Environmental Crimes Task Force - Third Meeting

On April 27, 2006, the Environmental Crimes Task Force conducted its third meeting. The Task Force was created to re-draft Indiana’s current environmental crimes statute (IC 13-30-6-1), which simply creates a D felony for any knowing, intentional, or reckless violation of any Indiana environmental law.

As I mentioned in my discussion on the Task Force’s first meeting last year:

The concern is that the statute is so overly broad that it could be found unconstitutional under the void for vagueness doctrine, the rule of lenity, and the fair notice requirement of due process.

In 2002, the Indiana Supreme Court in Healthscript, Inc. v. State (770 N.E.2d 810) found a Medicaid fraud statute unconstitutional on similar grounds. In fact, the environmental crimes statute would probably be considered even more broad and vague than the Medicaid statute that was overturned in Healthscript.

In fact, Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) Commissioner Tom Easterly has now reported that those very issues have been raised by the defense in the Department’s two most recent attempts to prosecute environmental crimes.

The Task Force’s second meeting last year was mainly occupied with a review of Indiana criminal law for members who were not familiar with it, and a comprehensive look at other states’ environmental crimes statutes. You can read more about that meeting here.

Our third meeting was another opportunity for the Task Force to narrow down our options and take a more specific direction.

The issue of prosecutorial authority came up again at this meeting. Currently, elected prosecutors have primary jurisdiction to prosecute all criminal offenses. In some instances, other offices can provide assistance – such as Secretary of State help with securities fraud cases, and Attorney General assistance with Medicaid fraud.

Although there were some suggestions to give primary prosecutorial authority on environmental cases to some statewide office, in the end the Task Force seemed to agree that local prosecutors should retain their existing authority. We may end up recommending that attorneys or investigators from IDEM should be allowed to be deputized by local prosecutors that request their assistance in cases.

The Task Force also came to a consensus that the environmental crimes portion of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act (415 ILCS 5/Tit. XII) could serve as a decent model for our work. It is drafted as a modern criminal statue – spelling out the elements of specific crimes, and differentiating between levels of intent.

However, Illinois only focuses on hazardous waste issues. We have found that most state statutes in this area are fairly limited in scope – usually addressing only one or two types of possible environmental crimes. This is probably because these statutes are usually drafted in response to some particularly outrageous incident, involving one type of crime (like toxic waste dumping).

Since we are looking at creating our statute from scratch, Indiana has the opportunity to create one of the most modern and comprehensive environmental crimes statutes in the country. Task Force member Sue Shadley suggested enumerating specific crimes in categories that correspond to existing Indiana environmental law, such as air, water, solid waste, etc. Commissioner easterly suggested possibly including a separate category for drinking water to correspond with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

My focus thus far has been in trying to make sure our statute adheres to the elements of Indiana criminal law. Unlike other states, Indiana does not have any “negligent” crimes – only those that are knowing, intentional, or reckless.

It is important that we structure the statute to conform with existing criminal law – both to encourage prosecutors to make use of the statute, and to create a clear framework for the public to understand.

The Task Force’s next meeting is scheduled for June 22, 2006. At that time we will hear feedback from Illinois officials on how they feel about enforcement of their statute. We will also begin applying the basic framework of the Illinois statute to Indiana code, and adopt more specific elements of environmental crimes.

Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or input on the Task Force’s progress.

Add comment June 9th, 2006

Back from a little break

Over the last few weeks, I took a short break from updating the website, but I am ready to get back to more regular postings.

One of the things I enjoy doing once session has adjourned is visiting schools to talk to classes about state government. A particularly impressive class of 4th graders at St. Monica’s School in Mishawaka has even gone so far as to create their own detailed constitution.

st. monicas 4th grade

They were a great group with many questions, and their constitution is quite a detailed document. You can read the St. Monica’s 4th Grade Constitution here.

Another fun event recently was the annual Achievement Forum Roast in South Bend. I had the (mis)fortune of being subjected to a roasting by my own father, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one on the menu – even former Governor Joe Kernan got his share that night.

achievement forum roast

Angie and I are also in the process of buying a new house, and we are both excited to move in toward the end on the month.

Official business does continue during the summer months, however, and the Environmental Crimes Task Force has already held its first meeting of the interim. I will be posting an update on the progress made at that meeting sometime this week.

In the meantime, please continue to let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Add comment June 6th, 2006

2006 Primary Recap

The 2006 Indiana primary elections are now over, and I am happy to report that I prevailed in my own contest with 92% of the vote.

The South Bend Tribune writes:

Receiving an overwhelming majority of the vote, Ryan Dvorak said he was pleased with his results in Tuesday’s primary election.

