personally cultivating economic development prospects to lobbying federal officials to maintain our military bases.

He also has to work to ensure that economic development, efficiency and customer service are key precepts for officials in his administration, from licensing businesses through the environmental permit process to licensing drivers to cruise Hoosier highways. In between, he also has to take periodic trips around the state to take the pulse of Hoosiers, reassure them that he is working on their behalf, and continue to acquaint himself with all that is outside central Indiana.

As a result of all this, it has been difficult for the Legislature or the executive branch to focus on any one aspect, whether it is economic development or a social issues agenda.

At least the attention of most lawmakers won't be diverted to the Indiana college teams playing in the NCAA men's basketball tournament this month.

But there is a chance they may also have to move quickly to repair hundreds of laws that are based upon population distinctions if the Indiana Supreme Court decides to rule that such laws are unconstitutional. The Court heard oral arguments in December on such a case from Allen County involving a law almost two decades old, and a ruling is likely before the Legislature adjourns.

What we're trying to convey is that the legislative session is a chaotic environment, affected by both internal and external events, and it often lacks the kind of concentration that those on the outside might expect-especially when Peyton Manning, Paul Tagliabue, or hoards of people on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage issue descend on the Statehouse.

Of greatest importance, however, is that everything manages to come together in late April-and it will.

Lawmakers will have a budget before them, probably with far more time than usual to ponder its content and implications. And, given the new signs of reasonableness and compromise by members of both parties in the House, chances are you will see more than just that session-minimum package by April 29. Look for much of the governor's legislative agenda to be fully implemented as well, along with other bonuses, such as a Colts stadium funding package.



Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly while the Indiana General Assembly is in session. He can be reached by e-mail at edf@ingrouponline.com.
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