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The Journal Gazette

  • Smaltz

  • Pierce

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

Bait-and-switch

Gun bill undergoes late resurrection in House

What does CBD oil have to do with gun-permit fees? Nothing, of course – unless you're in the Indiana legislature.

Last year, lawmakers passed a sensible measure to allow patients to use the non-hallucinogenic hemp derivative cannabidiol, or CBD, to deal with seizures, pain or anxiety. But Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill determined the new law only dealt with use of the medication, not its sale, and sicced state excise police on stores offering CBD oil.

Among several measures designed to set that situation right was House Bill 1214, which passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate 37-12. Another measure on the same subject, Senate Bill 52, also passed both houses.

Meanwhile, the legislature was moving two measures along in its perennial quest to expand gun rights. Each measure had passed one house and was awaiting action in the other. But after the horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school last month, legislative leaders decided to shut down both bills before they could come up for another vote. House Bill 1424, which would have eliminated fees for lifetime permits to carry a handgun, died in a Senate committee. Senate Bill 33, which would have allowed handguns in churches attached to schools, was pulled from consideration by the full House, where it would have faced a blizzard of amendments.

But most of the provisions of the two bills miraculously reappeared in a conference committee session Monday. Legislative leaders turned to a little-known rule that allows them to strip the contents out of a bill and replace it with the contents of another. SB 52 apparently will be on its way to the governor's desk. HB 1214, the other CBD measure, suddenly became ... a gun bill.

Though the rules didn't obligate him to, conference committee chairman Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, decided to give the matter a full, four-hour public hearing. That allowed witnesses and committee members to at least put some key concerns about the revived proposals on the table, though there was no formal opportunity for amendments.

Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer, for instance, asked the group for some assurance that the legislature would find a way to replace the millions of dollars in fees that would disappear if lifetime-carry licenses, which now cost $125, are to be awarded for free starting next year. Local departments use the fee money to finance training. Smaltz assured Troyer that question would be addressed during next year's session.

Ironically, most of HB 1214's new contents are not that controversial. As Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, one of the conference committee members, put it: “What concerns me more is the process than the substance of the bill.” And it's true that both Democrats and Republicans have used the bill-stripping procedure for decades. That doesn't make it any less unsettling in the session's closing days.