Sen. Melton has introduced SB 83 which would allow redevelopment commissions to use up to 15% of the tax proceeds received by a tax increment financing allocation area in a given year for maintaining and repairing roads, sewers, and other public infrastructure. At a very general level, I think the idea is to use TIF revenues for capital expenses rather than operating expenses. So, this would be a departure in that repair and maintenance are expenses you’d expect general tax revenues to take care of. But, of course, one of the knocks on tax increment financing is the idea that it captures taxes that would otherwise be available for repair and maintenance. (The counterargument is that those tax dollars wouldn’t be available in the first place without TIF projects spurring economic development). There’s an argument to be made that this change is consistent with the overall TIF philosophy if economic activity is making additional demands on roads and public infrastructure. Nobody wants to invest in an area with inadequate sewage services and crumbling roads.
Sen. Sandlin has introduced SB 78 which identifies three specific crimes as “public order” offenses and then permits a sentencing enhancement if these crimes are committed while wearing a mask or face covering. I can definitely see where there is a policy argument to be made that attempting to conceal one’s identity while wearing a crime should be punished more harshly than committing the crime openly; but it seems arbitrary to single out the crimes of criminal mischief, rioting, or disorderly conduct or the means of concealment being hiding one’s face. Why not add a sentencing enhancement to campaign finance crimes or dodging taxes while hiding behind shell corporations?
My guess is that Sandlin is reacting to the Antifa panic.
My title here is almost as long as the bill itself, but Sen. Koch has introduced SB 222 which amends the law concerning communicable diseases at a food establishment. Current law says that a person with a communicable or infectious disease can’t work in a food establishment in any capacity in which epidemiological evidence indicates the person may spread the disease. (Pretty sure I’ve seen folks with colds working at fast food joints). The legislation would require a local health department to disclose, upon request, certain information concerning a food establishment with a person who is or was prohibited from working under those circumstances. (I don’t know that the local health department is always going to have this information.)
The health department must disclose the specific disease, the name and location of the food establishment, and the period of time during which the person worked while infectious. The legislation goes on to say, however, that the health department may not disclose the name of the person or any other identifying information of the person. I’m not necessarily against this legislation, but my guess is that, in smaller communities with smaller establishments, the disease, location, name of establishment, and period of time worked are going to be more than enough information for news organizations or citizen sleuths in the comment sections to figure out who has what disease.
Sen. Grooms has introduced SB 177 which urges the study of loot boxes in video games. Specifically, it requires the Indiana Gaming Commission to provide the legislative council with recommendations on how best to regulate loot boxes in online games and applications and options for a regulatory system concerning the sale of such games and appropriate disclosures.
The legislation itself doesn’t make this explicit, but the referral to the Gaming Commission indicates the concern that these loot boxes are a type of gambling. Here is the first explainer that came up on Google regarding the general issue. Players pay additional money to get the “loot box” – bonus items with additional items or features related to the game. I use the term “bonus” somewhat loosely, since the additional items or features can be important to game play. It can be similar to gambling in that there is an element of chance – you don’t know what you’re getting. Depending on how it’s set up, there can be a slot machine effect, where you combine gaming and intermittent reward mechanisms to create an addictive dynamic. Also, it can be somewhat unclear prior to purchase how important the additional pay-to-play elements are to game play.
Sen. Bohacek has introduced SB 11 which requires entities administering a needle exchange program to establish a needle exchange registry. The registry would be optional for users and, if the user was on the registry, the user might use that registration as a defense to crimes involving possession of the needles.
Currently, needle exchange administrators are prohibited from collecting personally identifiable information. That prohibition is deleted and the legislation would require them to maintain a registry. The registry is to include the person’s name, date of birth, and last four digits of their social security number. The information in the registry is only to be accessed by a court, a court clerk, or a law enforcement officer. (This would seem to prevent the needle exchange administrator itself from accessing the information — which I presume is not the intent, but maybe a drafting oversight.)
The legislation also says “an individual may opt out and is not required to be included on the registry.” The benefit to the user of registering is that, if they’ve registered within the past year, they can use the registration as a defense to prosecution for possession of a hypodermic needle for use with a controlled substance.
I get where this legislation is coming from. On the one hand, the government says it’s a crime to possess a hypodermic needle to use controlled substances. On the other hand, the government is giving you hypodermic needles that you’re almost certainly going to use for injecting controlled substances. This maybe harmonizes the message a little bit.
I’m ambivalent about the drug war. On the one hand, I think addiction and drug use does a lot of harm to our communities. On the other hand, I think policing, prosecuting, and jailing drug users comes with a lot of expense and does some harm in the process. I don’t have a good sense of where the balance is. Could we decriminalize possession of needles entirely without exacerbating addiction and drug use? I have no idea — I’m not on the front lines of this issue. I do have the sense that the benefits of needle exchanges themselves outweigh the harm. Preventing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C in our communities outweighs the harm, which I think is probably marginal, from tacit endorsement of the use of needles. Even though the message is mixed somewhat, I don’t think it’s too complicated for the general public to figure out that the government doesn’t want people injecting illegal drugs, but if they are going to do it anyway, the government would prefer they use clean needles and not contract debilitating diseases that are expensive to treat.
