In the year ahead, Hoosiers face a continuing public health threat and economic calamity created by COVID-19. But it's apparently easier to conjure up a nonexistent threat than to tackle the state's real problems.
That's what state Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, has done with Senate Bill 130, legislation to prohibit cities from changing their names. He believes the renaming of professional sports teams in the wake of protests by Native Americans and other minority groups could extend to his own city.
“I call it a preemptive measure,” Sandlin said last week. “People know Indianapolis worldwide. ... Losing our identity could have a significant economic impact.”
His bill would apply to four cities named in the state Constitution – Indianapolis, Clarksville, Vincennes and Evansville – as well as about 150 Indiana cities referenced in state code. Fort Wayne would be among those cities.
“Is there a city or town that wants to change its name? Why are you bringing this bill to us?” asked Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, in a hearing in the Senate Local Government Committee last week.
There is not, Sandlin conceded. No one has initiated a legislative or executive effort to change the name of the state or the city of Indianapolis. No elected public official has proposed renaming any Indiana city.
You might call Sandlin's bill a solution in search of a problem, but that would be too kind.
In a legislative session dominated by pandemic concerns and now hampered by domestic terrorism threats, it's an irresponsible waste of time and tax dollars.
Committee Chairman James Buck, a Kokomo Republican, tried to justify hearing the bill on the grounds the state has invested millions of dollars promoting tourism, and it might have spent money on behalf of a city that could someday change its name.
But Buck's claim wasn't the most outlandish. Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, rhetorically asked Sandlin what would happen to a letter without a ZIP code intended for Marion County, but addressed to Marion.
“My point is – a name is significant. (The name Indianapolis) has been around a long time,” Tomes said. “Let's not fool ourselves. We've all seen a lot of things go on these past 10 or 11 months. We just want to make sure we don't create more problems.”
Sen. Greg Taylor, an Indianapolis Democrat, grew visibly angry with Tomes' comment, an apparent reference to civil rights protests that prompted calls for renaming some institutions and removing monuments to Confederate leaders.
Buck ended the tense discussion by suggesting the bill might be amended to “find something that would be palatable to those who want local control” rather than leaving decisions to the legislature.
But the bill deserves no more time or attention.
At best, it's another tiresome attack on home rule by the General Assembly. At worst, it's an ill-timed effort to stoke outrage and division when lawmakers should be investing all their time and effort into solving real problems.
There's enough to worry about with nearly 9,000 Hoosiers dead from COVID-19 and businesses across the state struggling to stay afloat.