Judge Overturns State “Pornography” Law

Judge Sarah Evans Barker struck down HEA 1042-2008 which was an incredibly broadly written bill purporting to govern adult materials. The Indiana Law Blog has made the opinion available here (pdf).

The bill’s author Terry Goodin said Barker “totally interpreted (the law) wrong” and that it was perfectly clear that the law targeted pornographic businesses.

Well, no, in fact that wasn’t “perfectly clear.” Judge Barker concluded:

Clearly, a vast array of merchants and materials is implicated by the reach of this statute as written. A romance novel sold at a drugstore, a magazine offering sex advice in a grocery store checkout line, an R-rated DVD sold by a video rental shop, a collection of old Playboy magazines sold by a widow at a garage sale – all incidents of unquestionably lawful, nonobscene, nonpornographic materials being sold to adults – would appear to necessitate registration under the statute. Such a broad reach is, without question, constitutionally disproportionate to the stated aim of the statute to provide a community “heads-up” upon the opening of “adult bookstore-type businesses.”

Tax Restructuring

Seth Slabaugh, writing for the Muncie Star Press, has an article on the tax restructuring bill passed by the legislature earlier this year. In a bit of what appears to be editorializing, he describes it as the “landmark property-tax-reform bill.” Of course, “landmark” and “reform” are in the eye of the beholder. Landmark is probably less controversial than reform, I suppose. Whatever the legislature did, it was pretty big.

Everybody’s favorite economist
™, Larry DeBoer, points out that the legislation passed by state legislators gives a tax credit to taxpayers (the property tax circuit breaker) at the expense of local government without funding the credit.

What makes this different from every other credit offered by the state is this one is not going to be funded by the state,” said Larry DeBoer, an economist at Purdue University. “If your property tax bill comes in over the circuit breaker limit, you will get a credit for the difference, and that amount you will not pay to your local government, and your local government will have to do without. They will actually take the hit. They will suffer the revenue loss.”

Professor DeBoer also suggests that the legislation is complicated enough that not every County Auditor is going to be equipped to do the fiscal analysis required by the bill. It’s likely to be a major boon for fiscal consultants around the state.

In addition to the property tax circuit breaker, the legislation also raised the sales tax about 17%; shifted local responsibility for some school and welfare costs to the state; imposed restrictions on local government ability to engage in capital projects; imposes advisory duties on county councils with respect to non-school taxing units; and requires county assessors to absorb many of the duties of most elected township assessors.

With respect to the circuit breaker, Prof. DeBoer points out local units have even less control over their own destinies:

The tax rate that matters for the circuit breaker is the sum of all rates — libraries, towns, cities, counties — so no taxing unit has control over this,” DeBoer said. “If the sum of all the rates pushes the taxpayer above the credit limit, and the tax bill is not paid, the lost revenue is distributed among all taxing units in that area.”
So the new law makes all local budgets in a county interdependent.

“Everybody’s budget depends on everybody else’s budget,” DeBoer said. “That’s going to be a challenge. Certainly, this is going to have some complicated consequences.”

Interesting times.

Local Taverns Get A Little Sadder

Niki Kelly has an article for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on the new law that allows some low stakes gambling in local taverns. The law authorizes issuance of licenses for a limited number of bars to sell pull tabs, punch boards, and tip boards. Somehow I don’t envision a group of friends sitting around a table, having a few beers, and enjoying a couple of pull tabs. Rather, I see this as being more for the belly-up-to-the-bar crowd. It’s been awhile since I was very familiar with the bar scene, so maybe I’m wrong. But, I’m not.

The article also references other laws going into effect on July 1. (July 1 being the default date for most new laws to go into effect on a given year – it can be changed, if necessary, but Legislative Services default boilerplate for bill drafting uses July 1.) They include a requirement that employers with more than 25 employees provide support for mothers to pump breast milk; and a domestic violence law that requires incarceration for 8 hours before someone arrested is released on bail.

Balanced Budget Hot Streak

This story doesn’t do much to bolster Gov. Daniels claims that he balanced the state budget and that we’re on an economic hot streak. The state’s unemployment fund is running a deficit. To be clear, this is a problem that started before Gov. Daniels took office, but if he had truly balanced the state budget and Indiana’s economy was truly doing well under his stewardship, this wouldn’t be an issue.

The core of the problem is that more money is going out in unemployment benefits than is coming in from business taxes. And it has been occurring since 2000, when the year-end balance was $1.6 billion.

Now that balance is down to $318 million, but it had dipped to as low as $80 million in late April until second-quarter payments pushed it back up.

The solution is to cut benefits or to raise taxes. The Indiana Manufacturer’s Association seems to prefer the former.

Right now the maximum weekly benefit is $390, and 37 percent of those who receive unemployment are at that level.

Borror said the dollar level isn’t out of place compared with the rest of the country, but the state’s replacement rate is high. This is the proportion of one’s wages replaced by unemployment insurance dollars. Indiana is seventh-highest in the nation at 52.1 percent, according to a DWD spreadsheet.

Now there are surely many who are fans of the “sink or swim” approach. Take the hard line and let these unemployed workers fend for themselves. After all, nobody owes them anything. But, even leaving compassion aside — which I’m willing to do — but that’s short sighted from a self-interested economic perspective. These guys go under and they start defaulting on rents, mortgages and the rest. Then, rather than simply needing a bridge to get them between jobs, they’re looking at more hardcore poverty with all of the negative societal consequences that entails.

