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EDITORIAL: Opportunities lost in 2010 legislative session

March 20, 2010

After a legislative session short on fireworks but absent any major achievements, it’s fair to ask how long “do no harm” will pass for progress in the Indiana General Assembly.

Job No. 1 this year was simply to end the session on time. By that measure, General Assembly 2010 was a resounding success. Lawmakers also managed to postpone by one year a hike in unemployment insurance fees, agreed on important ethics reforms affecting lobbyists, and gave school districts flexibility to shift some capital-projects funds to the classroom.

It’s discouraging, though, that ending the session by March 14 meant sidestepping many other issues that need consensus. Among the ones that died on the vine:

• Local government reform. We’re saddled with too many layers of government and townships that horde poor-relief money. In the name of accountability and financial efficiency, some of the layers must be peeled off. It’s a tired old refrain, but one we hope doesn’t go away until legislators overcome political obstacles to reform.

• Redistricting. A strong push to end gerrymandering before new districts are drawn next year went up in flames. The growing number of districts with non-competitive races is good for politicians but bad for democracy.

• A comprehensive smoking ban. The longer we wait, the more isolated Indiana becomes on this issue. Our isolation will become more apparent, and more troubling, for all manner of businesses considering doing business here.

• Net metering. Giving businesses, universities and other organizations a retail credit on their utility bills for using renewable sources of energy is a baby step in the grand scheme of things. So why can’t we get it done?

• A ban on texting while driving. This isn’t a business issue, but it has broad car-safety implications and should be a no-brainer. We’ll hope for a better outcome next year.

That incomplete list of kicked-to-the-curb issues doesn’t include such things as creating a mechanism for local funding of public transportation projects. In that case, proponents of a framework for funding non-road projects took a pass, deferring to the desires of legislators to dispense with the session quickly and get home.

We wonder if there’s even a chance they’ll be rewarded next year, when—unless revenue miraculously begins meeting projections—a battle of epic proportions awaits over the next state budget.

In a session that will be all about making the state’s fiscal ends meet, the reform issue—with its potential to save money—would seem like a winner. But we fear legislators will again turn up their noses at the numerous reform proposals the governor supports. Maybe next year our representatives will at least agree to put some reform questions in the hands of voters. There’d be no harm in that.

Speaking of harm, this session wasn’t completely free of it. A law allowing gun owners to bring their firearms to work did pass. Business groups at IBJ deadline were urging Gov. Mitch Daniels to veto it. Business owners who don’t want guns on their premises shouldn’t be forced to allow them by our “do-no-harm” Legislature.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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