Legislature and State Government and Opinion and Government & Economic Development and Government

FEIGENBAUM: GOP stranglehold hasn’t squelched debate

April 13, 2013

Ed FeigenbaumFor a Legislature dominated by a Republican super-majority and with a Republican governor doing more now than just watching from the cheap seats, you should be surprised by the uncertainty over the shape—and even the fate—of several significant bills and concepts this late in the process.

Many more key items than should have been expected at session’s outset are headed to the black box of conference committee deliberations with more than just minor details to be ironed out (and that follows an unusual spate of substantive policy amendments on Third Reading, an infrequent procedure typically reserved for non-controversial technical changes).

This year’s session also has featured many more bills than usual that were moved from policy committees to chamber floors only because of support from lawmakers who grudgingly voted to keep measures alive pending major changes on Second Reading. In a more partisan (closer majority) setting—at least in the House—many of these votes would have been different and bills killed simply so that votes wouldn’t later be used against lawmakers in close campaigns that could mean control of the chamber.

With the GOP super-majority (and Democrats not even required for a quorum in either the House or Senate), the expectation as the 2013 session debuted was that controversy would be avoided, Democrats would be superfluous, and the issues addressed would be cut-and-dried.

As you’ve seen, that didn’t transpire, and it wasn’t because of partisanship or lack of legislative leadership. A session started and actual policy broke out.

Perhaps the change in attitude and approach began when Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, pulled the same-sex marriage ban constitutional amendment resolution from the 2013 agenda. Or maybe it was the early joinder of Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, and House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, with Bosma and Long on the governor’s Indiana Career Council job skills (and veteran employment) measure.

Regardless of when it was launched, an overarching dearth of partisanship and the abundance of bipartisan votes and cooperation were a welcome change after the past several sessions—or even decades.

And items believed to be off the table entering January seemed to emerge as real issues and were shaped by both parties. Those included school voucher matters and a new look at education Common Core Standards.

The “ag-gag” bill saw emotional urban-rural debate.

Where partisan battles have broken out–-such as with legislation advanced by Sen. Mike Young, R-Speedway, to change the structure of the Indianapolis City-County Council—debate has been respectful. What Democrats perceived as a political attack on their party opened eyes to broader governance structure issues statewide that should lead to dispassionate study and perhaps change going forward.

Yet as we head into conference-committee deliberations, many controversial issues are far from being resolved.

There simply is no “sweet spot” to be found with the bill to aid the gambling community. Each option affects each property differently, and the move to authorize live table games at the racinos can’t overcome the “gambling expansion” stigma.

In perhaps the oddest marriage of the session, this month saw an effort to tap racino cash for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway capital improvements program—a topic not on the agenda through the first few weeks of the session.

Also to be resolved in conference: the future of central Indiana mass transit, and some key school voucher expansion bills. Republicans warily eye their costs, while Democrats seek to minimize the impact on public schools.

The school safety bill suddenly morphed from a relatively innocuous concept that generated good will to one that became incredibly divisive after some lawmakers sought to require schools to arm at least one employee.

Conference committee time will be even more lively and high-profile than usual this year—and that’s before lawmakers even begin talking tax cuts and budget.•

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

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