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Chinn: Law and Politics

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iba-chinn-scottAs it always is in the winter and early spring, the workings of the Indiana General Assembly is big news. So it has been this year. As this column is being issued, the time clock has run on the 2012 legislative session, which under the Indiana Constitution must end by March 14 in non-budget years (“short sessions”). The IndyBar has taken an increasingly active role in legislation over the past few years, as the Board of Directors has deemed that involvement of critical importance to the profession.

Once again this year, we established a legislative committee. IndyBar Vice President and Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch served as its chair and has done an outstanding job of keeping tabs on this year’s legislation. Every legislative session is different, but all require vigilance as there are so many bills and amendments that wind their way through the process. The committee’s priority is usually, and was this year, to play “defense” – that is, to ensure that no bills that might impair some interest of the bar or profession pass without our input. This session seemed to have fewer bills than we typically monitor as having a potential impact about which we would be concerned. We initially reviewed a lot of bills and monitored legislation involving family law, court fees for pro bono services, and litigation-related matters. As of this writing, there are no bills that we have identified as causing particular concerns.

Judge Welch was assisted ably by a seasoned team that included Vice Chair Mindy Westrick, Emily Heimann, John Render, and Jamie Cairns. As has been tradition, President Elect Kerry Hyatt Blomquist, First Vice President Jeff Abrams and I served on the committee by virtue of our officer positions. I’d like to thank the committee for its good work.

The committee also planned and executed the Sixth Annual Lawyer-Legislator Luncheon held on March 5 at the Conrad. We had a great turnout from the bar and from legislators – 23 lawmakers were in attendance and we had an overflow crowd. (Judge Welch knows how to throw a party!) The main goal of these annual luncheons is to ask legislators who are lawyers to interact with IndyBar members to discuss issues of important to the profession. But we’ve also been successful in attracting other legislators to come to the luncheon as well, which is a great boon to our efforts to have the IndyBar be a potential resource for any member of the General Assembly.

On March 5, Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long gave overviews of the session and then each legislator spoke in turn about his or her district, background and legislation. By the end of the luncheon, we had really covered the waterfront of legislative session highlights as well as bills and trends that lawyers might be interested in. (The lawyer-legislators agreed that we need more lawyers in the General Assembly – there are currently 27, while the non-lawyers weren’t so sure about that.) And we presented mementoes to honor retiring legislators Representative Ralph Foley and Senator Richard Bray, the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, respectively. These long-serving legislators have had critical roles in framing laws that affect the courts, criminal law, and the profession for decades and they will be missed.

We intend to continue being active at the General Assembly in future years for three main reasons. First, it has become an essential service to protect the interests of the bar and profession. Second, in the event the IndyBar wants to advance legislative ideas of its own in the future, we must have standing and relationships with legislators to be able to communicate our interests effectively. Finally, lawyers are a civic-minded lot, and it seems right to have some involvement in the passage of laws that we are on the front lines of interpreting.

Enjoy spring break.

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