The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, February 05, 2020 1:00 am


Priorities: Lawmakers once again ignore public needs

The Indiana Senate's baffling rejection of a bill to guarantee pregnant Hoosiers reasonable workplace accommodations is the latest reason to question the priorities of our state lawmakers.

Senate Bill 342 would have required employers to make reasonable accommodations for expectant mothers. The bill wasn't just some do-gooder's casual afterthought. It was authored by three Republican senators with Democratic co-sponsorship and had the support of Gov. Eric Holcomb and Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana state health commissioner.  

“Pregnancy accommodations are often simple, such as having water to drink at a work station, being able to sit down or take more frequent breaks, limiting the amount of weight a woman must lift repetitively, allowing a snack between meals for a pregnant woman who is diabetic, or taking steps to reduce falls as her center of gravity changes,” Box wrote in a piece posted on the Indiana State Department of Health website recently. “These basic changes can have a significant impact on the health of moms and babies, including a lower risk for preterm birth, the No. 1 cause of infant mortality in our state.”

Yet the Senate, in its wisdom, voted 34-15 to remove the substance of the bill and replace it with an amendment from Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, that merely suggests setting up a legislative study committee this summer. “I simply think this needs more time,” Zay said.

Really? We need another year to study whether we should allow pregnant workers a few workplace modifications?

Yet the same day, the Indiana House passed House Bill 1414, a measure that clearly needs to be studied straight out of existence. Though the costs and environmental problems of coal have led Indiana's utilities to transition to other fuel sources, the bill would prevent them from shutting down coal-fired plants without permission from the state. It's not even clear what the bill's backers hope to accomplish – is it an attempt to save coal-miners' jobs, or is it, as its author, Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, claims, an effort to help utilities better manage the transition? The bill's ultimate effect, in fact, could be to raise Hoosiers' electric rates. But HR 1414 is headed for the Senate.  

We've previously noted the legislature has taken a pass on addressing what should have been a top priority: teacher pay. But 15,000 marching public school teachers didn't get lawmakers' attention, and neither did the urgent need to strengthen accountability for voucher and charter schools. Legislation that's going nowhere would have prohibited voucher schools from discriminating against a staff member based on disability, race, sexual orientation, religion and other protected categories. Senate Bill 650 was a response to discriminatory policies at Indianapolis' Roncalli High School, which last year alone received $1.75 million in taxpayer dollars. The Catholic school fired a guidance counselor after learning she was in a same-sex marriage.

Majority leadership refused to hear even one of the Democratic-sponsored bills seeking greater accountability from virtual charter schools after Chalkbeat, an online education news site, reported an online school collected almost $50 million in tax dollars for students who allegedly did not exist. 

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Greg Walker's proposal to prevent creditors from charging loan-sharking rates for short-term, “payday” loans, is once again dead on arrival. Also dead is Senate Bill 111, a proposal introduced by Republican Sen. Jon Ford that would have slowly and modestly increased the eligibility ceiling and benefits through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for the first time since 1988. Ford's measure, which passed the Senate unanimously last year before dying in the House, failed even to receive a committee hearing this time around.

And to add insult to injury, the General Assembly passed up the last opportunity to approve a fair redistricting process before legislative and congressional districts are drawn up for the decade ahead, reserving the authority for lawmakers to choose their own voters and likely preserving a legislature positioned to ignore the will of Hoosiers.

The illogical and arrogant antics of a supermajority legislature continue to be the most persuasive argument for a strong two-party system. From behind closed doors, majority-party lawmakers pick and choose which issues to address. When they emerge to do “the people's business,” they brush off objections from the minority party as though they were shooing away flies. The only remedy is at the ballot box.

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