Wednesday, May 16, 2018 1:00 am
Right on schedule
Special session met goals, but left some problems
Leaders of the Indiana legislature's special session Monday stuck to their agenda. There were no last-second surprises and the much-anticipated day was gaveled into history by mid-afternoon.
The cost of the session, necessitated by the inability of the Republican supermajority to get its act together at the scheduled end of the regular session in March, will be borne, of course by taxpayers. To keep those costs from going higher, the agenda was limited to discussion and voting on a handful of predetermined bills – no amendments or additions allowed. So challenges left undealt-with during the regular session were still problems as legislators headed home Monday evening.
At the head of that list is what to do to help the Department of Child Services, which appears to be understaffed and in need of some serious reorganization. Legislative leaders, who eschewed any action on the matter during the regular session because a six-month study ordered by the governor was under way, would have been wiser to delay this week's session until next month, when the results of that study are due. None of the matters the legislature chose to address Monday are more important than protecting endangered children.
Three tax measures were passed, along with a bill to provide more funding for school safety. Democrats argued that the tax measures, in particular, deserved some serious tweaking, and that the school-safety bill didn't go far enough to protect students from the threat of random violence.
By far the most controversial measure, though, was the school takeover bill aimed at the financially struggling Gary and Muncie school systems. The bill has serious flaws. As The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly reported, House Bill 1315, signed immediately by Gov. Eric Holcomb, will allow Ball State University to take over the Muncie system and appoint a board to replace the elected school board. Gary schools are already being run by an emergency manager; the bill will make the district's elected board an advisory group. The bill sets no time limit for Muncie's schools to be returned to normal governance; only the emergency manager will have the power to ask the state to end the Gary takeover. Both systems need and deserve state help, but it's difficult to see how disenfranchising voters and obliterating any semblance of local control will improve the situation.
To help other districts avoid getting to the point where they might face state takeover – a worthy goal – the bill also provides for secret negotiations between school systems and the state's Distressed Unit Appeals Board. That could remove transparency at the moment it is needed most. Keeping such situations secret robs citizens of the right to know about and participate in solving the problem.
Of course, the same concerns would have been raised if HB 1315 had passed in the waning moments of the regular session. A special session is not the time to rectify shortcomings the legislature should have addressed during regular hours.