Indiana lawmakers like to remind us the short legislative sessions in even-numbered years don't allow time to pursue the issues they would love to address. But language slipped in a bill to protect a Republican officeholder proves there always seems to be time to take care of political pals.
In this example, it's Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, looking out for the interests of Allen County Councilman Robert Armstrong, whose second job was threatened by a new law allowing counties to dissolve their independent solid waste districts. Allen County chose to take advantage of the measure, which Brown authored. That presented a problem for Armstrong, who would have been forced to choose between his full-time job as an equipment operator for the waste district – paying about $50,000 a year – and his $16,455-a-year part-time job as a council member.
With solid waste district employees transitioning to county employees this week, Armstrong wins a reprieve with an amendment to House Bill 1233, addressing environmental matters. The language carves out an exception to state law barring employees from holding elected positions in their own governmental entities. Upon enactment, Armstrong will be cleared to complete the rest of his council term, which expires in 2020. He would not be allowed to cast a council vote on any matter concerning solid waste management. As the county's fiscal body, County Council sets wages for all employees.
“It was an unintended consequence,” Brown said. “It's only fair.”
It might be fair, but it's the kind of political maneuvering that breeds cynicism among voters. Plenty of Hoosiers face unfair consequences created by legislative dictates. Not everyone benefits from a legislative fix to his or her own predicament.
Kyle Kerley, a Fort Wayne Republican who was likely to have been a candidate in a party caucus to fill Armstrong's vacated seat, put it best:
“It's the right thing to do because that's how the law was applied in the past and it was originally put into effect, but as somebody who follows politics closely, sometimes it seems they take extraordinary measures to pass bills that ultimately affect a very small minority of people. In this case it's one person.”
And, more importantly, he asks how state representatives might better be spending the limited time they have.