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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette

Furthermore …

Website hampers easier access to budget bill

No single piece of legislation has broader implications for Hoosiers than the biennial budget bill. It includes the formula for determining school funding, establishes tax rates and calculations for highway spending. It allocates dollars for every unit of state government – universities, prisons, Medicaid and state parks.

Previous sessions have seen eleventh-hour negotiations over the massive House Bill 1001, shutting out public scrutiny as fiscal leaders work out agreements and rank-and-file lawmakers scramble to see how the proposal will treat their constituents, particularly the local school district.

Inevitably, the last-minute scramble produces surprises and unintended consequences. House Speaker Brian Bosma, to his credit, has made it a priority to make the proposed budget available at least 24 hours before legislators are asked to vote. That’s a welcome move, but the extra time is worthless if the public can’t easily find the conference committee report for the budget bill.

True to Bosma’s pledge, the document was posted by Thursday evening, but it was not posted on the Indiana General Assembly website. A link could be found only on the House and Senate Republican caucus websites. As of Friday morning, the bill’s status on the General Assembly website listed it as “in Conference Committee,” even though GOP leaders spent much of Thursday afternoon boasting of the tax cuts they had provided in the final version of the spending plan.

Technology allows greater transparency than citizens have ever enjoyed, but only if elected officials use it wisely.

Supermajority flexes muscle over ag-gag

Hoosiers opposed to the controversial ag-gag bill were likely chagrined to hear that Republican majority leaders simply removed dissenting members of the minority party from the conference committee in an attempt to move the proposal forward.

The proposed bill made taking surreptitious video or photos on private property with the intent to harm a business a crime.

Its name stems from whistle-blower efforts to expose inhumane practices at large agricultural operations.

By late Friday, some dangerous provisions of the bill had been removed.

The ag-gag push gained national attention for its sweeping scope. Existing laws already protect property owners against trespassing. Opponents thought the measure violated citizens’ First Amendment rights. Environmental advocates, animal rights organizations and labor unions said it would result in criminal charges for those who attempt to expose wrongdoing while protecting the wrongdoers.

“I do think it’s not worth anything to use the taxpayers’ money to even have these conference committees if it’s going to work that way,” said Barbara Sha Cox of Indiana CAFO Watch. “When you are in the super majority, I think it adds an added responsibility to work together to reach a compromise.”

Cox said she thinks many people would be troubled to learn that this is the way the legislative process works. “I think that’s a reason people don’t get involved.”

Building a bridge to health

The closing of Calhoun Street may cause a temporary inconvenience for commuters, but it won’t last long and it will allow patients safer passage to the expanding Neighborhood Health Clinic.

Closure of the busy street began Thursday and is expected to continue through May 10.

In that brief time, construction crews are going to build a pedestrian bridge connecting the new parking garage with an expanding clinic. The bridge will allow expectant mothers, parents with strollers and others to access the clinic safely rather than having to dodge traffic.

The Neighborhood Health Clinic serves residents who otherwise would have few options for medical care.

The construction project also includes the 303-space, three-story parking garage on the west side of Calhoun as well as two dental exam rooms, six medical exam rooms, a new entrance, administrative offices, an extended lab area and an intake area.

Canned hunt justly canned

Senate President Pro Tem David Long put the kibosh on a bill that would have legalized canned hunting in Indiana.

Thanks to his leadership, a legislative effort to legalize the five high-fenced hunting businesses operating in Indiana is dead, at least for this legislative session.

He put an end to the controversial provision in Senate Bill 487.

Despite strong objections from wildlife advocates, animal rights groups and most of the state’s hunting organizations, some legislators wanted to push through a bill encouraging the practice of shooting deer kept in a confined area.

Supporters argued legalizing the businesses would bring the state money because hunters would be willing to pay to kill deer specifically bred for their large racks and that it would allow local deer farmers to sell their deer in Indiana.

Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R-Bloomfield, said his attempt to protect the hunting preserves was needed to resolve an 8-year-old lawsuit over the issue.

Long, rightly, pointed out the preserves violate the ethic of fair chase and said he wants to allow the court to rule on the pending lawsuit.