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This Week

Saturday, June 29, 2013 - 12:01 am

Keeping up our ethics awareness

Mark Lubbers and Mark Massa have been friends a long time. Now, Lubbers represents the developers of the proposed $2.8 billion coal-gasification plant in Rockport. And Massa is a sitting justice of the Indiana Supreme court, which is scheduled to hear a dispute over the case raised by opponents who say the plant will cost utility customers as much as $1.1 billion in higher rates.

The need for Massa to recuse himself from the case is obvious – the potential conflict of interest here is not subtle. But the fact is that Massa so far has not recused himself.

The case illustrates a limitation of ethics policies and guidelines we don’t often think about. No matter how strong the ethics infrastructure is, voters and taxpayers in the end have to trust the judgment of the people elected and appointed to office.

Monday

Goals needed for Ivy Tech

If a public school is not performing up to par, what should the state do about its funding? Increase it because it obviously needs more help? But wouldn’t that risk throwing good money after bad? Decrease it to send the signal that improvements are needed, freeing up funds to help the good schools do even better? But the risk there is of making a bad situation worse.

That’s the dilemma now faced by Indiana education officials in what to do about Ivy Tech, the state’s community college system, which has a graduation rate low enough to worry education officials. Right now, they seem to be leaning toward a decrease in funding. Since Ivy Tech already has a $68 million deficit that might require closing 25 percent of its facilities, that’s an option that should at least be the subject of further discussion.

Tuesday

It just got tougher to sue

In a perfect world, there would be a balance between the needs of business and the rights of employees. The company would be relatively free from frivolous lawsuits, but workers would still have the right to be treated with dignity and fairness. It would be the job of courts, especially the Supreme Court, to fine-tune this balance.

But in the real world, we get either a majority of justices who are pro-worker and willing to let business be vulnerable, or a pro-business majority unconcerned about how mistreated employees might feel. Today, we clearly have a pro-business majority, as illustrated Monday by two decisions, one of them involving Ball State University.

The effect of the two decisions is that it will now be harder for workers to sue businesses for discrimination or retaliation.

Wednesday

Court makes a bold decision

If the Indiana Supreme Court doesn’t stop making such bold decisions, it might risk its reputation as a stodgy, old conservative organization. And “bold” seems appropriate to describe a ruling that overturns 150 years of precedent.

The court ruled 3-2 that prosecutors must present evidence to show why defendants in murder cases should be denied bail. The burden of proof will no longer be on defendants to provide reasons they should not be denied bail.

It’s a startling turnaround for those of us who’ve seen a lot of “Law & Order” and similar shows. Bail for a murder charge? You’ve got to be kidding!

This decision will not, as some may fear, loose a flood of crazed killers on defenseless Hoosiers. Though the burden of proof shifts to the prosecution, it is not a very heavy burden.

Thursday

Is gay marriage fight winnable?

Indiana legislators put off for a year a decision on whether to send to a voter referendum the question of putting the legislative gay-marriage ban into the state constitution. They were waiting on the Supreme Court’s rulings on two pending same-sex-marriage cases.

Now we know. The Supreme Court avoided sweeping rulings in its decisions this week and seemed to send a signal that, at least for now, whether to permit gay marriage or forbid it would rest in state legislatures. So advocates of traditional marriage have vowed to take the issue up again this year. But gay-marriage proponents claim a victory in the rulings, so they will be energized as well.

The traditionalists might want to consider how hard they want to fight and whether it would be worth it.

Friday