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To attend
FWCS budget meeting: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Grile Administrative Center, 1200 S. Clinton St.
Indiana Supreme Court hearing on voter ID law: 9 a.m. Thursday, Supreme Court, Statehouse, Indianapolis
The Indiana Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in a case challenging the constitutionality of a law requiring voters at the polls, like those above, to show identification when those voting absentee do not.

$15 million from FWCS

Cutting $15 million from the Fort Wayne Community Schools budget is the task school board members will tackle Tuesday in a special meeting – a session that will inevitably touch on the subject of school closings.

The cuts are necessary because of a $9.1 million shortfall in state funding – the district’s share of a $300 million reduction in K-12 funding statewide – and losses resulting from property tax caps. Board President Mark GiaQuinta asked the administration to present ideas for “bold” reductions.

A proposal to close Elmhurst High School was made in 2007 as part of the district’s long-range building plan. A facilities review at the time gave the school, on the city’s far-southwest side, a building condition score of 8.5 on a scale where 100 was best. The 80-year-old building is the smallest of the district’s six high schools, with capacity for 1,413 students. Current enrollment is 912.

A community task force responsible for making the building plan recommendation declined to specifically support Elmhurst’s closing, but it advised “consolidation of certain schools will be considered and implemented if this provides for the best overall solution and reduces costs.” The school board, responding to public outcry, took the Elmhurst proposal off the table before the long-range plan was approved by the board and then defeated in a taxpayer remonstrance.

The district’s budget situation has deteriorated dramatically since the building plan was rejected. The property tax caps and declining property values have combined to reduce the capital projects fund and other property-tax-supported funds by $2.5 million this year and $4.1 million in 2011.

Aside from major salary and benefits concessions by teachers, the board has few options for cutting $15 million outside of closing a school. Look for that proposal to emerge Tuesday.

The meeting will be broadcast live on public access channels, Comcast channel 54 and Verizon channel 24.

ISTEP+ testing

It’s test time for Indiana students in grades 3-8. The first phase of the standardized state test will be administered in language arts and math beginning this week. The initial phase includes open-ended writing and math exercises that require individual scoring, while a second round of testing at the end of April will be a multiple-choice format.

The Indiana Department of Education has promised to deliver test scores before the school year ends.

Legislative sprint

The Indiana General Assembly is in a rush to finish this week, even though the session’s legal adjournment deadline is March 14. House Speaker Patrick Bauer is pushing to finish by Thursday, while Senate leaders are eyeing a Sunday deadline.

The progress so far can be attributed as much to starting committee hearings in early December as to working at a quicker pace. The Senate even took a snow day in January.

Still, major legislation remains unsettled. There are a handful of differences in the House- and Senate-approved versions of the ethics bill that must be ironed out. Also pending is a local government restructuring bill the Republican-controlled Senate approved last week. One of its provisions would allow counties to replace the three-member board of county commissioners with a single county executive.

The Democratic-controlled House trumped the Senate’s bid to delay an unemployment insurance tax increase on businesses by approving language to repeal the tax hike altogether. But Democrats also inserted worker-friendly provisions that will meet opposition in conference committee.

Bauer has said he wants to adjourn early to save taxpayers money, but per-diem costs from the December committee meetings will likely cancel out any savings from finishing early. What lawmakers are really interested in is an early start to campaigning – all House seats and half the Senate seats are up for re-election this year.

Voter ID in court

Lawyers for the League of Women Voters and state government will face off in the Indiana Supreme Court this week over the voter identification law.

After the law survived federal court challenges, the Indiana Court of Appeals struck it down because it does not require Hoosiers who vote through absentee ballots to provide identification, while those who vote at the polls are required to do so. Such unequal treatment is unconstitutional, the court ruled.

Until that ruling, most of the debate surrounded the argument that the identification requirements are onerous to the poor and to minorities, who are more likely to have difficulties assembling the required forms of identification – an argument the courts have thus far rejected. The reasoning about unequal status for absentee voters seemed to come as a surprise to both sides.

Gov. Mitch Daniels scoffed at the state Court of Appeals ruling, but the state Supreme Court may well uphold it. Meanwhile, state lawmakers will likely adopt language either this week or next year requiring ID for absentee voters.

Lawyers for the two sides will give their arguments and answer questions from the justices, who will likely take weeks or months to rule on the case.

Handgun ban, too

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on an even bigger case that could well reverse a 137-year-old precedent and require Chicago and other cities to permit residents to have handguns.

The court will hear the case of McDonald v. Chicago on Tuesday. Two years ago, the justices ruled that the Washington handgun ban violated the Second Amendment. So it seems inevitable that the court will extend that ruling past the federally controlled District of Columbia to the 50 states.

At issue is not only the Second Amendment but also the 14th Amendment, the privileges and immunities clause. The language in question: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

An 1873 Supreme Court decision ruled that language did not automatically apply the Bill of Rights to states and cities, though the courts have “incorporated” most of those rights to apply to the states. But not the Second Amendment.

One brief filed in support of the lawsuit carries the names of Rep. Mark Souder, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and two other members of Congress. Fifty-six additional members signed on – including Sen. Evan Bayh. Among the brief’s questionable arguments: “If many States and local governments followed (Chicago’s) example, Congress’ ability to exercise its enumerated martial powers would be undermined.”

The court is likely to strike down Chicago’s handgun law.