Posts filed under 'Statehouse'

First week finished, and a Committee update

The first week of session has ended after a typically slow start. The filing deadline for legislation in the House is next Tuesday, and many bills are still stuck in drafting or having fiscal impact statements prepared. The most up-to-date list of filed bills in both the House and Senate can be accessed here.

Since many bills have yet to be assigned to committees, legislators typically use the first week seeking co-sponsors for their bills and working to shore up support for their proposals. Once all the bills have been published, the committee schedules will rapidly fill up.

I have scheduled an organizational meeting for the Environmental Affairs Committee next Wednesday. Commissioner Tom Easterly of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has agreed to appear and update the committee members on current IDEM projects, rulemaking, and legislative requests. The meeting will be broadcast live on the internet on Wednesday, January 17, 2006 at 10:30am. You will be able to access the webcast here (click on “Watch video from House Committee Room 156c”).

Let me know if you have any questions you would like the Committee to ask Commissioner Easterly.

2 comments January 11th, 2007

Back in the saddle - the 115th General Assembly

The 115th General Assembly is now officially underway.

I know I have been bad about updating here over the interim, but will try to get back into regular posting during the session.

The first few days of session are mostly administrative. The bill filing deadline for the House is not until the fourth meeting day in January – which I believe is next Monday. So committee chairs do not have much to work with yet as far as scheduling goes.

The House committee chairs met today upon adjournment to discuss general committee policy for the session. The main point of agreement was in re-establishing an orderly business schedule. Last session got a little out of control – bills piled up on the calendar in a spectacular heap that resulted in massive backlogs at various deadline days. Many bills died due to lack of time, in spite of regular late-night session days.

At the committee level, we will likely implement a policy of scheduling committees several days ahead of time to avoid much of the last-minute rush. For example, I am Chairman of the House Environmental Affairs Committee, which meets on Wednesdays. I will be turning in my schedule request by the end of Thursday so members can be notified and bill packets can be prepared on Monday, and the meeting can be announced publicly at least 24 hours ahead of time on Tuesday morning.

The administrative side of the Legislature is not particularly exciting, but a well-run Legislature generally results in better legislation, so I hope some of the changes and tweaks we are making will be effective.

Feel free to leave a comment if there is anything in particular you would like me to post about as the session progresses.

1 comment January 8th, 2007

Legislative Council sets Interim Study Committees

The Legislative Council is a joint committee made up of members of both the House and Senate. It serves primarily as a basic administrative committee for the Legislative branch – addressing things like personnel, space utilization, and data processing issues. Another function of the Council is to establish the Interim Study Committees that hold hearings after the Legislature has technically adjourned.

Some of these committees are created by the Legislative Council in response to requests by members or to address pressing policy issues. Other committees have already been established by statute and vary in number from year to year.

Though it is not yet fully up to date for 2006, information on all interim committee membership and schedules can be accessed here.

This week, Legislative Council met to establish a new set of study committees and ask for recommendations from statutory committees. These committees will be meeting throughout the summer and fall this year. The resolution passed by the Council does not appear to be online yet, so I have compiled a list of new topics assigned to the various committees from the printed material that I have:

Interim Committees

Interim Study Committee on Public Health and Safety Matters
-Railroad labor camps
-Coal mine safety
-Smoke detectors and sprinklers in health facilities
-Food handling regulations for tax-exempt organizations

Interim Study Committee on Government Administration and Regulatory Matters
-Impact of privatization of non-health related services performed or administered by state agencies
-Impact of privatization on state employees who have been laid off
-License branch operations and closings
-Eminent domain issues (including the use by small, private utilities)
-Various matters involving non-profit entities

Interim Study Committee on Criminal Justice Matters
-Rights of “next of kin” in situations involving criminal activity
-Improvements to Indiana’s background check system
-Coroner qualification issues

Interim Study Committee on Children’s Issues
-Child labor
-Children’s health issues with emphasis on diabetes and obesity

Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Issues
-Alcoholic beverage display requirements
-Clerk licensure and training
-Other various issues that were not resolved during the last session

Statutory Committees

Code Revision Commission
-Using respectful language when referring to people with disabilities in code

Counterterrorism and Security Council
-Security at ports, freight yards, and rail yards

Commission on Courts
-Appelate issues
-Establishment of a dedicated fund for court fees
-Establishment of a court with exclusive jurisdiction over commercial driver’s license cases

Indiana Economic Development Corporation
-Whether to develop incentives to encourage film, television, and new media production

Environmental Quality Service Council
-Indiana’s impact on Lake Michigan water quality and participation in the Great Lakes Protection Fund
-Regional sewer districts

