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AG finds no caselaw that answers same-sex amendment question

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Nearly 13 minutes into a press conference touting the accomplishments of his office in 2013, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller got a question on a topic he may have been hoping to avoid – same-sex marriage.

State legislators have been grappling privately with the proposed amendment to the Indiana Constitution banning marriage between two people of the same gender. Their concern is the second sentence of the amendment which some view as too broad and possibly removing legal protections from unmarried heterosexual couples.  

Zoeller said his office has fielded questions and had conversations with elected officials who are actively in favor of the amendment getting a second approval from the Statehouse as well as with elected officials who are opposed. Pointing to recent decisions by federal judges striking down same-sex marriage statutes in other states, Zoeller described the issue as a “very volatile area of the law.”

To the question of whether the Legislature could alter the second sentence and still go forward with getting the issue before voters in the November 2014 general election or if any rewrite would force the amendment process to start all over again, the attorney general had no definite answer.

There have been no cases directly on point that has provided a response to that question, he said.

“I think the fact that it’s not been fully addressed leaves it open to a supposition as to what a federal court might do or a state court might do when it comes to changing language or altering it,” Zoeller said. “So it’s an open question.”

Zoeller devoted most of the press conference to highlighting what he called “an extraordinary year” for himself as well as the Office of the Attorney General. He noted, specifically, the work on getting more resource officers into schools, battling prescription drug abuse and providing extra consumer protection for senior citizens.

The Indiana General Assembly approved legislation proposed by Zoeller and Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, that clarified the duties of school resource officers and established a state grant program to help schools pay for these officers. The measure appropriated $10 million in 2013 and again in 2014 for the grants.

In 2013, 116 school corporations, out of a total of 290, received grants.

Zoeller is now turning his efforts to securing additional funding for more officers. He is eyeing a federal appropriations bill which includes monies for these law enforcement personnel.

If Congress approves the bill and develops a competitive grant program to award the funds, the attorney general believes Indiana will be well-positioned to get federal support. The partnerships between local communities, law enforcement and the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute along with Miller’s bill puts Indiana in a leadership role, showing the state has prepared for greater use of school resource officers.

Zoeller also pointed to another piece of legislation, the Senior Consumer Protection Act, recommended by his office and authored by Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. Approved by the General Assembly, the new law increases civil penalties for those who financially exploit state residents who are 60 and older.

The attorney general’s office filed its first lawsuit under the new statute in September against an Indianapolis-based tree service company. Zoeller’s office claims that Steve Spaulding and his company, Spaulding’s Tree Experts, bilked a 93-year-old homeowner out of $7,500 in exchange for minimal and faulty work.

While the case is still pending in Marion County, the attorney general plans to seek a default judgment against the defendant.   

Also in 2013, the attorney general filed disciplinary complaints with the Indiana Medical Licensing Board against 15 doctors for overprescribing painkillers. Zoeller credited the state’s Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force with making an “emergency effort” to try to stem prescription drug abuse, which has reached epidemic levels.

The task force, of which Zoeller is a co-chair, brought together more than 80 people from different agencies to examine the problem of “pill mills” and the growing dependence on opiate painkillers. During the 2014 legislative session, the task force plans to recommend the state speed up the process that requires pharmacists report their dispensing of certain amounts of opioids.

Zoeller said he has met with physicians who are concerned about new regulations.

“I told them that they should watch the actions taken to date against physicians who have overprescribed,” he said, “and if they see their own practice looking like that, then they should probably worry.”

 

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