Sometimes, the bills our Legislature fails to pass are more telling than the ones that land on the governor’s desk.
This is one of those times.
In a session mostly void of distracting social issues, legislators couldn’t pass—or even muster a vote—on a host of high-profile measures, some of which have been rattling around the Statehouse for years.
Redistricting was one of the important topics that got no real traction—even after two years of study. In a state with restrictive voter ID laws and voting hours that are among the shortest in the country, there was little interest in coming up with an independent system for redrawing our legislative districts in a way that could lead to more competitive races and higher voter turnout. That’s telling.
In a state that likes to tout its fiscal conservatism, legislators wouldn’t even vote on baby steps in the direction of more cost-effective government at the township level. A bill to consolidate smaller townships died without a floor vote. Another bill that would have mandated tougher oversight of township property tax levies and budget surpluses died even earlier in the process.
Even though Hoosiers smoke at a rate higher than in only six other states, Republican legislators killed a bill that would have raised the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. It’s common-sense policy that would have made it difficult for young Hoosiers to buy cigarettes at a time they’re most likely to start smoking.
With overt expressions of hate on the rise across the country, Indiana legislators once again failed to move a bill that would allow judges to consider during sentencing whether a crime was motivated by the victim’s race, religion, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry or sexual orientation. With that failure, Indiana remains one of five states without a so-called hate-crimes law.
We applaud Gov. Eric Holcomb for insisting that gender identity remain in the bill. Unfortunately, leaving it in likely sealed the bill’s fate. Passing the law would have signaled that hate and discrimination are unwelcome here. Legislators don’t seem to care that once again punting on the issue sends a much different message.
Legislators look unlikely even to pass meaningful legislation to revamp the state’s workforce development system, the issue they claimed was their top priority. There is still some workforce legislation moving. The bill would give the Indiana Economic Development Corp. more authority to oversee grants and requires the Legislative Services Agency to conduct an analysis of each workforce-related program in Indiana.
But lawmakers say they will put off a major overhaul of the system until at least next year.
For any single issue, you can find legitimate pros and cons worthy of vigorous, public debate. In a system that’s working as it should, that debate leads to a vote and the vote creates policy.
Unfortunately, our Legislature too often shuts down debate and fails to vote—even on issues that come up year after year and have broad public support.
Hoosiers should demand more from the General Assembly.•
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