Just a quiet little session
This session of the Indiana General Assembly has now passed the halfway mark, and it’s been a quiet one so far. Republicans have crushing supermajorities in both House and Senate, so they can do just about anything they want to. But what they’re getting noticed for mostly are the things they haven’t done.
They decided to back off putting a gay-marriage ban into the state constitution. They decided not to act on Gov. Mike Pence’s request for a 10 percent income tax cut. They expanded the school voucher program slightly, not in the sweeping way some had suggested. There haven’t been any dramatic confrontations over contentious issues.
“Lawmakers so far this session have done little more than poke around the margins in terms of crafting public policy,” observes John Krull, director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism.
Money from the wrong places
Money is, as they say, fungible – that is, individual units are interchangeable; one dollar bill is exactly the same as any other dollar bill in form and function. And any pot of money can be used for either good or bad.
But sometime the origin does matter. Two stories appearing on the same day make the point. One notes that, despite the plummeting tax revenues from Indiana’s casino industry, key state officials “remain unwilling to gamble on any expansion of the state’s gaming options.” The other reports that the resurgence of Indiana University’s men’s basketball team the last two seasons “has driven an increase in donations, boosted royalties for IU-licensed merchandise and led to the highest number of student season-ticket basketball packages sold in three decades.”
No reining in private sales
A planned gun show at the Lake County Fairgrounds went off without a hitch last Saturday. As a matter of fact, attendance was even higher than expected. It seems the show benefited from publicity surrounding a summit of Illinois and Indiana police and prosecutors, who had made a futile request to county commissioners to rein in private sales at gun shows. There’s irony for you.
“Private sales” – transactions between individuals, with no gun dealers involved – are targeted because they do not have to be reported and no background checks are required. They’re supposedly the main source of 20 percent of the guns recovered by Chicago police from 2008 to 2012. But Lake County is following the law, says Commissioner Mike Repay, “and if you have trouble with that, then the law should be changed.”
Right balance on license plates
State legislators seeking to overhaul Indiana’s specialty auto license plate system have to strike a delicate balance, and that’s what they seem to be doing in a bill that has cleared a committee unanimously and now goes before the full Senate. The measure would limit the number of plates without getting into judgment calls about a sponsoring group’s mission or message.
It was an attempt at content control that got the whole “plate reform” movement started in the first place. Some lawmakers tried to yank the plates sponsored by a support group for gay, lesbian and transgender teens because they disapproved of such activity. That effort was flawed on obvious constitutional grounds. In approving some messages but not others, the state is impermissibly trying to manage Hoosiers’ free-speech rights.
Spotlight on terror fight
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., thinks the nearly 13-hour filibuster by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul a stunt. The very idea that drones would be used to kill American citizens on American soil is “ridiculous,” he says, and the debate about it is the result of “paranoia between libertarians and the hard left that is unjustified.”
Of all the threats to our civil liberties in the war on terror, such a head-in-the-sand attitude is the most daunting. We tend not to lose our rights in one dramatic flourish. They erode gradually as we ignore early warning signs and pooh-pooh the idea that what could happen actually will.
Rand did not succeed in his immediate objective – stopping John Brennan’s appointment to run the CIA – but he managed to shine a light on some of the most constitutionally questionable anti-terror tactics.