Health Finance Commission
-Cost of delivering health care to diabetics
-Health coverage systems used in other jurisdictions
-Monitor and report on the impact of the privatization of health services performed or administered by state agencies (including the impact on laid off employees)
-Advisability of a certification program for surgical technicians

Health Policy Advisory Committee
-Restraint of trade issues associated with contact lenses
-Advisability of consolidating all the various health-related study committees

Select Joint Commission on Medicaid Oversight
-Medicaid reimbursement rates

Commission on Mental Health
-Social, emotional, and behavioral health screening of children

Natural Resources Study Committee
-Park issues, including development of Rail/Trail corridors

Pension Management Oversight Commission
-Police and fire pensions
-Factors used to compute public employee pensions
-Funding sources for pension relief for municipalities
-Issues related to the 1977 Police and Fire pension and disability fund

Regulatory Flexibility Committee
-Renewable energy development

Sentencing Policy Study Committee
-Impact of sealing and expunging criminal arrest and adjudication records, including the impact on employment and recidivism rates

Commission on State Tax and Financing Policy
-Eligibility for certain military benefits
-Expanding eligibility for the property tax deduction for low-income senior citizens by removing AV criteria
-Child welfare system funding
-Issues pertaining to public transportation and commerce

For the statutory committees, the above list summarizes new issues assigned for sudy. The Interim Study Committee page (assuming it is updated at some point) has a list of all the committees, with reference to their statutory authorization which details their full scope.

1 comment June 15th, 2006

Governor still taking pot shots

I was not quite sure what to make of Governor Daniels’ comments in this Evansville Courier and Press story on the Toll Road debate:

Daniels, who wore an I-69 pin in his left lapel, said Tuesday he had heard “tales of Democrats with tears in their eyes who would like to have had a chance to vote for (Major Moves).”

The governor said Democrats who dared to support Major Moves faced the prospect of being “last on the parking lot committee.”

I am not even sure what “last on the parking lot committee” means, and I was even more confused by this statement:

“They weren’t against this thing because it wouldn’t work,” Daniels said. “They were against this because it will work.”

I guess he best sums up his feelings here:

“I don’t honestly think these were serious objections (by Democratic legislators),” the governor told the Courier & Press. “They were in a tough spot. Their political leadership had ordered them to stay in line, and they did. They had to find some reasons for it.”

I couldn’t decide whether to get angry at the Governor’s dismissive remarks or simply laugh them off.

The notion that the House Democratic caucus can be “held in line” on anything is definitely amusing. In our caucus meetings people argue, laugh, fret, and even occasionally storm out – but the Golden Rule of the Democratic caucus is that each member should always make their decisions based upon what is best for their district.

The Governor’s implication that my colleagues march to the orders of anyone other than the people who elected them is, frankly, insulting.

But what makes me laugh about this, rather than get angry, is the fact that the people of Indiana have seen through this type of talk. The facts are plain, and the voters know that “Major Moves” is a bad deal for Indiana. The popular outcry has even made national and international news. (The Slate story, Lost Highway: The foolish plan to sell American toll roads to foreign companies, is the latest to discuss the debate in Indiana. [via TDW])

In the end, I take comfort in the fact that I and the rest of the House Democratic caucus voted the way our constituents wanted us to vote – and the Governor knows it.

Add comment March 31st, 2006

Reflecting on the merits of the “short” session

The “short” legislative session has come to an end for the year. Over the coming weeks I will go over some of the session highlights and lowlights.

Last week I had the opportunity to discuss the merits and drawbacks of the compressed schedule of the short session as a guest on the television show Indiana Lawmakers.

The 30-minute show is available to watch online here. (until Monday, when it will be replaced with the next episode)

Among the topics covered was the possibility of allowing standing committees to meet over the summer to give more consideration to complicated policy issues, encourage more citizen input in the legislative process, and conduct more legislative oversight of the executive branch.

I previously suggested making such a change back in December on this site.

If you have the time to watch the program, feel free to leave a comment or let me know what you think.

Add comment March 16th, 2006

Send-off for our retiring colleagues

Last night, both the House Democratic Caucus and the House Republican Caucus hosted dinners honoring their retiring members.

The Democrats gathered at Iaria’s, a small Italian restaurant on the near east side of Indianapolis, to pay tribute to Representatives Ben GiaQuinta (Fort Wayne), John Aguilera (East Chicago), and Tom Kromkowski (South Bend).

Representative GiaQuinta, a veteran of World War II who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was accompanied by his son, Mark, and his wife, Helen.


