Archive for January, 2006

Hundreds of amendments under consideration

Yesterday was a marathon of second reading amendments in the House. With over 170 amendments on the calendar, the House convened at 10am and, aside from a short lunch break, stayed in session until almost 11pm.

Bills and amendments eligible for consideration are distributed to Members in their mailboxes just off the floor of the House. Below is a picture of a stack of just some of the amendments and bills that were on the calendar for Monday.

amendments in box

The deadline for filing amendments is just two hours before session convenes. So many amendments were being distributed after session had begun. This is one of the problems with the compressed schedule of the “short” session. Digesting all of the provisions in the amendments is a time consuming task, and the individual caucuses usually must recess for up to several hours just to be able to go over all of the provisions before we vote on them.

pizzaAround 7pm, we were able to take a twenty minute dinner break to line up for pizza that was brought in and stacked along the back of the chamber.

The calendar for today is at least as long as yesterday’s, and the Speaker has said we will move on to bills eligible for third reading (final passage) if we finish all of the amendments. So another late night is likely.

One of the most important provisions under consideration will be HB 1008, the Governor’s “Major Moves” plan (which I have discussed earlier here and here). Almost 40 amendments have already been filed for that bill alone. One of those is a controversial amendment that seeks to establish a “Regional Development Authority” in northern Indiana that would exclude St. Joseph County:

“My hope was when I read it, there was a misprint. I really couldn’t believe one could be proposed without St. Joseph County being part of it,” said Mark Egan of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce.

You can watch or listen to the Legislature over the internet while we are in session here.

3 comments January 31st, 2006

Toll Road vote draws near

The Governor’s “Major Moves” plan to sell off the Indiana Toll Road (and potentially other roads, rail lines, ports, airports, etc.) is moving into a critical period.

The authorizing legislation, HB 1008, is now eligible for second reading amendments in the House of Representatives. The bill could be considered as soon as Monday morning.

Representative Jackie Walorski (R-Lakeville) has announced she will be filing several amendments – including the establishment of a new Regional Development Authority for Elkhart, Steuben, and LaGrange counties, and some type of a guarantee that road projects in her district will be prioritized.

Representative Walorski, who previously was opposed to the Governor’s plan, changed her position this weekend, and now supports the proposal.

I think it is disappointing this debate has become a political fight instead of the policy discussion it should be. I continue to believe it is bad public policy to sell off an important public asset for a fraction of its value.

Three Indiana newspapers have put together an excellent online resource for information related to this proposal. Some of their collected articles are available here.

1 comment January 29th, 2006

Long hours as deadlines loom

The extremely high volume of work during session – especially as we approach deadlines in the House calendar - results in Members spending long hours in close quarters with colleagues.

On Wednesday, committees met to consider bills until around 5:00pm. After that, the caucuses met to go over amendments, and then the House went into session - staying there until midnight.

Below is a picture of Members at their desks eating the box lunches that were ordered in so we would not have to break for dinner.

box dinner

Some of the important bills that were amended on second reading were HB1001 (dealing with many different tax and assessment matters), HB 1010 (eminent domain), and HB1279 (telecommunications).

We also debated and voted on the committee report to HB1008 – the “Major Moves” road privatization bill. The committee report passed by a vote of 50-46, but that was only a preliminary vote. It now moves on to the second reading calendar where it is open to amendment.

The House Democratic caucus also presented an alternative plan to fund highway projects that would raise money without selling off our state assets to foreign investors.

The calendar for Thursday, January 26th is available here.

4 comments January 26th, 2006

Political partisanship can make you irrational

donkey elephantRepresentative Steve Heim (R-Culver) has posted a link to an article that Representative Win Moses (D-Fort Wayne) handed out to everyone on the House floor today.

The article, entitled, “A Shocker: Partisan Thought Is Unconscious,” starts off by stating:

Liberals and conservatives can become equally bug-eyed and irrational when talking politics, especially when they are on the defensive.

Self-identified politically partisan test subjects at Emory University were presented with contradictory statements from candidates they supported and candidates they opposed. MRI brain scans taken of the subjects showed that their evaluations of the statements did not rely on “cold reasoning,” but rather on the centers of the brain associated with emotion, forgiveness, relief, and reward.

It is possible to override these biases, Dr. Westen said, “but you have to engage in ruthless self reflection, to say, ‘All right, I know what I want to believe, but I have to be honest.’ ”

He added, “It speaks to the character of the discourse that this quality is rarely talked about in politics.”

