NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Why we disagree with GiaQuinta’s assessment of legislative session as ‘missed opportunity’

Indiana House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne wrote a guest column that appeared in Sunday’s Indianapolis Star making the point that this year’s legislative session was “a missed opportunity to set a two-year budget and enact laws that improve the quality of life for the people of our state.”

News-Sentinel.com disagrees. We agree, rather, with House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), who lauded the passage of the $34 billion balanced two-year state budget that headed the GOP list of 10 top priority bills, which included a record increase in new K-12 education funding.

“This session marks a historic win for rural, urban and suburban public schools,” Bosma wrote after the session, “as lawmakers worked hard to increase our commitment to K-12 education by $763 million in new state dollars.”

The victorious House Republican priority bills, according to the Indiana House Republican Caucus, included passing the balanced state budget, increasing protections for Hoosier youth, strengthening the state’s commitment to students and teachers, better aligning workforce initiatives and supporting Indiana’s veterans.

That doesn’t sound like a missed opportunity.

GiaQuinta listed the Indiana House Democratic Caucus agenda for the 2019 legislative session, which included “giving teachers a pay raise and driving more dollars to traditional public schools, funding statewide pre-K and passing a hate-crimes law that protects all Hoosiers,” among other things.

He wrote that House Republicans voted down or did not even consider most of the Democrats’ proposals.

We wrote in an editorial after the General Assembly finished its work last month that it’s not surprising the state teachers association and Democratic legislators would say the budget is inadequate. “It isn’t in either group’s best interest to agree with the education funding put together by the state’s Republican leadership,” we said then. But we insisted then and reaffirm now that the deal that was made showed significant commitment to public education.

The budget increases per-pupil funding, expands vouchers and charter schools, provides teacher grants and preserves 13th-period cost-of-living bonuses for retired teachers. We, too, had hoped for significant pay raises for teachers, but when legislators discovered they had $100 million less to work with than expected, they weren’t able to do as much as they had hoped.

At least Gov. Eric Holcomb had the foresight to appoint a commission in February to identify strategies for increasing teacher pay in time for the next budget cycle in 2021.

And The Northwest Indiana Times reported that Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, said the significant education funding hike in the new budget will give local school corporations the ability to raise teacher pay if they choose, making the budget “truly a win for Hoosier students, teachers and schools.”

GiaQuinta also wrote in Sunday’s column that he thinks Republicans missed the boat on the so-called hate-crimes bill.

“I also feel as though we missed an opportunity to protect all Hoosiers equally under the state’s new hate-crimes law by leaving gender, gender identity, age, and ancestry off of the list of characteristics that would be included in the state code,” he said.

In truth, the bill amends the Indiana Criminal code to give judges the leeway to impose harsher sentences for crimes committed with bias toward the victim. The bill states judges may consider bias to be an aggravating factor if the “person committed the offense with bias due to the victim’s or the group’s real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association or other attribute.”

“This is not a racist bill. This is not a homophobic bill. This is a bill to give bias crime protection to everyone in Indiana,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores. “Everybody is on the list.”

No legislative session will provide everything every school or other special interest wants, but we believe the session was, indeed, a victory for Republican legislators and Gov. Holcomb as well as definite progress for all citizens of our state.

We respect our Democratic representative to the Statehouse, but we also respectfully disagree with his assessment of this year’s session.