Opinion and Statehouse Dispatch

FEIGENBAUM: Right-to-work resolution opens floodgates for other bills

February 4, 2012

Ed FeigenbaumA funny thing happened when the right-to-work bill moved from the House to the Senate. No, Facebook and Google didn’t suddenly drop stakes in California and move to Lake County. Nor did GM and Chrysler move to a neighboring state unwilling to enact right-to-work.

But House Democrats and Republicans, who had been bickering like Patriots and Giants fans, suddenly seemed to drop all political pretenses, and returned to conducting the people’s business.

Debate was effectively devoid of any partisan animus. Republicans tore into Republicans, Democrats cross-examined Democrats, and complicated policy minutiae was hammered out on the floor of the House, just as the sage Hoosiers gathered under the Constitutional Elm in Corydon some two centuries ago intended.

Debates over dollars also ran in a different direction than one might have expected.

Rather than dicker over the amount of newfound corporate income tax dollars that would be directed to full-day kindergarten, as proposed by Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, some Democrats sought to divert a chunk of the largesse toward erasing the textbook fees that fee-weary parents must shoulder.

There was now time to address such philosophical matters as whether the state should mandate certain local taxpayer flood control fees in Lake County—a bipartisan request of lawmakers from northwestern Indiana. Solons considered whether to study pros and cons of establishing a central pool of administrative law judges so as to avoid conflict questions that arise when an agency employs its own ALJs.

On third reading Jan. 31, House members spent as many minutes debating some of the practical and philosophical aspects of a bill governing the relocation of a new car dealer in Fort Wayne as they had just devoted to the previous bill, the statewide smoking ban measure.

And while the smoking ban dealt with matters of life and death, health care expense to the state, questions about personal freedoms vs. government intrusion into individual and corporate decisions, and trading off exemptions for some establishments in return for state tax dollars and business profits, the car dealer bill offered similar nuances: government interference with business contracts and the free market, favoring one specific business entity over another, and targeting just one community in the state.

But the overarching questions were important, even if one disagreed with the specific target of a given bill, and legislators had an opportunity to show just how wedded they were to a philosophical bent.

That’s certainly a big part of what the process is about. And the process is moving again.

What should you watch for in the second half of the session?

The central Indiana mass transit bill failed to progress through the first half of the session, but its proponents are working on restructuring it to afford tax-wary legislators some political cover. You should expect its amended return.

Assorted education matters—from full-day kindergarten and college credit “creep” to teaching creationism—will soon assume center stage.

A variety of measures affecting local government employees and local government spending authority also will be prominent in the next five weeks.

Several tax matters will be parsed in greater detail before mid-March, including abolition of the inheritance tax and restructuring part of the racino tax that primarily applies to ag-equine interests.

There have also been some intriguing legislative colloquies over lower-profile issues such as I-Light, the state-created and -subsidized fiber-optic network connecting state higher education institutions. Telecommunication providers are questioning whether they were crowded out of ostensibly their business. And there will be debate over circumstances under which telecom companies can be freed from “provider of last resort” requirements to provide phone service to unprofitable customers.

No one knows the fate of the statewide smoking-ban bill as it heads to the Senate after passing the House for a sixth time. Backers—who prefer a minimum of exemptions—hope they finally have found the Senate “sweet spot” with exemptions for gambling property “footprints,” some fraternal organizations, cigar and hookah “bars,” retail tobacco stores, and an 18-month phase-in for smoking prohibitions at all other bars.

A lot more “government” awaits lawmakers. And though it will be largely free from the ill feelings, unruly crowds and national attention we endured during the first month, vigilance remains advisable.•

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

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