The 2012 General Assembly’s session ended Friday. Beginning with Right to Work and closing on a statewide smoking ban, the session was one of reform – and controversy.
The focus of the first half of the 2012 session centered almost solely around one issue: Right to Work. Right to Work legislation bans union contracts requiring non-union workers pay fees for representation. The opposing sides were entrenched. Supporters, like Middlebury Republican Senator Carlin Yoder, said the issue was about jobs and personal freedom.
“I strongly believe that by passing Right to Work we will begin to be able to bring in new jobs into our great state and get those unemployed Hoosiers back to work,” Yoder said.
But opponents decried the legislation as a political maneuver designed to attack unions. Last year, House Democrats went all the way to Illinois to prevent Right to Work’s passage. This year, they stayed at the Statehouse but off the House floor. Democratic leadership said their absence was meant to delay the bill’s progress as long as possible so the public could be educated on the issue. Their continued absence led House Speaker Brian Bosma to hand down $1000-a-day fines, but Democratic leader Pat Bauer said the fines wouldn’t stop them.
“You know, sometimes you have to endure pain to serve the public,” said Bauer. “We don’t like it, I’ll say that.”
But fines and almost constant union protests couldn’t halt the bill’s progress indefinitely. On the last day before the mid-session break, the measure passed the Senate and was signed by Governor Daniels, making Indiana the 23rd Right to Work state in the nation.
Somewhat lost in the controversy of Right to Work was a bill the governor, attorney general and General Assembly all pushed to get passed before the Super Bowl. The legislation closed loopholes in the state’s human trafficking laws. That issue had been a problem for past Super Bowl hosts and Governor Mitch Daniels said it was important to be proactive.
“Let’s hope that the law has the deterrent effect that we hope for and that these criminals will decide to take their awful business somewhere else,” Daniels said.
The bill passed just days before the big game.
With the first half – and Right to Work – in the legislature’s rearview mirror, the spotlight shifted to a statewide smoking ban. The House had passed a ban five consecutive years, but the Senate had never allowed it to reach the floor. That trend finally changed this session, with a ban passing both chambers. After much negotiation, the agreed-upon ban exempted bars and taverns, gaming facilities, tobacco shops and private clubs. House author Eric Turner said although he would have liked a stronger ban, he’s happy with the result.
“It’ll just be so pleasing to me that Hoosier workers will be able to go to work soon in a smoke-free environment,” Turner said.
Apart from the smoking ban, the General Assembly pushed through a slew of key bills in the session’s final days. Legislation allowing people to resist illegal police entry into their homes – with force, if necessary – and putting unopposed municipal candidates back on ballots were both sent to the governor’s desk. And lawmakers altered the state’s automatic taxpayer refund. This year, any refund will be distributed on a per capita basis, meaning each taxpayer will receive an equal amount. And in the future, the budget surplus will need to be higher in order to trigger a refund.
With the 2012 session at a close, Speaker Bosma said the General Assembly made Indiana a better state across the board.
“Safe to say we’ve seen the strongest reform-minded General Assembly at least in institutional memory and perhaps in recent history,” said Bosma.
But minority leader Pat Bauer said the Republican-controlled legislature worked only to make the rich richer at the expense of middle class Hoosiers.
“Very difficult for the working people,” Bauer said, “very difficult for children both in their education and their safety.”
Next year’s legislature will look very different, with more than 20 members retiring.