In my best Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer voice, “Goooood Morning Wabash!! On Saturday March 17, 2012, I woke up to attend an 8 am meeting hosted by the Wabash County Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs. This was a Chamber sponsored event to allow the local Indiana State Representatives to report on the most recent legislative session. In attendance were Representatives Rebecca Kubacki (District 22) and David Wolkens (District 18) and Senator Jim Banks (Senate District 17.) I’m not normally an early riser on Saturdays, so I was expecting a nice quiet, mostly mundane, report of the recent activities of our lawmakers. Boy was I wrong. I got quite a wake up that morning by the lively debate in the room and an even livelier protest happening outside.
From almost the beginning of the meeting until its conclusion, local union members stood outside City Hall with protest signs, inciting the motorists to honk their horns as they passed by. At times it became very difficult to hear what was being said in the room, but not one word was said in reference to the obvious protest.
The action indoors started out with some pleasant news. Kubacki reported that due to a computer error, Indiana ended the year with $340 million more in the coffers than what was previously thought. That money will be coming back to Hoosiers in four different forms. Eighty million will pay for All Day Kindergarten. Two Hundred million will go to the Indiana Teachers pension fund. Six million will go to State Fair victims. And finally, taxpayers will get an additional refund. If you filed single, you will receive $50 and if you filed jointly, you’ll receive $100.
Kubacki also reported that the benefits provided by the military relief fund available to Hoosier veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will be extended from one year to three years. In addition to those benefits, a larger amount of military training will now be counted for college credit. Kubacki finished her portion of reporting by saying that although the statewide smoking ban was passed, it was such a weak bill that she and Wolkens both voted against it.
Next to speak was Wolkens. This is where things heated up a little bit. He wasted no time to report on the “Right to Work” bill that Governor Daniels signed into law earlier this year. Those present in the room seemed almost divided 50-50 on the subject. During the question and answer session that followed those against RTW, including local union members present inside the room were very vocal about their disgust with the panel. Statistics and accusations flew around the room, but in the end, the panel was unanimous in its feeling that for all the arguments on both sides, that is was a simple matter of ideology: “right to work is a right to personal freedom.”
Wolkens also reported on two bills that overturned the Indiana Supreme Court. First was a law that returned the rights to underground water back to the landowners where that water exists. The second bill is much more contentious and was prompted by a very high profile case this past year in Indiana. The bill is known as SB1 or more commonly called the “No illegal police entry” bill.
Last year a State Supreme Court case known as Barnes vs. State of Indiana determined that a private person had no right to resist unlawful police entry of their home. This decision was seen by people on both sides of the political aisle as a blatant violation of our Fourth Amendment rights blocking illegal search and seizure. Although the bill won an overwhelming majority in both houses, the critics of the bill claim that it is a license to shoot cops. Wolkens was clear to point out this bill returns the law to exactly what it was before the decision, but with the additional language that prohibits lethal action if a police officer announces himself or is on official duty.
Wolkens finished his report by talking about the nepotism/conflict of interest law that passed that will prohibit public employees or their family members from serving on a board that oversees their department. Current employees are “grandfathered” until the end of their current term. At the end of their term, they will need to choose which position they wish to fill. Locally this will affect a city police officer who currently is also a city councilman.
The final speaker of the morning was Banks. He largely echoed what had been reported plus told us about the higher education reforms that passed that affect credit transfer between Indiana’s universities and the number of credits required to graduate. He also talked about the bill that will eliminate the “inheritance tax” (also known as the death tax.) This tax will be eliminated over the next ten years, but he did hint that if elected, gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence would like to accelerate this time table.
Overall this was an enjoyable and informative way to start my Saturday. I would do it again and would encourage you to attend the next legislative report.