Nov 27, 2008

2008/09 Legislative Center Returns

As the Indiana General Assembly prepares to reconvene, over 40 new legislators join the House and Senate armed with good intentions and a complete disregard of the Indiana and U.S. Constitutions.

Already in November -- just a few short weeks after the election -- bills being discussed include increased limitations to teenagers' driving licensing, property taxes and a wishful effort by Sen. Pat Miller to limit legislators miraculously morphing into lobbyists from one day to the next.

Volunteers are needed to help keep up on the various committee work and preview what might be coming to taxpayers in the very near future. Email to volunteer. Please note your areas of interest in your email.

Apr 1, 2008

Partisan Legislature? Or No Difference?

One must wonder how we claim to have partisan races in a general election when the end result really doesn't matter.

Take a look at the rough vote count in just the bills covered to date:

House: 1739 - YES; 44 - NO
Senate: 851 - YES; 25 - NO

What would be most interesting at this point is to find out why some of the few "No" votes actually voted "No". That, to me, is almost worth calling the legislators and asking.

HEA 1227 - Shoreline Development Commission

Shoreline development commission. Adds the following two members to the shoreline development commission: (1) A representative of a public utility that owns real property that is located in counties contiguous to Lake Michigan and that has a total assessed value that exceeds the total assessed value of the real property owned by any other public utility owning real property in the counties contiguous to Lake Michigan. (2) The port director of the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. States a preference for the member of the commission appointed by the lieutenant governor being from a visitor and tourism business. Makes a technical correction.

Let's see...a public utility owning real property in the counties....blah blah.... Why not just say NIPSCO gets a representative on this very populated committee? If for some reason NIPSCO discontinues being NIPSCO, I imagine legislators would have plenty opportunity to alter this. Nothing really wrong with adding two more bodies to this board. The size of this committee isn't a problem. What they can do, however, could always be a problem.

House passes 94-0; Senate passes 47-0.

HEA 1220 - Regional Development (South Shore Rail extension)

Synopsis: Regional development. Requires the commission on state tax and financing policy to study state and local funding alternatives for the South Shore West Lake extension.

Each word of this legislation stands to be worth tens of millions dollars each. What appears rather innocuous represents the first step in formalizing a move toward expansion of the South Shore Railway in Lake and Porter Counties.

The few sentences that authorize the House Tax and Finance Committee to study ways to finance this project comes with an emergency order and a report due by November 1, 2008.

As bad as it is, it could have been worse. The original House Bill:

Regional development. Establishes a transportation tax area for the territory within Lake County and Porter County. Provides for an allocation to the transportation tax area from the state gross retail and use taxes collected from the counties. Requires the development board of the northwest Indiana regional development authority to use the allocation for projects related to the West Lake line. Establishes a transportation tax area for the territory within LaPorte County and St. Joseph County. Provides for an allocation to the transportation tax area from the state gross retail and use taxes collected from the counties. Requires the board of trustees of the Northwest Indiana Commuter Transportation District to use the tax allocation for certain rail improvement projects in South Bend and Michigan City. Requires a city or county that participates in the northwest Indiana Regional development authority to remain a member for at least 10 years. Prescribes the terms for withdrawing from the development authority. Makes an appropriation.

In the end, it was trimmed down to authorizing a study. The rest of this will come next year. House passed 97-1; Senate passed 47-0. The lone dissent was Rep. Fry.

Read what the Chesterton Tribune writes on the subject.

SEA 118 - DOC Superintendent Qualifications

Synopsis: DOC superintendent qualifications. Allows a person who does not hold at least a bachelor's degree to serve as a superintendent in the department of correction (DOC) if the person has specified levels of experience. (The introduced version of this bill was prepared by the sentencing policy study committee.)

We're not sure if this was intended for a particular person or not. It would appear so. And, we're torn. Our legislators constantly tell us the importance of a good education and throw millions upon millions of dollars at every level. If we are to believe them, we should be demanding our leadership positions are filled with properly trained managers. For hypocrisy, we score our legislators low for this.

However, it's long been a libertarian perspective that experience rivals education and we should be promoting the most capable and prepared individuals into management regardless of formal education. For doing the right thing with this legislation, we score our legislators high.

House passes 97-2; Senate passes 47-1. Voting "no" -- Sen. Drozda and Reps. Micon and Murphy.