I was glad Representative Moses took the time to pass the article around today, and I am glad Representative Heim reminded me of it.

Add comment January 24th, 2006

Removal of the Judicial branch?

A bill that could replace the entire judicial branch of government jumped into the mix yesterday.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports:

Six House Republicans on Monday passed a bill that some judges likened to a political coup…

“It’s hard to see this as anything other than a potential naked use of political power to remove five justices from the Court of Appeals and one justice from the Indiana Supreme Court,” said Court of Appeals Judge John T. Sharpnack.

What the bill (HB 1419 – not updated as of this posting) essentially does is replace the current members of the Judicial Nominating Commission with new, partisan members. These new members would then vote on retention recommendations – and their recommendations would actually show on a ballot that Hoosiers would vote on.

Setting aside the ridiculous notion that partisan “recommendations” could be allowed to appear on an actual voting ballot – this bill actually would throw out the existing judicial branch and replace them with Daniels appointees.

Seriously.

Can you imagine the uproar if a President of the United States tried to remove the all justices of the Supreme Court, as well as all of the federal appellate judges in order to replace them with his own nominees? Any President - Democrat or Republican – would be mercilessly pilloried.

In addition to the Journal Gazette, there was a brief mention in the Indianapolis Star, as well as mentions in the Indiana Law Blog and TDW. But no one else appears to be covering the issue yet.

Let me know if you have any feelings about this bill.

2 comments January 24th, 2006

Toll Road talk on TV

On Sunday, I joined Representative John Ulmer (R-Goshen) on the WNIT television show Politically Speaking, hosted by South Bend Tribune columnist Jack Colwell.

politically speaking

The show is a weekly roundup of political and government news and usually features elected officials from across northern Indiana. This week, the main topic of discussion was the Governor’s proposed sale/lease of the Indiana Toll Road.

An excellent source of information on the proposed sale of our state’s main east-west interstate highway has been put together by three Indiana newspapers (the South Bend Tribune, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, and the Times of Northwest Indiana). You can visit the site at www.tollroadforsale.com. It has a great photo gallery, and a section of charts that highlights potential foreign bidders – from Spain to China.

The South Bend Tribune’s individual collection of comprehensive articles on the subject can be accessed here.

I am very impressed to see these three papers joining together to create a central clearinghouse for information on the sale of the toll road on the internet. I feel this is an integral part of journalism today, and shows that newspapers can still be relevant and even ahead of the curve on substantive news coverage.

toll roadSelling (or leasing for up to 99 years) the Indiana Toll Road is simply bad public policy. To do so would be selling off billions of dollars in future revenue for a fraction of its actual value. Toll collections over the next 70 years are expected to reach, by some estimates, over $20 billion – assuming regular toll increases over that time period. Meanwhile, the potential bids on the deal are expected to fetch only between $2 billion and $6 billion.

Even if the Governor received a $10 billion bid, Indiana taxpayers would still be forfeiting billions of dollars over the next several generations to some foreign conglomerate.

Building Indiana’s transportation infrastructure is definitely a critical priority for our economic future. But there are other, more responsible, tools at our disposal to raise funds when money is tight.

GARVEE bonds, asset securitization, and even reworking existing road plans should all be considered. One of the lowest-hanging fruits could be saving almost a billion dollars by pursuing an upgrade to existing roads to complete the Evansville to Indianapolis I-69 extension (rather than build a new-terrain route).

Details of the bids received by the state should be made public on Monday. Please let me know if you have an opinion you would like to share on this issue.

2 comments January 23rd, 2006

Time Zone Decision

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has handed down its final decision on time zone boundaries, and St. Joseph County was denied its petiton to be moved into the Central time zone.

Mike Smith of the AP reports:

Gov. Mitch Daniels said repeatedly during his 2004 campaign that it made best sense for most of Indiana to be on Central time but backed off that stance after being elected, saying it should be a local decision.

Daniels, however, in November recommended to federal officials that St. Joseph County remain on Eastern time, saying that it and Elkhart County formed one economic, cultural and social region and should not be split. Elkhart County commissioners decided to remain in the Eastern zone.

Masson’s Blog has in-depth coverage of the issue and the history of the debate. He also produced this map showing the new time zone boundaries in the state (pink areas = Central, gray areas = Eastern):


time zone map

The complete USDOT decision can be read here (pdf - 61 pages).