Representative Aguilera, who was joined by his wife, is the only Hispanic member of the House of Representatives. John is leaving the Legislature, but I imagine he will stay involved in public service back in Lake County.


Finally, Representative Kromkowski is retiring after 25 years of service in the House of Representatives. The long-time UAW member is possibly the longest-serving member of the House Labor Committee.


It was good getting everyone together to wish our friends the best in their retirement. I know we will all definitely miss their experience and the unique perspectives they have brought to the General Assembly.

iarias dinner

Add comment March 14th, 2006

Conference Committees are underway

In the final week of session, legislators are focused on the conference committee process. Conference committees are comprised of both House and Senate members that meet to resolve differences in bills that have passed both chambers, but in different versions.

For instance, yesterday the conference committee on HB 1010, the eminent domain bill, met to resolve differences between versions of the legislation that passed the House and the Senate. I am one of four conferees that have been appointed to the committee (there are also seven non-voting “advisor” members). All four Conferees must sign the final conference report before it can be sent back to each chamber for final approval.

Below is a picture taken as the meeting adjourned yesterday afternoon.

eminent domain conference committee

In the case of HB 1010, the meeting went smoothly, and few changes were needed to reach a consensus. The report with the amended bill was circulated to the conferees this morning, and once all four signatures have been collected, the bill will be ready for its final vote.

Conference committees can be very contentious at times, but since both chambers and the Governor’s office are all controlled by the same party this year, there has not been much conflict or need for compromise. This is because the Majority in each chamber appoints the conference committee members. If a minority party conferee refuses to sign a report, they can simply be replaced with a more cooperative participant by the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader.

The last day of session is only one week away, so conference committees are busily trying to finish their work. The most interesting conference report will definitely be for HB 1008 - the “Major Moves” legislation. That committee met for the first time yesterday, and has not yet come to any agreement.

5 comments March 8th, 2006

Bomb threat instruction card

Evidently in response to the recent “white powder” scare at the Statehouse, the Indiana State Police has distributed “Bomb threat instruction cards” to members and staff of the General Assembly (click to enlarge):

bomb threat card

While the cards are probably a good idea, some Members couldn’t help having some fun with them. The “questions to ask” section conjures up an interesting potential phone conversation, and the choices to pick describing a caller’s characteristics almost invite a game of Mad Libs.

Of course, we all really hope the cards never see any use. However, I really have to wonder what kind of threatening caller will be willing to helpfully provide their name and address…

Add comment February 28th, 2006

Only two weeks to go

There are now officially only two weeks left in the 2006 “short” legislative session. The House is working to finish consideration of Senate bills, and we have been making steady progress. Masson’s Blog has a summary of some of the bills that passed the House on third reading yesterday.

One of the bills that passed was SB 247, the bill I discussed in my last post that establishes the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center. On second reading for the bill, the House accepted an amendment I drafted that removed some potentially dangerous language. Essentially, as drafted, the Fusion Center could have begun “collecting individual intelligence” on Indiana citizens.

The Indianapolis Star provided some coverage here:

Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, who successfully amended the bill, said it went too far by allowing the state to collect information that could be shared with private organizations without judicial oversight.

After the amendment passed I was able to sit down with the bill’s sponsors, Senator Tom Wyss (R-Fort Wayne), and Representative Bill Ruppel (R-North Manchester), as well as Eric Dietz, Director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. Together we worked out a way to allow the Fusion Center to share information with other law enforcement agencies, accept public input, and allow warnings to be given to threatened private organizations – all without endangering the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

The result was a third reading amendment that reinstated some of the additional language along with clear definitions and safeguards.

Third reading amendments may be offered just before the bill is up for final passage. They are fairly rare, and require a two-thirds majority for passage. Thanks to the cooperation of all the parties involved – the amendment passed unanimously, and the bill went on to pass overwhelmingly.

News coverage of the legislative session often focuses on the stalemates and conflict that inevitably arise. But much of the behind-the-scenes work is accomplished quietly by Members who are genuinely interested in crafting sound public policy. Most of us get along fairly well, and are able to reach compromises for the sake of good government.

Of course, the last two weeks of session are normally the most contentious. Bills reach their final stages and negotiations can escalate to a fever pitch. I am sure the coming days will be both interesting and intense.

Add comment February 28th, 2006

“Intelligence Fusion Center” amendment

IDHSToday I offered an amendment to SB 247, a bill dealing with various homeland security provisions. The portion of the bill that was problematic was in the section establishing an “Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has encouraged states to establish these centers as clearinghouses for the analysis and sharing of data collected by local law enforcement, first responders, and federal agencies.

