Opinion and Statehouse Dispatch

FEIGENBAUM: Passage of Daniels' agenda will spawn sweeping change

May 7, 2011

You shouldn’t have much trouble discerning the immediate winners from the 2011 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels received virtually everything he asked for, winning historic victories on virtually every big-picture agenda item he sought and falling short only on more marginal matters such as sentencing reform and some extant government anachronism he sought to reform.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, showed he learned much about leadership from his 2005-2006 speakership stint. Bosma avoided antagonizing Democrats and poisoning the well from the outset, refusing to be baited by Democrats who sought to turn him into the legislative ogre.

His measured rhetoric and formal floor responses to the Democratic walkout allowed business to be conducted without rancor when Democrats returned. That allowed the full Republican agenda to be enacted.

Bosma’s willingness—and the willingness of the governor and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne—to shift Right to Work to a summer study panel defused a potentially unresolvable situation, and also showed the freshman bloc that just because they could do something didn’t mean they should do it.

Long also offered steady direction in the upper chamber—ensuring adult leadership when Bosma was without a quorum—and Daniels chose to avoid employing the bully pulpit.

But beyond the political winners, the policy that prevailed clearly stole the show.

Indiana Democrats cast the GOP as an out-of-control juggernaut as legislators passed education reforms—including student vouchers, charter school expansion, teacher evaluations and collective-bargaining restrictions; cut corporate income taxes; reduced worker benefits for the unemployed; imposed far-reaching abortion restrictions; defunded Planned Parenthood; and expanded gun-owner rights.

It was the same tactic national Republicans had employed against the Nancy Pelosi-led Democratic Congress that passed health care reform and assorted bailouts and stimulus programs.

Just as those measures were nation-changing initiatives—whether you believed them to be positive or negative—the legislation passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly will have sweeping implications in Indiana.

Not since the mid-1930s, when Democrat Paul McNutt was governor, has the state arguably seen such important, high-profile and potentially society-changing initiatives approved in such a short time.

One interesting consequence of this sea change is that it will result in a huge wave of state regulations promulgated to implement the new laws. The large bloc of freshmen lawmakers may not have intended this, but it is a consequence, nonetheless.

And speaking of those freshmen, we cautioned you up front this session that they would find themselves philosophically conflicted on a number of issues, and they were.

The House (and its 19 GOP freshmen) approved restrictions on assorted freedoms, including texting while driving, cigarette smoking in public places (which ultimately did not become law), drug-testing for some seeking unemployment assistance, relationships between women seeking certain health care services and their physicians, and even diluting home rule for local government units.

Casinos fared well with the Republican Legislature, avoiding a smoking ban, garnering savings from elimination of outdated maritime regulations, and winning the ability to host larger card tournaments.

Banks were able to persuade lawmakers to turn aside the governor’s attempt to appropriate the $200 million-plus Public Deposit Insurance Fund for other purposes. They eventually acceded to an extension of repayment on a decade-old $50 million PDIF loan, but bankers took a hit for not agreeing to forgive it; they were not included in the corporate income tax reduction.

Agriculture interests won preliminary approval for a “freedom-to-farm” constitutional amendment they believe will protect livestock breeders from animal rights activists. They also won key exemptions from the immigration bill, and some short-term concessions for Indiana’s mint-growing industry.

Summer study committees will tackle the Right to Work conundrum, which threatens to overshadow the next session and 2012 election.

But elections have consequences, as we’ve told you all year, and those consequences then set the stage for the next election.

See you in 2012!•

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

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