EDITORIAL: Transit bill thwarted, again

April 6, 2013

Last week wasn’t a good one for the General Assembly. Let’s hope this week is better.

• A Senate committee’s decision to send the mass transit bill to summer study committee was disappointingly familiar. Mass transit doesn’t need more study. It’s been studied to death.

Some legislators simply don’t want mass transit, and others worry they’ll be attacked in the next election for supporting a tax increase—even though all they would be doing is letting voters in Hamilton and Marion counties decide, by referendum, whether they would be willing to pay higher taxes for upgraded transit.

Still others fret the language was too vague and they’d be held responsible for expensive changes later.

None of these concerns should have been important enough to derail the bill, which had broad support in the business community.

• Legislation that would let government agencies charge citizens as much as $20 per hour to fulfill public records requests has gained momentum—despite the financial burden it would place on citizens making requests.

The motive behind legislators’ push for the fee is understandable. Agencies sometimes are inundated with requests that stretch their capabilities.

But lawmakers should remember that this is the people’s government, and access should be as unrestricted as possible, even to the political parties that seek massive amounts of data while digging for dirt on candidates in the other party.

• A bill forbidding the taking of photos and videos on industrial operations and farms without permission made it through the Senate in February and now has cleared a House committee. This is another bill that creates more problems than it solves.

As with the records fee, lawmakers’ motivation is reasonable. More than once, animal-rights groups and other activists have taken photos or videos that the groups then twist to make political or moral statements.

Yet critics of the bill, including Indiana University law professor Seth Lahn, question its constitutionality, arguing it infringes on the First Amendment. We share that concern and fear that farms guilty of abuses could use the law to shield themselves from scrutiny.

Bright green light on vouchers

The state’s headlong push into education reform received an important stamp of approval late last month when the Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the 2011 voucher law passed constitutional muster.

The five justices, including Robert Rucker, an appointee of former Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon, said the law does not necessarily eliminate public schools, and it doesn’t subsidize religion—an argument advanced by plaintiffs who highlight the overwhelming number of voucher-supported students landing in parochial schools.

Rather, the court said, government money flows to people who make their own decisions about where to spend it, whether that’s a parochial or another private institution.

The low- and modest-income parents and guardians who jumped at opportunities wealthier people take for granted can rest easier knowing the law is solid.•

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