Friday, February 20, 2009

Updating the General Assembly

Having a busy week at work and not getting much done for the blog here. The Indiana General Assembly has been at work, though. Here is what I have collected so far. Unless otherwise noted, these come from either The Indiana Lawyer or The Indianapolis Business Journal:
House passes St. Joseph judicial election bill:
"In a historically notable vote, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would elect St. Joseph Superior judges rather than stick with a merit-selection and retention system in place for 35 years.

The 88-3 vote came about 4 p.m. Thursday on House Bill 1491, authored by Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka. Voting against the bill were attorney Reps. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, and Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville.

***

St. Joseph is one of two counties where Superior Court judges are chosen by a local nominating commission on their judicial merits, appointed by the governor, and then face voter retention in elections. The remaining 90 Hoosier counties use the election method, with two - Allen and Vanderburgh - using non-partisan elections; Marion County has a slating process, as well"

I got to say that while St. Joseph County is a long way off, I think we do better when we have elected judges. Now if we could get term limits, too.

This just in from The Anderson Herald-Bulletin, Update: Local gov’t reorganization bills meet resistance:

The Senate Local Government Committee gutted a bill to eliminate township governments, instead voting 9-2 for a more modest measure that would leave townships intact but add a review of their budgets and require policies against nepotism.

The committee also defeated a proposal that could have been a first step toward making some county offices appointed rather than elected positions. The committee voted 6-5 against the measure, with Republican Sens. Jim Buck of Kokomo and Sue Landske of Cedar Lake joining Democrats in opposition.

Local government restructuring has come under fire from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. But Daniels criticized his fellow GOP members for voting against the county offices proposal.

***

Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee derailed a bill to consolidate some small school districts. Lawmakers chose not to vote on it Wednesday, meaning the bill will likely miss a key deadline for legislative action.

Sen. Connie Lawson, R-Danville, and other reorganization supporters say streamlining local government would make it more efficient and responsive. But Lawson, who chairs the Local Government Committee, said the proposals were hard for some lawmakers to swallow.

I had my doubts about the school reorganization plan and, while I generally favor the township reform, I think the township plan suffered from too much one-size fits all imposed from Indianapolis. Reading that report, I notice that Mitch makes his usual snide comments about Democrats. Mitch continues to believe that if says it is a reform that it does reform. Here is an earlier article on the township proposal: Legislation would eliminate township government.

"Legislation aimed at changing how the Indiana Supreme Court justices are chosen hasn't gotten enough support to make it out of committee for now, getting a split vote from lawmakers that means it won't be going to the full House for consideration.

The Government and Regulatory Reform Committee added to its agenda this morning House Joint Resolution 9, which would amend the state's Constitution to require that justices be elected instead of being chosen based on merit and later retained by voters. Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawka, proposed the resolution in January to put the makeup of the high court in the public's hands and provide more accountability.

***

But by a 5-5 vote, the legislative committee has voted not to send the measure to the full House at this point. Two members were absent and didn't vote, while at least two voting that it move on pointed out they weren't opposed to merit selection and might vote against HJR9 on the floor. The deadline for committee action is Thursday.

Three people testified before the committee against the measure - Indiana State Bar Association legislative counsel Paje Felts, Terre Haute attorney Stephen Williams who sits on the Judicial Nominating Commission, and Indianapolis plaintiffs attorney Tom Schultz.

Felts told lawmakers that the ISBA helped change the system decades ago, and that Indiana is looked to as a national model of how to put justices on the bench.

Williams focused on the nominating commission end, while Schultz told lawmakers that changing the selection system could have a negative impact on the economy because businesses might not want to locate to a state where multi-million dollar judicial elections are being held.

***

Committee chair Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, voted in support of sending this resolution to the full House for consideration because it's controversial and should be discussed, whether the merit selection system works or not.

"This is a time of transparency and accountability, and it's extremely important that taxpayers.... be able to have a say," he said.

Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis, recalled visiting another state back in the 1970s and seeing television coverage of 18 prosecutor candidates being interviewed - full of negative ads and indications of large amounts of money being raised.

"We start having mudslinging and it's going to hurt the quality of our candidates," he said. "I don't see why we'd go there."

Before voting against the resolution, another lawmaker said, "I don't want a Democrat judge or a Republican judge; I just want a judge."

Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, and Rep. John Barnes, D-Indianapolis, both indicated that while they wanted more discussion by lawmakers, they'd likely vote against the measure if it reached the full House.

Of all the reforms proposed, this one interests me most. I have a post here on the subject. First Impressions Blog has posts on the subject here and here on this proposal. My views differ from their views. I left a comment on the first post which pretty much sets out my views. Non-partisan elections would be best. I do notice no mention of term limits.

The Evansville Courier Press noted Three Kernan-Shepard bills derailed in one afternoon:
"Here are the details:
-Senate Joint Resolution 7 would have amended the state constitution so that four county elected offices - county coroner, surveyor, treasurer and recorder - would instead be appointees. It was defeated in the Senate Local Government committee late this afternoon.

-Senate Bill 512 would have eliminated township trustees and other township officials and transferred their duties to the county level. The same committee gutted that bill, taking out most of the wording. Only two provisions remain: nepotism would not be allowed in township government, and township budgets will get a non-binding review by the county council. That scaled-back version of the bill passed the Senate Local Government Committee, 9-2.

-Senate Bill 521 was the Kernan-Shepard proposal to require the smallest school districts, those of 1,000 or less, to consolidate their administrative offices over a period of three years. The Senate Education Committee debated it at length this afternoon. In light of opposition, however, chairwoman Sen. Teresa Lubbers, R-Indianapolis, announced she would not take a vote on the bill."

Since Thursday is the deadline for Senate bills to pass out of committee to the full Senate, bill author Sen. Gary Dillon said that means as a practical matter his school-consolidation bill is likely dead for the session. No further meetings of the Senate Education Committee are scheduled this week.

***

Two other Kernan-Shepard bills are still alive, however; they already passed in the state Senate and are on their way to the Indiana House. Senate Bill 506 creates a process for replacing the county commissioners with a single county executive. Senate Bill 452 moves municipal elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years, and prohibits police and firefighters from serving on the elected councils of the towns that employ them.

Take a look at Daniels, Kernan pitch government reform from The Kokomo Tribune for an explanation of the intent of these reforms. Also, Masson's Blog has Local Government Restructuring.

The wife and I have talked a bit about year round school. I had a divorce case last year where the child was attending a year-round school in Indianapolis and was doing quite well. We like the idea. So I do not understand the problems with this idea but take a look at Bill to delay start of school year tabled:
"Several parents made a pitch yesterday for a proposed state law that would prohibit traditional public schools in Indiana from starting their academic year earlier than late August.

Parents from schools that started this school year as early as Aug. 11 said earlier start dates that many schools have turned to mean higher building cooling costs and rob their kids of longer vacations that would leave them rested and ready for class.

'Now days our kids return to school crabby and restless,' said Brenda Swank of Granger in far northern Indiana. She said her two children started this school year Aug. 13.

The parents favored a bill by Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend) that would prohibit traditional public schools from beginning their school year any earlier than the last Monday in August.

But critics said it would result in less teaching time and tarnish Indiana's education image."

I got to say "huh" to the critics.

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