Mar 28, 2008

HEA 1046 - Apprentice Hunting Licenses

Synopsis: Apprentice hunting licenses. Establishes an apprentice hunting license that allows an individual to hunt when accompanied by a hunter who is at least 18 years of age. Provides that an apprentice hunter is not required to take the hunter education course and may not obtain more than three apprentice licenses in the individual's lifetime. (The introduced version of this bill was prepared by the natural resources study committee.)

Good job by the natural resources study committee. In fact, surprising six senators had a problem with this.

House passes 89-1. Senate passes 40-6.

HEA 1016 - Unclaimed Money

Unclaimed money. Requires the treasurer of state to return certain unclaimed money directly to the claimant instead of returning the money to a court clerk to present the unclaimed money to the claimant. Removes a requirement that a claimant give notice to the attorney general of proceedings on a claim.

Nice job by Richardson, Koch and VanDenburgh to push through legislation that streamlines the process of returning previously unclaimed money to the claimant. A unanimous House and Senate vote on something that deserved it.

House passed 83-0; Senate passed 46-0.

SEA 153 - Extension of Dentist instructor License

Extension of dentist instructor license. Extends until June 30, 2013, the authority of the state board of dentistry to issue a dentist instructor's license for individuals not otherwise licensed to practice dentistry in Indiana. (Under current law, the authority expires June 30, 2008.) (The introduced version of this bill was prepared by the health finance commission.)

The extension of licensing isn't an issue. Rep. Fry's antics were.

Fry tried to harpoon this legislation by adding completely unrelated language related to dialysis treatments and insurance. The attempt at the amendment was ruled out of order and the original legislation was simply extended.

Senate passes 46-0. House passes 85-13. It appears Rep. Fry has at least twelve other friends in the legislature.

HEA 1067 - U.S. Flag Protocol for Indiana Soliders

Synopsis: United States flag protocol for Indiana soldiers. Requires the governor to issue a proclamation, not more than 24 hours after receiving notice that an Indiana resident who is a member of the armed forces of the United States or the Indiana National Guard has died in action or as a result of wounds received in action, ordering that the United States flag be flown at half-staff on state property on the day of the member's funeral or memorial service.

Amazing we need to codify doing what's proper.

House passes 88-0; Senate passes 45-0.

HEA 1112 - Learner's Permits and Graduated Driver's Licenses

Synopsis: Learner's permits and graduated driver's licenses. Establishes the interim study committee on learners' permits and graduated drivers' licenses to study: (1) the minimum age at which learner's permits and probationary driver's licenses can be issued by the bureau of motor vehicles; (2) requirements for practice driving before a probationary driver's license can be issued; (3) the use of handheld devices by probationary drivers; (4) conditions to which the probationary driver is subject while driving; (5) whether a penalty should be given to a minor who accompanies a probationary driver without an accompanying adult driver of a certain age; and (6) the adoption of rules concerning driver education instruction.

The synopsis says what it is -- a government committee. We know what's next, also. The Final Report by will make rather strict and punitive recommendations that will be passed out of House and Senate Committee and adopted nearly unanimously by both chambers. Watch for the learner's minimum age to increase and unenforceable requirements related to "practice driving" and passengers be included.

Senate passes 43-3; House passes 92-0. Voting "No" in the Senate -- Kenley, Nugent and Waterman.

SEA 233 - Streamlined Sales Tax Conformity (Music Downloads)

Synopsis: Streamlined sales tax conformity. Adds definitions of the following terms from the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) to the sales and use tax statutes: (1) "digital audiovisual works"; (2) "digital audio works"; (3) "digital books"; and (4) "specified digital products". Amends the definition of "durable medical equipment" to conform with SSUTA. Extends until January 1, 2010, the date when sales of floral products will be sourced to the location of the floral business that takes a floral order from a purchaser, to conform with SSUTA. Provides that a person who transfers specified digital products to an end user with a grant of permanent use is a retail merchant making a retail transaction.

This is a tough one presented by Big-Government Senator Luke Kenley. Libertarians generally favor consumption fees and consumption taxes -- the "pay as you go" philosophy. However, with the changes to Indiana Code allowing for the State taxation of music and digital downloads from the internet, the State enters into murky waters of what overall impact will this have on small business as we move forward.

Will graphics designers in Illinois selling to a customer in Indiana now have to pay Indiana sales tax on their products? Is that next? What about your traditional manufacturers doing business across state borders? Is it fair to further enslave small business as the collecting agents of government revenues with no compensation to them as that agent? Is it enforceable even?

Another problem with this? Sen. Kenley wants our money so badly and so quickly, he made sure this was considered an "emergency act" to take effect immediately upon receiving Governor Daniels' signature. Mr. Kenley, how exactly is this an emergency?

