Sizing up the 2016 legislative session


South Bend Tribune

The recently concluded session of the Indiana General Assembly began with big plans and talk of tackling such mammoth challenges as long-term road funding and expanded rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers.

By session’s end, things had gotten a bit smaller.

Take the road funding issue, for example. Although House Republicans proposed a long-term plan to deal with Indiana’s deep infrastructure needs, it involved raising cigarette and fuel taxes — a non-starter for Senate Republicans and Gov. Mike Pence, who’s running for re-election. The compromise reached in the last days of the session sends about $230 million in new money to state highways and bridges over the next two years. It also gives about $580 million to city and county governments for road projects.

A brief take on the short session:

LGBT rights

In the end, all those pledges to address legal protections for LGBT citizens after last year’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act implosion were just talk. In fact, even talk was cut off abruptly by Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne), who explained that Senate Bill 344 didn’t have enough support this year and there was “no need” to have a debate or vote on the issue. He also promised to revisit the issue next year. It’s reasonable to wonder: If leaders can’t settle this amid the immediate fallout of RFRA, when can they do it?ISTEP repealScrapping this flawed test was the right move. Now legislators must proceed carefully in determining what will replace it. Here’s a suggestion: Leave political power plays out of it.

Sunday alcohol sales

It’s getting to be a habit — a bad one — for lawmakers to fail in attempts to lift Indiana’s embarrassing 80-year-old ban on carry-out Sunday alcohol sales. But thanks to the passage of House Bill 1386, an omnibus bill that includes a number of issues involving alcohol and tobacco laws, Hoosiers will be able to purchase wine, beer and liquor for carryout on Sundays — but only from a microbrewery, a farm winery or an artisan distillery. Makes perfect sense, right?Police camera footageIn its original form, H.B. 1019 was terrible, blocking the public’s right to see body- and dash-cam videos. Changing the burden of proof from the public trying to convince a judge why a video should be released to law enforcement trying to convince a judge why it shouldn’t is among the improvements made to the bill that passed. Still, the measure potentially forces the public to go through a legal process to access material they have a right to see.

Abortion bill

H.B. 1337 makes Indiana the second state to ban abortions sought because a fetus has a genetic abnormality. It would also allow doctors who perform abortions in such cases to be sued for wrongful death. You can judge the measure by the opposition to it by several Republican female lawmakers, who say it goes too far and wasn’t properly vetted. And Rep. Sharon Negele, an anti-abortion pro-life Republican from Attica, points out that the bill doesn’t include education or funding, just penalties.Development grantsWith little time to spare — as part of the road funding bill — the Indiana General Assembly agreed to give the governor the full amount he requested for the Regional Cities program. You could hear the sigh of relief echoing throughout the St. Joseph/Elkhart/Marshall County area, which is set to receive a $42 million grant. Good news indeed.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].

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