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This Week

Saturday, April 19, 2014 - 12:01 am

Is issue out of state hands?

Did you just hear that? Was that the sound of the other gay-marriage shoe dropping in Indiana?

When the General Assembly this past session eliminated a sentence from the proposed amendment putting the state’s gay marriage ban into the Indiana Constitution, we wrote that the question was being put off at least two years and perhaps forever. The issue is evolving so rapidly – faster, perhaps, than any social change in American history – that it is likely to be settled by courts before the Legislature gets back to it.

Today that prediction seems more prescient than ever. Federal Judge Richard Young has issued a temporary restraining order requiring the state to recognize the union of Munster couple Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, who were legally married in Massachusetts. He said he honored their request because Quasney is terminally ill.


Two important ethics questions

The Indiana House Ethics Committee is taking up the case of Rep. Eric Turner and, as the Associated Press reminds us, it will have to try to answer two questions.

The first is whether Turner violated any ethics rules in privately lobbying against a measure that would have hurt is business. The second, and by far the most important, is whether the ethics rules they are judging him by are adequate to do what they are supposed to do.

Yes, it matters whether one member found a clever way around the rules. But it matters more that the rules are strong enough and clear enough to head off as many ethical lapses as possible.

And it matters most of all that the public have faith in a legislative system that works for all Hoosiers, not just the privileged few who have mastered the maze.


Mixed news on our taxes

Starting with the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels and continuing through that of Gov. Mike Pence, Hoosier leaders have worked to make Indiana the most business-friendly state. Tax reforms in 2008 capped property taxes at 1 percent of home values and required voter referendums for school and government construction projects. And legislators have cut corporate and financial institution tax rates and the business personal property tax and repealed the inheritance tax.

A new study from the conservative Tax Foundation think tank shows that the state is having some success at getting closer to that goal. According to the foundation, the state has the eighth-best business tax climate in 2014, an improvement from 10th in 2013.

But there is bad news, too. Hoosiers are paying a higher percentage of their income on taxes.


State just moves problem

It’s a sign of mismanagement bordering on incompetence when one government tries to solve a problem by passing it along to other governments. That’s what the state is doing as it wrestles with prison overcrowding, and the victims are Indiana’s 92 counties.

Overcrowding has been a concern for some time, and former Gov. Mitch Daniels pushed hard for changes to sentencing guidelines so more low-level criminals would be diverted to alternative punishments. They did that, but decided to throw in a tough-on-crime provision, too, ordering that inmates serve 75 percent of their sentences instead of just 50. Perversely, the prison population is likely to grow even more than it would have.

What to do, what to do? Finally, the General Assembly enacted a brilliant idea: Let’s move the overcrowding from state prisons to county jails.


Setback for home rule

Indiana’s unpredictable and unjustifiable approach to home rule has prompted the Indianapolis City-County Council to defeat a proposed law for the worst reason possible: fear of being sued. Never mind what’s right and wrong, let’s just stay out of court!

The measure would have banned residents from “discharging weapons recreationally” within city limits, which would have allowed self-defense but prohibited things like hunting and target shooting. Such bans have been so common that they’re not even controversial, a rarity for any issue involving the Second Amendment.

But there is a provision in the Indiana code, enacted in 2011, under which state law pre-empts all local restrictions. Cities and counties, for example, can’t pass ordinances keeping guns out of parks because that’s not a part of the state law.