IBJOpinion

FEIGENBAUM: Debate rages over the right to bear arms

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As we approach the procedural halfway point of the legislative session over the next week, with some key pieces of legislation already approved in their respective chambers of origin, the kinds of measures we told you about recently—those with sound and fury behind them—are receiving consideration.

One such bill, the statewide ban on smoking in all public places except casinos, was shelved by its author, Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, after it became evident it was going to be weighed down with assorted amendments that would either kill it or effectively neuter the ban (think back to the last pair of attempts to move a smoking prohibition through the Indianapolis City-County Council and you’ll see why Brown is holding back, at least for now).

HB 1065, authored by Rep. Bob Bischoff, D-Greendale, would bar business owners from prohibiting an employee from keeping a legally owned firearm in his or her locked vehicle at work.

Despite serious concerns expressed by the Indiana Manufacturers Association and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the bill passed the House Committee on Natural Resources on a 10-1 vote.

Why was the business-related bill heard in that panel? Because Bischoff chaired the panel, and sought some political credit in what will likely be a tough re-election race in a politically marginal and conservative district.

While several amendments were heard on the House floor, only two were adopted. The amendments added specific locations, such as child care facilities and penal facilities, to venues exempt from the legislation.

Business groups sought to convince legislators that the Second Amendment rights at stake here applied only to restrictions imposed by government units, and not by private employers. They emphasized the rights of employers to control acts on their private property over the rights of individuals to carry arms onto that property, but the bill passed 76-21.

Expect the bill to be heard in the Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters, where it is likely to face a receptive group of senators. A similar bill, SB 25, passed the Senate 41-9.

While there will be strong lobbying against this bill by business interests worried about workplace violence and liability, the National Rifle Association has sought to assuage such fears, and the bill should easily pass the Senate, given concerns about limiting Second Amendment rights.

Betting money is on the gun bill’s ultimately being signed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Another business issue is of big interest to consumers of alcoholic beverages—even though they might not understand (or care about) the mechanics.

Even after a legislative interim study committee recommended no major changes in alcoholic-beverage laws after a two-year study, a war that would significantly alter the way alcohol is sold and distributed in Indiana is being waged. The combatants are, effectively, National Wine & Spirits, the state’s principal alcohol wholesaler, and Southern Wine & Spirits, a national powerhouse that has been shut out of Indiana business under state law, but has pursued judicial remedies to become licensed.

The battle has meant new work for a bevy of beverage lobbyists, energized a drinking public that is concerned about potential price hikes, and turned on its head some traditional assumptions about who supports or opposes a given monopoly business and under what philosophy. Also at issue: the appropriateness of the Legislature’s requiring a given business entity to reimburse a competitor over lost business (which you may have thought only happened in the casino, horse racing and racino world).

Any legislative action that results in a new law is likely to be challenged in court. The lack of legislative action may also mean acceleration of administrative action and litigation, so don’t assume either way that the alcohol-distribution issue ends with adjournment sine die.

Legislators are also taking the first steps toward addressing some major outstanding gambling-related issues that will have a major impact on thousands of jobs; hundreds of millions of dollars of private equity; tens of millions of annual state tax dollars; and the future of a few large companies, cities and counties.

More on that next week.•

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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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