Senate passes 46-0; House passes 80-11. Voting "no" in the House? Behning, Dvorak, Koch, Ruppel, Brown (T), Fry, Murphy, Wolkins, Buck, Grubb, and Noe. (Have we mentioned before Rep. Wolkins is one of the good guys?)

SEA 192 - Truth in Music Advertising

Synopsis: Truth in music advertising. Prohibits a person, other than a media source, from advertising or conducting a live musical performance or production by falsely, deceptively, or misleadingly implying that there is an affiliation between a performing group and a recording group. Makes a violation of the provision a Class A infraction

At first glance, this legislation appeared to be death to all Elvis Presley impersonators. Then one reads the exceptions: 1) the performing group is an authorized owner of the service mark; 2) at least one member was a member of the recording group; 3) the performance is identified in all advertising and promotion as a salute or tribute; 4) advertising does not relate to a live musical performance or production taking place in Indiana; and 5) the performance is expressly authorized by the recording group.

So, what exactly does this protect?

House passes 99-0; Senate passes 46-0. Rep. Borders, well-known for his own Elvis impersonations and performances voted in favor of this.

SEA 156 - Communicable Disease Rules

Synopsis: Communicable disease rules. Specifies that the state department of health may adopt emergency rules concerning communicable diseases. (The introduced version of this bill was prepared by the health finance commission.)

Believe this one was born our the Avian Flu threats and allows the State Department of Health to adopt emergency rules consistent with other agencies powers. The legislation if interpreted for its original intent is rather benign. There is room for abuse or overreaction by any of the agencies granted this authority. However, loopholes abound in our system and this action would have been made possible with or without this legislation.

Senate passes 46-0; House pases 86-0.

SEA 159 - Third Party Access to Terms of Health Care Contracts

Third party access to terms of health care contracts. Specifies terms under which a third party may obtain access to a contractor's rights and responsibilities related to a provider's delivery of health care services.

Seems like a harmless piece of housekeeping. If you're receiving your health benefits through an employer program, the legislation simply grants access to that employer or an agreed upon subsidiary to administer the plan and obtain necessary contract information. Probably saves some paperwork hassles for all involved. Something goes awry? The legislation allows for arbitration to be written into a health care contract.

Senate passes 43-0; House passes 92-0.

Mar 25, 2008

HEA 1042 - Intent to Sell Sexually Explicit Material

Synopsis: Intent to sell sexually explicit materials. Requires a person that intends to offer for sale or sell sexually explicit materials to register and file a statement with the secretary of state. Imposes a $250 filing fee and requires the secretary of state to notify certain local officials of the county in which the person locates the business. Provides that a person that offers for sale or sells sexually explicit materials without registering and filing the statement commits a Class B misdemeanor.

It's already begging lawsuits from major bookstores and news outlets. Not a good sign for a really poor piece of legislation. An election year signature from the governor must have been meant to placate the Eric Miller zealots of the world who like to trample citizen and business rights. Let's hope the courts get this one right.

House passes: 88-5. Senate passes: 44-2. Voting no in the House: Crooks, Noe, Avery, Moses and Pierce. Senate no's: Boots and Mrvan.

SEA 41 - Riparian Water Rights

Synopsis: Public freshwater lakes. Defines "acquiescence" and "lake" for purposes of certain lake preservation laws. Establishes evidence that indicates the acquiescence of a riparian owner to allow the public use of a lake. Makes conforming changes. Requires the department of natural resources to prepare a list of public freshwater lakes. Allows the owners of a body of water to petition to have the body of water declared a public freshwater lake.

When the legislators look to private property and start defining "acquiescence" as the public right to use private property because you might have allowed it to be used for awhile, we certainly have a problem. Possibly we're missing something here, but it sure sounds like eminent domain exercised over water rights with public recreation the end goal.

Senate passed: 47-0. House passed: 95-2. Dissenting: Wolkins and Torr. If Wolkins votes against, it must mean our assessment of eminent domain abuse isn't far off.

SEA 28 - Fire Safe Cigarettes

Synopsis: Fire safe cigarettes. Establishes reduced ignition propensity standards for cigarettes. Authorizes the state fire marshal, the department of state revenue, and the alcohol and tobacco commission to monitor and enforce the standards. Provides for certification fees and penalties. Establishes: (1) the reduced ignition propensity standards for cigarettes fund; and (2) the fire prevention and public safety fund.