I don’t have a good sense of how this legislation would shake out. Would it increase or decrease the use of needle exchanges? If it increases use, does the resulting harm reduction outweigh the increase, if any, in drug use that results from having a defense to the crime of possessing a needle for drug use? (I think they might revoke my blogging card for not pretending certainty and proclaiming every issue a clear and obvious matter of good versus evil.)
Niki Kelly, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has an interesting article on the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s tackling of issues that might seem tangential to business interests. In particular, Micah Clark – a vocal social conservative – seems to take umbrage at the Chamber’s support for the General Assembly adopting a hate crime law.
“A lot of business owners – especially small-business owners – would prefer they stick to business and economic issues. It has given the impression to some they are for big government,” said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana. “Many people are scratching their heads as to why they are going off course so much.”
But Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar bristles at the idea his organization has strayed outside its lane.
“All of these things we get involved in is because it has an economic impact and jobs connection,” he said. “The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has indeed been a driving force in making Indiana one of the best places to grow jobs and raise families and one of the best business climates in the country.”
Mission creep is certainly a thing, and when you focus on everything, you tend to focus on nothing. That said, the Chamber is correct that the social environment is intertwined with the business environment. We do ourselves a disservice when we try to pretend our economic lives are somehow distinct from other parts of our lives. And – if it comes to a conflict between Brinegar’s Chamber and Clark’s “American Family Association,” I’m going to side with Brinegar. I probably watch too much “Survivor,” but the conflict between the two conservative groups puts me in mind of the Survivor end-game when one tribe has mostly voted out the other tribe and members of the dominant tribe have to square off against one another. If unions and social progressives were more powerful forces in Indiana, we’d probably see the Chamber and AFA more inclined to make common cause with one another. But, without unions and social progressives to unite against, you might see erstwhile allies engage in more open conflict.
As an aside, I really don’t like this description of students: “Brinegar said businesses pay more than half of the funds that go to K-12 education, and ultimately are the end users of the product – students – so their interest in a solid education system makes sense.” I suspect this was more of a quick metaphor than anything like a sincerely held belief that students are some kind of widget produced by schools, so I won’t hold it against Mr. Brinegar, but it gets at something unfortunately common enough that it seems worth addressing: employment isn’t the end-all be-all of education. Schools are more than vocational. We need them to produce more than workers – we need them to produce citizens, to help produce fully realized human beings who can make decisions for themselves on how to live happy, worthwhile lives. A productive work life is only a piece of that equation.
Dave Bangert, writing for the Lafayette Journal and Courier, reports that Sen. Ron Alting will introduce SB 12-2019 concerning “bias crimes.” The bill would intent to harm or intimidate certain people as a permissible aggravator for the court to consider when sentencing. Specifically, the bill would allow a court to consider whether the offender committed the offense with the intent of harming or intimidating an individual or a group because of the individual or group’s perceived or actual race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, political affiliation, status as a public safety officer, status as a relative of a public safety officer, service with the armed services, or “association with any recognizable group or affiliation.” The bill also adds offenses based on ancestry, gender identity, sex, political affiliation, status as a public safety officer, status as a relative of a public safety officer, and service in the armed services to the list of offenses that constitute bias crimes (renamed “bias motivated crimes”) for which law enforcement officials are required to gather statistics and report each year.
I guess I’m a little skeptical of the broad scope of “association with any recognizable group or affiliation” as a permissible aggravator for sentencing purposes, but otherwise this seems positive. The article indicates that Indiana, along with Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming, are the only states without some kind of hate crimes legislation.
I don’t know how serious the consideration is, but the Indiana General Assembly Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary received a recommendation from the Department of Child Services based on a suggestion from the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group. (That CWPPG report is worth reading for anyone wanting a deep dive into the subject. The recommendation is to reconsider the statutory definition of “neglect” which is the most common reason for a “Child in Need of Services” (CHINS) case or designation. Specifically, they recommend excluding neglect which is based solely on poverty and limited, one-time lapses in parental judgment. The overarching problem is that Indiana’s DCS is buckling under the strain of its responsibilities.
Inadequate funding is one issue. But there is also a question of whether the system is over-inclusive. Indiana had a 90% increase in children being referred to out-of-home care from 2005 – 2017 (that seems like an odd date range to pick) while neighboring states had between 10% -40%. Indiana also has a comparatively high rate of children being referred to child protection. Only Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and Vermont have higher rates of referrals. (A caution to the reader – I don’t have a great deal of involvement with these types of cases, so I only have a very broad idea of what it means to be referred to out of home care and to be referred to child protection). The study noted that Indiana has significantly more court involvement with these cases than is common nationwide. 72% of child victims in Indiana have court cases pending compared to 29% nationally. So, the question is whether Indiana has a bigger problem or if it is unnecessarily catching families up in a dragnet.