There are limits, of course. But we’re just haggling over the price. Begrudging benefit payments generally is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

State Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

I’m tired, and it’s late, so this will be a short post, but I just got back from the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Indianapolis. It was like a 7-fer for a political junkie: Evan Bayh, Lee Hamilton, Jill Long Thompson, Jim Schellinger, Hilllary Clinton, Barack Obama, and, my favorite, Howard Dean. One of my favorite lines of the night was from him, saying something to the effect of, maybe if we were keeping the money we were spending in Iraq here at home, we wouldn’t have to sell off our highways.

I was surprised at how many names I recognized on name tags. I guess if you consume the vast amount of state political media that I do, names will eventually seep in. I was particularly happy to see Dave Crooks again. He was just always very pleasant to me when I was a rookie staffer at the Legislative Services Agency. I also exchanged a few words with Baron Hill, Joe Donnelly, Russ Stilwell, and the brother and father of Michael Montagno.

My name tag was misspelled “Mason” instead of “Masson,” but even that was a little funny since the woman who handed me my name tag recognized my name from the blog and apologized for the typo. On a number of occasions, folks would indicate some familiarity with this site, and it was always vaguely surprising. I went with “T” who comments in these parts. His wife accused me of blushing whenever someone would mention the site. I’m not sure I went that far, but I’m a little self-deprecating by nature; so, I’m never quite sure how to handle the odd compliment.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. Hopefully Amy can salvage some of the pictures I took. I suspect most of them are backs of heads and a speck of a speaker off in the distance.

Update Not much of an update, but I noticed that I forgot to thank Chris Coyle with Indiana Progressives who got me a ticket to the dinner.

HB 1036 – Uninsured motorists

Just following up on some legislation that passed. Looks like HB 1036 which I mentioned back in January will become effective on July 1.

If a person is convicted of or has a judgment entered against them for operating a vehicle without financial responsibility (basically, driving while uninsured), their name will go into a registry established by the BMV. The BMV is required to set up a program of random checks for people on the registry. If the person can’t verify their financial responsibility or fails to respond to the BMV, that constitutes prima facie evidence for a new financial responsibility violation. A driver is to be maintained in the registry for 5 years from their most recent violation.

Government reform

Democratic candidate for Governor, Jim Schellinger had a couple of thoughts on government reform reported in the Courier Journal. Schellinger was speaking of the Kernan-Shepard report on consolidating local government which they speculate will result in savings:

But Schellinger said the plan needs to go farther by also incorporating ideas for state government reform. And he’s concerned about imposing one local government system on all communities.

“The issues are a lot different down here than they are in Marion County or in Lake County,” Schellinger said by phone while traveling through Southern Indiana.

He’s critical of Daniels for moving ahead this year with changes to the property tax system while postponing local government restructuring. The tax plan increased the state sales tax while cutting property taxes and putting new limits on property owners’ bills, which could significantly reduce revenue to some local governments.

“Until we look at local government reform and state government reform, we’re not going to solve this tax situation,” Schellinger said. “It’s only a tax shift or it will take us from a tax crisis to a local government crisis.”

In my mind, too much state wide policy is driven by Marion and Lake counties. For most things, I think the other 91 counties have more in common with each other than they do with Marion or Lake Counties; problems in those counties shouldn’t be addressed through statewide solutions.

The other thing that Schellinger gets right is the idea that it shouldn’t just be local government that comes under the microscope. State lawmakers seem more eager to look for problems in local government than they do state government.

On the upside, however, Thomas reports that the Governor stands to save $50,000 from the property tax cuts he helped pass.

Abstinence only education

In another post, we were discussing abstinence only education in the context of John McCain tap dancing around questions about whether sex education should include information about contraceptives. So, I thought the following story was instructive:

A recent survey that found some Florida teens believe drinking a cap of bleach will prevent HIV and a shot of Mountain Dew will stop pregnancy has prompted lawmakers to push for an overhaul of sex education in the state.

. . .

The survey showed that Florida teens also believe that smoking marijuana will prevent a person from getting pregnant.

State lawmakers said the myths are spreading because of Florida’s abstinence-only sex education, Local 6 reported.

Here in Indiana, during the past session, Sen. Breaux introduced SB 327 would have required schools adhering to an abstinence only education to notify parents of that fact. The notice would have specified, among other things, that “abstinence-only education does not teach students how to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases other than by remaining abstinent” and that the child was not receiving “medically accurate information” on the risks, benefits, and proper use of various forms of contraception in reducing the risk of pregnancy and STDs.

Something for Nothing

An interesting juxtaposition in the Evansville Courier Press. The brief opinion notes the focus on property taxes obscuring legislation of less magnitude. Then it mentions one of the lesser bills that limited government’s ability to charge for labor in responding to a public records request.

State Rep. Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, was a bit perturbed that the city of Clarksville, Ind., continued to charge 8 cents in labor as part of its copying fees. He should have been. In the 2007 session, wording prohibiting local governments from including labor and overhead in copying fees was inadvertently removed from the Indiana Code.

Lawmakers this session reinstated that wording to the Access to Public Records Act by a 95-0 vote in the House and a 46-0 vote in the Senate, and Gov. Mitch Daniels signed it into law.

If copying fees aren’t limited to the actual cost, government agencies would price public information out of reach.

It’s perfectly rational to require that governmental entities provide copies of their records to interested citizens. It’s even rational to subsidize the cost of providing those records. But we should recognize that this is an unfunded mandate by the General Assembly on other units of government. There are labor costs involved in responding to these requests, even if those costs are not charged to the requesting citizen. And, for citizens concerned about taxation, it’s worth noting that this is an extra service provided by units of government at taxpayer expense. And, for state lawmakers who like to pretend that the recent spike in property taxes was caused by out-of-control local spending, it’s worth noting when the State is the cause of increased local spending.