For more coverage, see below:

The ruling is in: DOT puts St. Joseph on Eastern time - South Bend Tribune
St. Joseph County will stay on Eastern Time - WNDU-TV
Local Lawmakers React to Time Zone Decision - WSBT-TV (on the video, Representative Craig Fry (D-Mishawaka) suggests St. Joseph County could simply ignore the ruling and observe Central time if it so chooses)

1 comment January 18th, 2006

Biomonitoring in Indiana – HB1289

biomonitoringFor more than 30 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has performed biomonitoring tests to directly measure individuals’ exposure to environmental contaminants. The National Biomonitoring Program’s analyses of human tissue, blood, hair, etc., have become the standard for assessing people’s exposure to toxic substances. It is a cutting-edge tool that delivers the most health-relevant assessments of exposure because it shows the amount of chemicals that actually get into people’s bodies – not just what someone might be exposed to.

This ongoing assessment of the U.S. population’s exposure to environmental chemicals is, according to the CDC, an essential component of the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network.

To help bring the benefit of such analysis to Indiana citizens, I have introduced HB1289. This bill would establish a state program (in conjunction with the CDC) to monitor concentrations of toxic chemicals in individuals to address toxic pollution, and possible homeland security threats from chemical or biological attacks.

The bill establishes a Biomonitoring Advisory Panel (appointed by the Governor) to make recommendations concerning the design of the program, review the prioritization of the selection of certain chemicals or locations for biomonitoring activities, and review the dissemination of findings and reports. The members of the panel must include individuals who have expertise in public health, environmental science, environmental health, epidemiology, biology, toxicology, and endocrinology, and at least three of the members must be physicians.

As stated in the fiscal impact statement to HB1289, the oldest and probably best known biomonitoring initiative is the Childhood Lead Screening Program. The CDC’s 1976 biomonitoring study of lead levels in children’s blood ultimately resulted in the removal of lead additives from gasoline.

A 2003 article in Salon, entitled “What’s in your body’s chemical cocktail?,” addresses the history of biomonitoring, and its potential for the future:

It’s not exactly a new science: The first laboratory analyses of synthetic chemicals in breast milk were carried out back in the 1950s, and researchers have been testing people for high levels of contaminants such as DDT and lead for decades. But this early work focused on people who had obvious reasons to worry, such as those who’d been exposed to massive doses of toxins in accidents or on the job. Modern biomonitoring can suss out much lower levels of contamination, quantifying the chemical cocktail in us average Janes and Joes.

In July 2005, the CDC released its Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, a national biomonitoring study released every two years. The study found troubling levels of toxic chemicals, including metals, carcinogens and organic toxics like insecticides, in individuals across the country.

A 2004 study by the World Wildlife Fund’s Detox Campaign, entitled “Bad Blood,” took a unique approach and measured blood samples from 14 environemntal and health Ministers from 13 European Union countries. They were analysed for a total of 103 different man-made chemicals from 7 different chemical families - including organochlorine pesticides (including Dioxin and DDT), Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), perfluorinated chemicals, brominated flame retardants, and phthalates.

The report states:

The detection of at least 33 different chemicals in every person tested is very significant. Whilst many of the chemicals detected such as DDT, HCB and PCBs have been banned in Europe, several of the chemicals detected, such as phthalates, perfluorinated chemicals and certain flame retardants have not. This highlights that chemicals that have not been phased out are contaminating us to the same extent as older, banned chemicals.

It must be noted that those are from test results in Europe, which follows a “precautionary principle” where manufacturers must demonstrate that a product is safe before it is released. The US has no such standard. In fact, less thant 10% of the 75,000 industrial chemicals in use today in our country have been tested for their effects on humans.

I wonder what the results (and the reaction) would be if we did tests on government officials in Indiana?

After all, our fair state is ranked 9th in the country in total chemical releases covered under the Toxic Release Inventory. We are 8th in the nation in air releases, and 2nd in the nation in water releases. Disturbingly, Indiana is also ranked 4th in the nation in cancer risk.

Not encouraging for someone planning on starting a family, St. Joseph County is ranked 5th in the state among counties releasing recognized reproductive contaminants into the air.

(Another problem on the federal level is the proposed curtailment of information supplied to the Toxic Release Inventory.)

A 2004 article entitled “Chemical Danger” appeared in the eminent UK medical journal, The Lancet. It stated:

Chemicals could be the next tobacco for the World Health Organization (WHO)… There are thousands of artificial chemicals floating around in each individual and… Far from being harmless, as the chemical industry protests, these substances have been linked to several diseases—and children are particularly at risk. “We know these chemicals are contributing to disease in children. This is not speculation. It’s fact”, says Philip Landrigan, Chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.