There is a lot to unpack in the CWPPG review and recommendations, and I’ve only skimmed it. But, with respect to the statutory definition of neglect that caught my eye when I started writing this post, the current definition says:
The child’s physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered as a result of the inability, refusal, or neglect of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision.
According to the working group, this is not an uncommon definition, but it notes that other states exclude violations due solely to poverty and occasional lapses in judgment. The proposed definition would define neglect as:
The child’s physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered as a result of the inability, refusal, or neglect of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision, though the parent, guardian, or custodian is financially able to do so, or due to the failure, refusal, or inability of the parent, guardian, or custodian to seek financial or other reasonable means to do so.
I see what they’re trying to do here, but I’d revise the language somewhat. They want to excuse neglect when a parents are trying their best but just can’t provide, but they don’t want to excuse poverty due to sloth. I think they need to incorporate the “solely” concept into the definition, and I think they need to back off a bit on the failure to seek financial means. As currently written, I don’t see an acceptable poverty excuse that actually makes the cut.
But, overall, the general thrust of the idea isn’t too disagreeable. You want to avoid dragging more people into the system than you have to. You want to devote limited resources to where they can do the most good. And you don’t want to criminalize or otherwise diminish parental rights simply because a person is poor. However, where kids are suffering due to poverty, we need to do a better job of providing for them. And, of course, there is the larger problem of the economy being hollowed out and the consequent erosion of the middle class. But, I suppose that’s a bit much to put on the shoulders of DCS.
Niki Kelly, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, reports that Superintendent McCormick will not run for re-election. Arika Herron, writing for the Indianapolis Star, reports that Superintendent McCormick believes that “any school that takes public money should be an inclusive place for LGBT students and staff.” It seems pretty clear that she does not see eye-to-eye with her Republican colleagues on what the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s role should be or with how charters and private schools should be held accountable for their receipt and use of public money. This news came as Dr. McCormick discussed the Department of Education’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session. Among the priorities she announced for the Department were providing an inclusive environment for K-12 students, holding charter school authorizers accountable both fiscally and academically, and reducing testing time.
[P]roviding children an early opportunity to learn while ensuring all K-12 students are provided an inclusive environment is pivotal to the well-being of children and Indiana’s success[.] . . . Dr. McCormick will champion for charter school quality by holding authorizers accountable, both fiscally and academically. An aligned assessment system will also live in this area. In an effort to further reduce testing time and align PK-12 efforts, assessment will once again be a part of the legislative discussion.
With respect to Dr. McCormick’s decision not to run for a second term in 2020, she said, “We’ve done some great work. When I got into this office my charge was ‘I want to do what’s best for kids.’ I think back, and I was so cute. I was so naive. Now that I’ve learned the governance structure, things are very complicated in Indiana. . . . As a parent, I would not be happy if my state superintendent … were spending time on noise and that’s simply what this has become. For that conversation to keep coming up and suck all of our energies out, to me I’m growing very weary of that, so the best way I can help shut that down is to let people know I’m not running again.” When Dr. McCormick’s Democratic predecessor won the office, the General Assembly and Governor took steps to limited its authority. The State Board of Education has been given more power in recent years, and more dramatically, legislation was passed to make the Office of the Superintendent an appointed rather than an elected position. That transition is scheduled to take effect in 2025, but with Dr. McCormick’s announcement, there is speculation that the General Assembly might try to accelerate the schedule so that the Superintendent is appointed in 2021.
The issue of inclusiveness appears to be a reference to Roncalli’s decision to terminate a long-time, well-regarded guidance counselor when the school was made aware (or forced to acknowledge) that the counselor had a spouse of the same sex. Roncalli is a private school but it’s funded — in part — with public money. The question becomes whether public money should come with conditions and, if so, what conditions should be attached. Obviously, it should and does come with conditions. Voucher money can’t just go anywhere. The voucher school has to look and act more or less like a school. If it was, for example, a tavern that labeled itself a “school,” then Rep. Behning would likely change his position. He says:
If parents have a problem with the school’s practices, employment or otherwise, Behning said they can send their child elsewhere. In that case their tuition will follow, whether it’s paid by the parent or by the state. “Parents are the ones that should be making those decisions,” he said, “rather than the government.”
Rep. Behning is obviously being a little disingenuous here. The government simply wouldn’t let parents make the tavern decision. So, as the joke goes, we’re just haggling over the price. Is discrimination on that basis against an otherwise well-qualified employee because she has a same-sex spouse something we’re willing to fund or not? I obviously fall on the “not” side of that question, and it sounds like Dr. McCormick does as well. My guess is that the General Assembly will be perfectly willing to continue subsidizing Roncalli, notwithstanding its employment practices. (Because, remember, my view of the three goals of the General Assembly when it comes to school vouchers: 1) Hurt the teacher’s unions; 2) direct education money to friends & well-wishers; and 3) subsidize religious education.)
After the Tony Bennett experience, I have to confess I was skeptical of what Dr. McCormick’s tenure might bring. People who follow this sort of thing more closely might be able to enlighten me, but I can’t say I’ve had any real cause for complaint so far.