“I thought we’d leave it up to the voters,” he said. “I think if you communicate with the voters in your district, they will make the right decisions.”

He handily won the Democratic nomination to retain his seat as District 8 state representative…

The Tribune also published the picture below of me and County Council president Rafael Morton chatting at the West Side Democratic Club after the polls had closed.

ryan dvorak and rafael morton

Full coverage of my 8th House District Democratic primary race can be found at:

Dvorak defeats SnyderSouth Bend Tribune
Dvorak Wins in Democratic Primary for 8th District Rep.WSBT-TV (with video)
Dvorak Wins Primary ChallengeFox 28-TV
Election follies in RoselandWNDU-TV (toward the end, with video)

tv interview

For additional election results, the South Bend Tribune has a full list of local returns available here, and the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has a listing of statewide contested primaries in Congressional and State Legislative races available here.

Add comment May 3rd, 2006

2006 Primary election is tomorrow

Tuesday is Primary Election day. Don’t forget to get out and vote!

The South Bend Tribune ran a story yesterday about my own primary contest this year:

Two familiar names are seeking the Democratic nomination for House District 8, which includes urban, suburban and rural parts of St. Joseph County.

Incumbent Rep. Ryan Dvorak, of South Bend, is seeking his third term in office. He’s running on his record, which he describes as “stand(ing) up for my community” on property taxes, education and constituent concerns…

The Tribune also published the candidate surveys we are asked to complete here. The survey responses are limited to 50 words, but it is still nice the paper publishes them for the public.

More coverage of local races can be found at the Tribune’s “Vote 2006” section.

Add comment May 1st, 2006

Dyngus Day 2006

Every year on the Monday after Easter, South Bend, Indiana marks the celebration of a great political and cultural institution - Dyngus Day.

dyngus day

The celebration is a traditional Polish holiday, but was brought to Indiana by Polish immigrants in South Bend 76 years ago. The home turf and “founding mother church of Dyngus Day” is the West Side Democratic & Civic Club.

west side club

While South Bend claims to be the home of Dyngus Day, and celebrations now pop up across northern Indiana, Buffalo, New York insists on asserting its dubious claim as well.

Because the event occurs so close to the primary elections, Dyngusing long ago became inextricably linked with politics, and Dyngus Day is viewed as the official kick-off to the campaign season.

I took some pictures at the West Side Democratic Club yesterday as local dignitaries, candidates, and even the Washington High School girls basketball team were introduced to the crowd.

dyngus day

Dyngus Day is a great opportunity to eat good kielbasa and noodles while catching up with old friends at dozens of stops across town.

While Dyngus Day is officially a Polish holiday – celebrated at Polish social clubs across the city, it has expanded to encompass almost every ethnic group in our area. In 1971, the African American community launched the official celebration of Solidarity Day to be celebrated alongside Dyngus Day. The official Solidarity Day headquarters is at the Elks Club on Western Avenue (and the food there is excellent).

The Belgians join in the fun at the BK Club in Mishawaka, and there is also an unofficial Irish “O’Dyngus Day” celebrated at Fiddler’s Hearth in South Bend. For the first time this year, there was also an official dedicated Latino celebration of Dyngus Day at the St. Adalbert’s Church parish hall.

The traditionally Democratic-leaning festival always draws political candidates from across the state. The most famous guest of honor was Robert F. Kennedy during his 1968 Presidential campaign. Today, Republican candidates also take advantage of the opportunity to greet voters in the festive crowds – but they are still excluded from the stage at the West Side Club.

dyngus day

If you haven’t had the opportunity to go Dyngusing, and you enjoy good food and good-natured politics, I highly recommend you visit next time.

For even more Dyngus Trivia, Jack Colwell of the South Bend Tribune has put together a fun quiz entitled “Think You Know Dyngus Day? Prove it.

Add comment April 18th, 2006

Young Professionals Network meeting

Earlier this week, Senator John Broden (D – South Bend) and I spoke at a meeting of the Young Professionals Network – a networking and professional development group for younger people that is affiliated with the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce.

We gave a recap of the legislative session and answered questions about different issues of interest to the members, as well as questions about our workload and how we approach the legislative process.

Groups like this are a great way to ensure that younger professionals develop roots in our community and help counteract the “brain drain” phenomenon of Indiana college graduates leaving the state for employment elsewhere.

Incidentally, the meeting was held at the College Football Hall of Fame, and if you have never paid a visit to the Hall, you should stop in some time. It is a great interactive museum with nice banquet and meeting facilities as well.

college football hall of fame

Add comment April 14th, 2006

School fees decision from the Indiana Supreme Court

The Indiana Supreme Court recently held that “service fees” charged by school corporations are prohibited under Indiana’s constitutional guarantee of a “free and equal” education.

