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Ed DeLaney: A legislative special session is doubly unnecessary

April 27, 2018

DeLaney
March 14 was set by law as the final day of this year’s “short” session of our Indiana General Assembly. The supermajority now concedes that, while we used every day allowed by law, it didn’t get the job done. So it has decided we will meet for a second “special” session, apparently to be held May 14. There were two reasons for this result, neither of which justifies a special session.

The first reason underlying the governor’s call for a special session was that members of the supermajority wasted endless time on trivial matters and pretended to consider important things like gun control, the opioid crisis and the problems in our foster care system. The second reason things didn’t get done was a lack of leadership. The leaders permitted the members of their supermajority to engage in endless disputes over which special interests to favor and how. Of course, there were the usual disagreements over who would get credit.

So, in sum, the first reason the special session isn’t needed is that there already was plenty of time to do anything of importance.

The second reason the special session isn’t needed is that, after a month of threatening to call such a session, the supermajority has yet to point to any burning issue of broad public interest that would justify spending taxpayer dollars on yet another gathering of legislators. I keep waiting to learn just what the urgency is, but all I hear is a series of almost muffled suggestions.

There are several reasons for this near silence, mainly that the issues supposedly left on the table were not well-thought-out during the session and still aren’t well-thought-out. Thus, a scheme to replace the Muncie school board with management provided by Ball State University was never more than a device to punish mismanagement by the Muncie Community Schools board. Well, the Legislature is not a judge or jury. There is no need for a special session to punish one of over 250 school boards.

Another not-well-thought-out issue is the necessity of “conforming ” Indiana’s income taxes with the new federal tax code. This was never explained. Presumably, a small group of people who are much affected understood the concept, but few others did. Our teachers have suffered the largest decline in average salary during the period from 1999-2016. Shouldn’t we be discussing that when looking at tax policy?

Last, we hear about the need to supplement our small program of grants to enhance safety at some schools. We can take a serious look at that in January. Then we can find a way to deal with school safety without diverting funds from the classroom. We might even tap into our budget surplus rather than hit our schools with more bills that don’t improve learning.

So the second reason we don’t need a special session is that we have yet to state a good reason for one.

Let me end on one additional cautionary note: The Legislature is not as transparent as it should be on the best of days. Too many items get slipped into legislation with little or no debate. Now, the supermajority has used a secret caucus to decide to hold a special session. What will be the ground rules for hearings, testimony and voting on amendments in our special session? I await the answers to these important questions.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

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DeLaney, an Indianapolis attorney, is a Democrat representing the 86th District in the Indiana House of Representatives. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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