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EDITORIAL: How can a supermajority fail? Ask Indiana Republicans

March 23, 2018

Republicans who control the Indiana General Assembly should be embarrassed about the way the 2018 legislative session ended.

They had so few things that actually needed to be done and yet they managed to run out the clock without finishing them, forcing Gov. Eric Holcomb to call them back to the Statehouse for a special session.

It wasn’t pretty. Lawmakers scrambled to find last-minute compromises and hammer out language on bills so they could receive final votes before a midnight deadline on March 14. Such scrambles are not unusual. Lawmakers are deadline-driven people and often finish their work with little time to spare.

But this time, they didn’t get the work done. So bills to fund school safety, update the state’s tax code and provide an emergency loan to Muncie Community Schools died. (See Hayleigh Colombo’s story on page 3 about the tax bill.) Other proposals fell by the wayside, too, including legislation meant to make it possible for companies to test autonomous vehicles in Indiana.

This was not a debacle you could chalk up to partisan bickering. This wasn’t some filibuster the majority party couldn’t break because it didn’t have enough votes.

The Republicans have supermajorities in the Indiana House and Senate. Supermajorities. That means they have so many members in both chambers that they can actually pass bills and conduct other business without Democrats even showing up.

Yet, somehow, Republicans actually tried to blame Democrats—at least in part—for their failure to finish their work. Don’t buy it.

It was internal party squabbling and disorganization that caused the session to end with important bills left on the table. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, pointed a finger at the Senate, which had used part of the session’s last day to honor outgoing President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. And Long pointed to what he called a “meltdown” by Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, an architect of the automated-vehicle bill.

In reality, though, the leaders failed to lead effectively. Maybe it’s because managing so many caucus members with their different personalities, egos and needs is just too difficult. Maybe it’s because, as veteran leaders, they’d become complacent. Maybe it’s a sign that Bosma and Long (who is retiring) just don’t wield the power they used to. From the outside, it’s tough to tell.

The legislative failures can be fixed. The special session will take place after the May primary, and Holcomb will try to lead legislators through a short list of bills he wants them to pass.

Still, that won’t wipe away the public disapproval that typically accompanies a special session or the Democratic criticism (and probably TV ads) reminding voters that every day of the extra session costs the state about $30,000.

At least they can dull their distress with beer they buy on Sundays.•

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

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