Industry is already manufacturing these. Twenty-two states comply. Ironically, the best argument against is from smokers who claim there are increased toxins in the cigarettes and is putting them at risk. Ummmm...... Back to the point -- industry doesn't mind, it is proven to reduce fires and there's little reason to believe enforcement is an issue when industry is already complying.

House passed: 98-0. Senate passed 47-1. Senator Meeks dissents.

SEA 26 - Smoke Detectors in Rental Properties

Synopsis: Smoke detectors in rental properties. Makes it a Class B infraction if a landlord fails to: (1) properly install a smoke detector at the time a tenant moves in; or (2) repair an inoperative hard wired smoke detector within seven days of receiving notice of the need for repair. Increases the penalty to a Class A infraction for a subsequent offense. Provides that a landlord and a tenant may not waive the requirement that a smoke detector be installed in each rental unit. Requires a tenant to replace batteries as needed in a battery operated smoke detector and to provide written notice of any malfunctions of a hard wired smoke detector to the landlord. Permits a fire department to inspect a private dwelling upon the request of the owner or primary lessee who resides in the dwelling.

Wow. What a way to perform warrantless searches using our local fire departments. Can the legislators abuse the Constitution anymore?

He said. She said. I can hear it now, "I wrote my landlord that the smoke detector wasn't working." Landlord, "My lessee took the smoke detector off the wall and never replaced it." The solution? Call the Fire Department? ARGH!

Senator Jackman and colleagues really know how to grow the size and scope of government. Not only does his legislation burden the local fire departments with potential landlord/tenant disputes, but it usurps local government control. Overall, this legislation is ill-conceived and unenforceable.

Senate passed: 41-7. House passed 97-0. And we were told Republicans want smaller government? If that's the case, why are Senators Hume, Skinner and Lewis consistently for less intrusive government? Kudos to them!

Mar 24, 2008

HEA 1169 - Cosmetology and Estheticians

Synopsis: Cosmetology and estheticians. Changes the term "cosmetology professional" in the law concerning beauty culture to "beauty culture professional". Defines "threading". Exempts threading from cosmetology licensing laws. Makes conforming changes. Repeals the definitions of "cosmetology professional" and "continuing education course" .

This comes from the man who wants to serve Indiana's 7th District in Washington D.C. Rep. David Orentlicher must have bored with property tax reform. While his colleagues were haggling over tax caps, Rep. Orentlicher was redefining cosmetologists as "beauty culture professionals". Well, there's some important legislation.

Of course, I'm sure it was prompted by the need for our legislators to properly define and exempt the art of threading from cosmetology law. For the unwitting reader, according to Indiana Code 25-8-2-19, "threading" refers to a technique that results in the removal of superfluous hair from the body by twisting thread around unwanted hair and removing it from the skin and the incidental trimming of eyebrow hair.

Seems a bit crazy to over-license and regulate this industry, but also not clear why eyebrow trims get the exemption over other body parts.

And a side note -- Rep. Mays, an opponent of Rep. Orentlicher in the upcoming primary, was excused from the vote. Either she was getting the eyebrow trim and unable to make the roll call or she realized there were more important matters -- probably the latter.

House passed 86-9. Senate passed 46-1.

SEA 111 - Graduation Rate Formula

Synopsis: Graduation rate formula. Specifies that students graduating as members of a cohort include students from the cohort who graduate during the expected graduation year or during a previous reporting year. Provides that students may count as graduating members of only one cohort. Corrects an incorrect cross-reference.

Possibly we should require our own state legislators to take a stab at the mathematics section of ISTEP testing. Apparently trying to figure out a graduation rate is a little complicated. This piece of legislation corrects what they couldn't calculate correctly in previous legislation. Remarkably, they did mostly agree that one graduate can only be counted in one graduation year -- not two.

House passed 99-0. Senate passed 38-3. Senators Arnold, Hume and Skinner dissented.

HEA 1051 - School Corporation Donations to Foundations

Synopsis: School corporation donations to foundations. Permits a school corporation to annually donate not more than $25,000 to a community foundation if the donation is matched by a private donor. (Current law permits school corporations to make matched donations only to public school endowment corporations.)

As more and more school corporations look to the community for funding of their core program needs, school foundations at secondary schools are taking off. While this bill allows a school corporation to maximize matching grants up to $25,000, it does not go far enough in providing transparency for those contributions. It states that the qualified foundation must open its books at the request of the state board of accounts to determine in which the school corporation's donation and any matching donations have been held or distributed. It would be nice to make those books open for public scrutiny at the time public funds are received.

Passed House: 94-0; Passed Senate 46-1. Sen. Skinner was the lone dissenting vote.
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