Ed Feigenbaum: State is failing to look to the future on key issues

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Sometimes the General Assembly arrives a bit late to the game, but makes the old college try nonetheless.

In two important areas, the state seems a bit behind some of its neighbors—and the federal government.

As the U.S. government rolls out cybersecurity initiatives on a more public basis, the public is learning more about behind-the-scenes efforts to inform and assist assorted public and private entities involved in critical infrastructure support—from investor-owned power companies to municipal water facilities.

Federal authorities—principally regulatory agencies and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—are warning about theoretical and actual cyber threats that could compromise public safety and health as well as the tools of commerce. The warnings come as some local government units, schools and hospitals across Indiana have been subject to overseas ransomware attacks that locked them out of their computer systems and compromised data and records.

Many of the Hoosier public victims had nowhere to turn for help—unless they were privately insured against cyberattacks. Even then, they were forced to rely upon an insurer’s recommendation on how to proceed and with what contractor, raising further questions about privacy, security and expenditures of public funds.

Three years ago, a pair of young lawmakers from different parties launched the Indiana Future Caucus to help address broad matters of importance to millennials. These were not necessarily partisan issues, nor those that could be quickly resolved by a line or two of legislation.

The caucus was concerned about the implications of, for example, the sharing economy and the internet of things, as well as privacy matters on assorted fronts, from data privacy to the use of certain information (facial recognition, phone hacking, GPS locators, etc.) in the law enforcement setting.

The caucus never found its wings, and solons since have had to consider issues involving ride-sharing services, autonomous vehicles, Airbnb regulation and the like on a piecemeal basis.

Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, last week was able to secure a Senate Committee on Commerce and Technology hearing for his Senate Resolution 13, urging the Legislative Council to assign to a study committee “the topic of the potential dangers of cyber-hacking in state government, specifically the use of ransomware.”

Better late than never.

Similarly, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Public Safety heard House Bill 1189 last week, legislation authored by Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, that would prohibit the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS—in training and testing.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are so-called “forever chemicals”—highly toxic and virtually indestructible fluorinated substances. Most popularly associated with firefighting foam—particularly at military bases—they have also been a staple of nonstick products; paints, stains and water repellants; cleaning products; and even food packaging.

But even as Indiana takes baby steps toward trying to keep one pervasive form of PFAS from contaminating groundwater, other states and the federal government are well ahead of us in prohibiting the chemicals and addressing existing problems.

The bipartisan final 2020 National Defense Authorization Act signed by the president during Christmas week phases out the military’s use of PFAS firefighting foam. And the same week Mayfield filed her bill, Michigan’s attorney general filed suit against 17 chemical manufacturers over environmental contamination and personal injuries attributed by the state to PFAS.

Michigan retains a trio of out-of-state law firms experienced in similar litigation to pursue its case (15 law firms submitted proposals to the state; some traditionally handle corporate business work). Minnesota PFAS litigation saw a 2018 settlement of $850 million.

The demise of the promising Indiana Future Caucus is unfortunate, because no one else seems destined or determined to take the lead on issues critical to Hoosiers going forward—some in their daily lives, and some impacting their health and safety—leaving a void for lawmakers.•


Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight for Hannah News Service. He can be reached at EDF@hannah-in.com.

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