A legislative process that seemed so inchoate, disorganized and sluggish over the past few months suddenly has kicked into high gear.
What had been an apparent case of legislative attention deficit disorder was magically cured as deadlines approached for bills to pass their second chamber.
In one 48-hour stretch early in the first week of April, lawmakers provided a truer lay of the session land than in all the days leading up to it.
We learned that lawmakers were willing to tackle abortion-clinic-restriction legislation without acceding to Planned Parenthood of Indiana-related concerns, and that collection of sales tax on certain Internet transactions likely won’t be accelerated.
And we saw a comprehensive school safety measure pushed by Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller advance to the House floor. The bill requires that every public and charter school designate an armed school protection officer.
Marion County Senate Republicans, who generally were not on board with the mass-transit-referendum bill, helped route it toward a summer study panel. Hoosiers also discovered that even Republicans are hesitant to change the representational structure of the Indianapolis City-County Council without public input, study and consideration of similar changes in other big cities.
Many other issues remain under debate, including how far lawmakers are willing to go in “expanding” gambling; whether lawmakers will approve widespread tax relief; and how to address the Medicaid expansion and funding issues under Obamacare.
Some fiscal matters must wait on the state Medicaid and revenue collection forecast at mid-month. But a range of other factors may be contributing to delays, including a lack of clear guidance from the federal government and the Governor’s Office and uncertainty among lawmakers on the best course of action.
Legislators of both parties are frustrated with Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the Medicaid team at the Family and Social Services Administration over a growing executive-branch preference to leave the legislative branch out of the negotiating process with the federal government over Medicaid expansion.
Democrats are half-heartedly trying to make political hay by suggesting that Pence doesn’t accept the fact that Obamacare is now the public policy of the land, and that he is willing to forgo some $10 billion in federal Medicaid supplements over the next decade simply to score political points.
Republicans respond that too many questions are unanswered, program costs are ultimately likely to soar well past federal subsidies, and the federal strings might require broader coverage than most Hoosiers would deem appropriate. Their preferred option: a waiver to use the Healthy Indiana Plan—something the feds are reluctant to allow as an alternative.
Many of these policy decisions just being resolved or still pending are not entirely political. Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, was pushing a Medicaid alternative with the support of a cadre of Republican colleagues until the Governor’s Office asked him to stand down.
New abortion restrictions pushed by a female freshman Republican were supported by a number of Democrats despite pre-session chest-thumping about social “wedge” issues. (For example, the same-sex marriage constitutional amendment restriction was pulled by GOP leaders at the session’s start to allow the U.S. Supreme Court to rule.)
Indianapolis Senate Republicans shelved the mass transit bill advanced by a Hamilton County Republican that had strong corporate and community- leader support, a rare issue that saw city Republicans (particularly from one chamber) opposed to other Republicans in the doughnut counties—who, in turn, were backed by urban Democrats.
Lawmakers are conflicted over the gambling bill, but not in a partisan manner. Democrats and Republicans from gambling communities seek to defend against out-of-state competition without expanding gambling. Meanwhile, the House and Senate are haggling over how to fund gambling-industry tax incentives.
Even with some of the overarching agreements in recent days, measures will disappear into conference committees for assorted strategic reasons, where anything can happen. But the degree of early accord on major issues is encouraging, and prepares us for the fiscal forecast—and conference deliberations.•?
Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly while the General Assembly is in session. He can be reached at email@example.com.