In Nagy v. Evansville-Vanderburgh County School Corp., the court, however, decided not to address the issue of whether charging for school textbook rental was also a violation of the state Constitution.

The South Bend Tribune made their opinion of the Court’s decision clear in an editorial this week:

So just what should an Indiana Supreme Court justice be expected to do for his public service pay? Answer the hard questions? Or just the easy ones?

It seems to us that the court took the easy way out with its ruling on Nagy v. Evansville-Vanderburgh County School Corp. The justices settled the specific matter regarding the constitutionality of student services fees. But they punted the question of textbook rental fees back to the Indiana General Assembly — even though legislators long have ducked the state’s duty to fully fund textbooks for public school students.

I agree that textbook rental fees should be eliminated so that Indiana students may receive the benefit of a truly free education.

However, I also tend to agree with Justice Sullivan’s dissent, which takes a more deferential approach to Legislative authority to determine what exactly is funded in the public education system.

The Court’s opinion is available here (.pdf), and more coverage is available at Advance Indiana and the Indiana Law Blog.

6 comments April 11th, 2006

University research and economic development

Universities in Indiana are continuing to lead the way in technological innovation that can help our state stay competitive in the global economy. Indiana University has announced the acquisition a new supercomputer expected to be one of the fastest in the world, and possibly the fastest university-owned computer.

The impact on research funding will help develop the technological infrastructure of our state and lead to more investment in innovative science:

Research means research grants, and MacIntyre said IU expects to receive $477 million for research of all kinds this year. The new computer is intended to help IU reach a long-term goal of attracting $800 million in grants each year.

Purdue University is also staying at the cutting edge, and their Energy Center Hydrogen Initiative Symposium recently concluded its inaugural meeting:

The meeting, which ends today, comes about two months after President Bush used his State of the Union address to trumpet continuing research that could eventually fill the nation’s highways with fuel-cell cars and hydrogen filling stations.

More than 100 people are attending Purdue’s Hydrogen Initiative Symposium to hear scientists and officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA and several national laboratories discuss the challenges of harnessing hydrogen for transportation systems.

Basic university research directly translates into market innovations for Indiana businesses and is crucial for the future economic development of our state.

Now that we live in a world where China has officially surpassed the United States in internet usage, it is apparent that resting on our laurels is not an option. In order to stay ahead of the competition, create new jobs, and ensure opportunity for the next generation we must continue to invest in the research and technology that drove the financial engine of our country for the last century.

If you are interested in other similar university-sponsored projects in Indiana, here are a few I have discussed in the last several months:

Nanotechnology Center Opens in Indiana
Update on South Bend Tech Park
ND research results in possible CSO fix
Supercomputing grid comes to South Bend

2 comments April 7th, 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

Toll Road hearings… after the fact

The Indiana Finance Authority and the Indiana Department of Transportation are holding public hearings in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties on the lease of the Indiana Toll Road and the rate increases associated with the lease.

Unfortunately, these hearings are taking place after the Governor has already signed the legislation into law.

St. Joseph County residents are understandably peeved that they are only now being asked to provide their input.

Actually, the hearings are required by state law, and I doubt they would be occuring at all if they were not statutory mandates.

For local coverage of the hearings and public sentiment, check out the stories below:

After fact, state sets Toll Road hearings - South Bend Tribune
Lease critics in a late stand - South Bend Tribune
Hearing Allows Many to Vent About Toll Road Lease - WSBT-TV (with video)
People Speak Out At Toll Road Rate Hearing - WSBT-TV (with video)
Major Moves faces lawsuit - WNDU-TV (with video) - with a focus on the threated lawsuit against the deal
Lease could end up in court - FOX28-TV - more on the possible lawsuit

Finally, the South Bend Tribune editorial, Too little time, too little thought, offers a critique on the Legislature’s handling of the Toll Road lease as well as HB 1279, the telecommunications bill (roll call).

Update: The South Bend Tribune story on this afternoon’s hearing contains some strong opinions from local residents:

… the“Toll Road lease scheme is destined to be seen as the greatest example of malfeasance and betrayal of the public trust ever perpetrated on the citizens of this state.”

…the “criminal actions” of Daniels and his “political running dogs” are motivated solely by “self-aggrandizement and greed” and are in “direct contravention of the will of the people and the welfare of the state.”

1 comment March 23rd, 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.

giaquinta

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.

aguilera

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.

kromkowski

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

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