SB 247, however deviated from the authorizing language that has passed in other states. Specifically, it allowed the fusion center, at the behest of the Governor, to collect “individual intelligence information” on individuals “reasonably” involved with “possible” criminal or terrorist activity.

Further, any information collected by the center could be shared with any “private organization.”

The problem here is that a fusion center is designed to act as an information clearinghouse – a place that can receive reports from various agencies and help connect the dots in the larger homeland security picture. The center is not supposed to be an active intelligence “collection” agency. Collecting “individual intelligence” could mean searches, surveillance, or wiretaps – it is not very clear.

In order to preserve the functionality of the fusion center as an important part of our homeland security apparatus, but remove any potential for warrantless spying on Indiana citizens I offered the following amendment (link to actual amendment, mark-up of what it does below):

Chapter 10. Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center
Sec. 1. The Indiana intelligence fusion center is established to:
(1) collect;
(2) integrate;
(3) evaluate;
(4) analyze;
(5) disseminate; and
(6) maintain;
intelligence information and other information to support law enforcement agencies, other governmental agencies, and private organizations in detecting, preventing, investigating, and responding to criminal and terrorist activity.
Sec. 2. (a) The department shall operate the Indiana intelligence fusion center under the direction of the governor.
(b) The department shall cooperate with:
(1) the state police department; and
(2) upon direction by the governor, any other agency or organization, including an any agency of local, state, or federal government, or a private organization.
Sec. 3. The Indiana intelligence fusion center may collect individual intelligence information only if:
(1) the individual who is the subject of the individual intelligence information reasonably appears to be involved with or have knowledge of possible terrorist or criminal activity; and
(2) the individual intelligence information is relevant to the terrorist or criminal activity.

This amendment removes the possibility of fusion center employees conducting searches or wiretaps on Hoosiers. That type of intelligence collection should be left to prosecutors and state and federal law enforcement agencies that must follow proper statutory procedures and file detailed affidavits to receive judicial search warrants.

The amendment was approved on second reading by a vote of 49-45. I believe this change helps preserve the intent behind the fusion center concept as prescribed by the federal government, while keeping sensitive information in the government’s possession, and removing the potential for any abuse or violation of our constitutional rights.

9 comments February 21st, 2006

Upward Bound students visit the Statehouse

Yesterday I was able to host a great group of high school students from South Bend who were visiting the Statehouse.

upward bound

The freshmen and sophomores represented most of our area high schools, and are participating in the University of Notre Dame Upward Bound program:

The program serves all students who meet the first-generation (no one in the immediate family has gone to college) and low-income student in the South Bend community.

Typically, students enter the program in their freshman year of high school and during their three years with the program they participate in the programs’ academic tutoring program and Summer Residential Program where they take college prep courses and live on Notre Dame’s campus for six weeks.

Students travel to visit colleges across the nation and are provided with the necessary resources and information, both educationally and culturally, to be successful in college.

Notre Dame’s participation in Upward Bound dates back to 1966, and has helped to prepare over 5000 students for enrollment in college.

I was able to introduce the students on the floor of the House, and their program director, Alyssia Coates, was given a few minutes to talk about the program to the assembled House members.

If you have a group that is planning on visiting the Statehouse, feel free to let me know if I can help arrange a tour or provide any information.

Add comment February 17th, 2006

Scare at the Statehouse

Right now the Statehouse is under some sort of quarantine.

The entire building seems to be shut down because of an unknown powder that was mailed to the Speaker’s office and came in contact with an employee there.

The Indianapolis Star now has a small update here.

From what I can gather, people inside the building aren’t being allowed to leave, and those outside aren’t being allowed in.

Update (1:38pm): People are now being allowed back into the Statehouse.

Update (4:45pm): The Star article has been updated as of 3:00pm to reflect that a second envelope with powder was found in the Statehouse mail system, but it had not been delivered. Test results on both envelopes indicated neither contained any hazardous substances. The rest of the day at the Statehouse has proceeded with business as usual.

I was working in Washington, D.C. for former Congressman Tim Roemer at the time of the anthrax attacks there. Speaking from experience, I can say that having your building shut down, sealed off, and entered by troops of men in bubble suits while you are walking out is not a fun experience. For that matter, neither is process of being tested for anthrax exposure - which involves a very long nasal swab and lots of jabbing.

I am very glad that today’s events were not harmful. However it is worth noting that Indianapolis does have a direct link to the anthrax attacks that followed Spetember 11th. This article talks about anthrax spores that were found at the time at the Indianapolis International Airport, and a postal facility in Idianapolis.

2 comments February 15th, 2006

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