Legislators wrap up one-day special session

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

INDIANAPOLIS — State Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper, was ready to stay the night in Indianapolis, just in case the Legislature’s special session lasted longer than one day.

“I took a change of clothes with me, thinking that we’d be there today, until late in the evening,” he said this morning. “I think there were a lot of people surprised that we weren’t.”

But the General Assembly finished its work in one day, opening and closing the session on Monday.

“I was surprised that it went as smooth as it did,” Lindauer said. “I had a few things to finish up, but I was on the road by 1 or 1:30.”

The House of Representatives met in the morning and passed the bills to the Senate, which met in the afternoon. Afterward, the Senate Republicans held a caucus and selected a new president pro tem, Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, to replace the retiring David Long. Bray, in turn, selected Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, as floor leader, which is his second in command.

The special session, while it lasted one day, was not without its contention. Democrats protested that the five bills taken up, including a contentious school takeover measure, didn’t warrant having the special session, which cost an estimated $30,000.

GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb announced in March that he would call lawmakers back to the Statehouse for the one-day gathering shortly after bickering majority Republicans blew past a legal deadline to adjourn without passing a number of bills. At the time, Holcomb said it was important for lawmakers to “finish the people’s business.”

Once they were back Monday, the GOP got to work voting on legislation that will allow Ball State University to take over Muncie schools, while reducing the authority of the Gary school board. They also approved two bills to adjust the tax code in the wake of a Republican tax overhaul signed into law by President Donald Trump. Another measure sets aside an additional $5 million in funding for school safety — an estimated $7,000 in additional money per school.

“This legislation will help ensure Indiana is abiding by federal tax code, providing extra funding for school safety and assisting struggling schools in our state as they work to improve,” Messmer said in a statement after the session was complete Monday afternoon. “Although it would have been preferable to complete this business during the regular session, I am proud we completed the business before us.”

Democrats said that when added together, it’s an underwhelming package of legislation that could wait for next year’s legislative session, especially since none addressed the growing crisis in the state’s child welfare agency.

“We don’t need to be here at all,” said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage.

Holcomb signed all five bills without fanfare Monday afternoon.

The measure that drew the most discussion was the Gary and Muncie schools takeover bill by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville.

“It was about an hour and a half debate on that one,” Lindauer said. “That was one we discussed and debated a great deal during regular session as well.”

Both districts were previously overseen by local officials who mismanaged money. Gary is more than $100 million in debt, while Muncie misspent a $10 million bond. Last year, Republicans passed legislation that led to the appointment of emergency managers for both districts. Brown’s bill this year takes it a step further.

“The status quo has to change,” Brown said of the legislation. “The community ... is not 100 percent for it, but it’s not 100 percent against it.”

Opponents — including Democrats — said it sets a precedent that could lead to the state takeover of other schools and would disenfranchise voters who have elected school boards that would be stripped of power.

In Muncie, Ball State would not be obligated to collectively bargain with teachers. The university would also have broad control over who is appointed to the school board, which is currently elected. In Gary, the elected school board would be reduced to an advisory committee that could only meet a few times a year. The measure also sets up a system to flag other districts that could be headed for fiscal trouble.

“We are setting a very dangerous precedent,” Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said. “Yes, it is Gary now. Yes, it is Muncie now. But it could be you tomorrow.”

Later Monday evening, the retiring Senate President Pro Tem David Long said in a statement he was pleased with how the special session went, and was delighted with the new GOP leaders selected for the Senate.

“Rod is a man of the highest integrity and character, and I believe he is more than ready to take the reins,” Long said about the new president pro tem. “His choice of Sen. Mark Messmer as the Floor Leader is also an excellent decision, and I know I will be leaving the Senate in extremely capable hands.”

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.




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