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State to scope Indy block for new building to house judiciary, legislative office space

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Gov. Mike Pence’s administration is in the early stages of a land-use study for a hot piece of downtown Indianapolis property north of the Statehouse.

The study, required under Senate Enrolled Act 367, is to consider the feasibility of a new building to house the judiciary, provide more legislative office space and offer parking for employees and visitors. The act requires the Office of Management and Budget to complete the study by Dec. 1, 2015.

This would be the third time since the late 1980s that state government has considered expanding its presence to what’s now a parking lot northwest of Ohio Street and Capitol Avenue.

Judges and legislators say they—and the public—are working with cramped quarters. The administration last fall solicited “creative” proposals for additional state-employee parking on the site and ended up with developers pitching multi-use buildings.

The Indiana Finance Authority, which issued the request, isn’t acting on the responses partly because of the pending land-use study, Finance Director Kendra York said. Senate Enrolled Act 367 passed earlier this year.

Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said OMB is in the early stages of reviewing the request for a study and will work with the Department of Administration to gather the “necessary data.”

It’s hard to tell whether Pence and legislative leaders are serious about developing the downtown parcel. Senate Enrolled Act 367 dealt mainly with property tax issues and was amended by Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, to require the land-use study.

Turner was traveling and couldn’t be reached for comment.

“I don’t know why he did it or why he put it in there,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville and one of the co-authors of the bill.

Kenley said it’s “questionable” whether Indiana has the money for a new state-government facility, but noted that the state’s cash position—a $2 billion reserve—is good and interest rates are low.

While he said he’s “not too enthused” about conducting another study, Kenley said it’s better than giving up the asset to the private real estate market.  

SEA 367 also requires the feasibility study include ways to enhance public access to the legislature and judiciary, including additional space for legislative hearings. The Legislature conducts important committee hearings in rooms barely large enough to accommodate members, their staff, people scheduled to testify and the press. Lobbyists and citizens who may also want to speak observe proceedings on monitors in the halls of the Statehouse.

The study is to include ways to enhance security while also enhancing public access and might include past architectural studies, according to the act.

One question OMB should ask is whether it’s cheaper to build than for the Indiana Supreme Court and Indiana Court of Appeals to continue renting office space downtown for some functions, said appellate Judge John Baker.

The Legislature has twice approved plans for a capitol expansion, but both times they were squashed by governors. The first plan, drawn up in 1988, was vetoed by former Gov. Evan Bayh. That plan called for a neo-classical style building, complete with a copper dome, that would have been twice the size of the Statehouse. Bayh, a Democrat, later oversaw construction of the south wing of the state office building.

The late Gov. Frank O’Bannon vetoed the plan for a judicial center that the Legislature approved in 2001, and no one has picked up the ball since, said Baker, who sat on the committee that crafted the 2001 plan. The state spent about $4 million on those plans, he said.

Baker is not reading much into the forthcoming land-use study.

“I think I would be encouraged if I knew there was the political will to do something with a study," he said. "I don’t know if I’m in favor of spending taxpayers’ money on a project that is doomed to fail. “
 

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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