Observations of immigration bill hearing

February 10, 2011
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Reporter Rebecca Berfanger submitted this post.

Because the Indiana Lawyer’s immigration law focus section is coming in March, and because, as are many Hoosiers, I’m interested in a Senate bill similar to the law passed in Arizona regarding immigrants, I attended part of Wednesday afternoon’s Senate Committee on Pensions and Labor hearing on Senate Bill 590.

While I expected many people there both supporting and opposing the bill that, among other things, would require only English be used for certain communications, the office of management and budget to determine how much illegal immigrants cost Indiana, and police officers to determine the immigration status of offenders, as well as punish “employers who knowingly employ unauthorized aliens,” I was slightly underwhelmed.

From the buildup this hearing had received, I expected more people, like me, who were there to observe but could only stand in the hallway. There were maybe 40 or 50 of us, not a tiny number but not the hundreds I expected. Then again, I wasn’t allowed in the Senate gallery – it was full before I arrived – and the Senate chamber also looked full. Of those in the chamber, it was difficult to tell who were senators or their staff members, who was there to testify, and who may have been there merely to observe.

While it might have been interesting to sit in the gallery to observe the observers, I decided early in the day that I didn’t have 30 minutes or an hour to sit and wait to guarantee a comfortable spot. For those who do have that time, maybe they deserve those spots more than I do. When the bill comes before the full Senate or, possibly, the House, maybe I’ll plan to get there a little earlier to get a better viewing spot. Better yet, maybe I’ll stay in the office and watch it online like I normally do.

There were a few protestors holding signs in the hall outside of the Senate chambers. “Yes I’m American but I’m no fascist” and “Welcome to Indiana, home of the Superbowl where you will be racially profiled” caught my eye. While these posters may have received the attention of those in the chamber, the bill still passed out of committee by a vote of 8 to 1.

Other observations: the hearing started about 15 minutes late (do these ever start on time?); a few senators came out into the hall to meet with constituents; it is approximately 200 degrees in the Statehouse; the veterans’ groups that spoke early about national security received cheers and applause, but those who were applauding were quickly reminded that no one is allowed to talk during a hearing except for those who are testifying; the TV outside of the Senate chamber did not show what was happening inside as I had hoped; the audio system in the hallway was either too loud or too quiet, depending on who was speaking; and a few people in the hallway who were there to protest the bill brought their young kids.

I couldn’t stay for the entire hearing – I had work to do back at the office and figured I’d follow up with a few of the key people later for my story – but these are worth checking out from time to time, if you have the time. They’re open to the public and free and always a good reminder of how state government works. Or you can watch it live online from the comfort of your desk.

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