Biomonitoring can help address these issues by applying a scientific framework to them. Documenting exposure, facilitating health impact studies, prioritizing safety assessments of chemicals, and identifying sources of exposure are within our reach. Indiana should take the lead in this area and establish a biomonitoring program.

As the CDC says:

By improving laboratory methods to measure selected chemicals in people; preventing health effects from exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment, and responding to terrorism and public health emergencies involving chemicals, the laboratory has been in the vanguard of efforts to improve people’s health across the nation and around the world.

To view the CDC’s excellent presentation on the subject, entitled “Biomonitoring: Making a Difference”, go here and click on “view the presentation.”

Add comment January 16th, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2006

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. We have come a long way since the early days of the Civil Rights movement, and while there is more work to do, it is important for us to reflect upon just how dire the situation was at the time.

mlk

While many of Dr. King’s writings and speeches are well-known, one of my favorites has always been “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

1 comment January 16th, 2006

2006 State of the Judiciary

Less well known than the Governor’s State of the State address is the annual “State of the Judiciary” address that occurs on the following day.

As required by Article 7, Section 3 of the Indiana Constitution, Chief Justice Randall Shepard today addressed a joint session of the General Assembly on the current status of the Indiana Judicial system – from courts, to attorneys, to jury pools.

Justice Shepard was accompanied into the House chamber by a procession of the other members of the Indiana Supreme Court, as well as many members of the Indiana Court of Appeals.

judiciary

You can find the text of Justice Shepard’s remarks here.

1 comment January 12th, 2006

State of the State 2006

Last night Governor Mitch Daniels delivered his second State of the State address to the General Assembly.

The text of the Governor’s remarks can be found here, and additional coverage of the speech can be found at:

- Cigarette Tax Increase Part of Daniels’ Agenda (South Bend Tribune)
- Cigarette Tax Hike Proposed by Daniels (Indianapolis Star)
- Cigarettes and Schools Top Agenda (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette)
- Lots of Promises, But Where are the Details? (House Minority Leader Bauer)
- Tax Increase, Tax Increase, Tax Increase (Taking Down Words)
- Running for Governor (Indiana Parley)
- Paying Off the Credit Card (Representative Steve Heim)

Here are some of the moments I captured while attending the State of the State address:

Earlier during the day, the House chamber is shut down to set up broadcasting equipment, run extra wiring, and to give the Governor a chance to practice with the TelePrompTers at the rostrum.
practice

Shortly before the scheduled start time, the Speaker of the House takes his place to introduce the various dignitaries in attendance.
intro

Representative Terri Austin (D – Anderson) applauds guests in the balcony.
applause

The Governor makes his entrance flanked by an “honor guard” of escorts comprised of House and Senate members.
entrance

He works his way up the center aisle of the House chamber, shaking hands along the way.
aisle

After the speech, members of the General Assembly begin their after-speech chats with the media. Here, the Governor chats with lawmakers while Representative Russ Stilwell (D – Boonville) smiles for the camera.
exit

1 comment January 12th, 2006

Courts and Criminal Code passes three bills

The Courts and Criminal Code Committee met today and considered three pieces of legislation.

HB 1157, to increase the number of judges in Marion County Superior Court, passed 10-0. As I have discussed earlier, this legislation was also endorsed by the Commission on Courts interim study committee in October.

HB 1156, another judges bill endorsed by the Commission on Courts, passed 9-0. After amendment in committee it:
- limits the amount of an excessive property tax levy to the estimate made by the local unit operating the court during its first year;
- allows the Supreme Court to determine a new method for forming jury pool lists –eliminating the voter registration lists as the sole source, and allowing for expansion to drivers license lists, tax rolls, etc; (so no more excuses for not registering to vote!)
- adds a second judge to the Jackson County Superior ourt.

Finally, HB 1016 would allow courts to charge pretrial detainees for “pretrial services,” such as drug rehab or domestic abuse programs. There is some concern over this legislation, as it would allow fees to be charged to people who have not yet been found guilty. However, several counties in the state already operate similar programs, and Representative Ralph Ayres (R- Chesterton) has agreed to work on further tightening up the language.

A second reading amendment could remove city and town courts from the program and eliminate a court’s ability to prevent license reinstatement for non-payment.

——-

Tonight I will be attending the Governor’s State of the State address, and will report back with details from the event.

Add comment January 11th, 2006

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