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Legislators taking time to investigate

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At one point, Sen. Travis Holdman wondered what else could go wrong.

The Markle Republican had been assigned as co-chair of the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee in the Indiana General Assembly. With 11 years of experience in child protective services, Holdman had asked Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, to be appointed to the committee.

Holdman had knowledge of the state agency and an interest in children’s issues. However, in the summer and fall of 2012, outrage was growing over some of the practices of the DCS, especially in regard to its centralized hotline.

The committee first met on Aug. 22, 2012, and in five subsequent meetings spent hours listening to testimony and reviewing DCS policies. Stamping out political fires and corralling the intense media scrutiny were among the challenges Holdman faced.

Unforeseen events brought new interruptions and distractions.

About a month after the committee started, DCS Director James Payne resigned under fire for intervening in a case that involved his family. Then the committee’s other co-chair, Rep. Cindy Noe, R-Indianapolis, lost her legislative seat in a hotly contested election.

That’s when Holdman asked, “What else can go wrong with this committee from an administrative standpoint?”

Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, was named co-chair and Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, who was appointed to fill Noe’s seat, became a committee member. Kubacki was familiar with the committee’s work having attended some of the meetings, but she still had to spend hours going over the details with Holdman.

The DCS Interim Study Committee held its last meeting Nov. 27. At Holdman’s request, the committee had been granted special permission to continue its work and file its final report after the Nov. 1 deadline.

While the DCS Interim Study Committee faced uncommon circumstances, the work that it did is not unusual. The study committees that are formed by the Legislative Council and meet when the Legislature is out of session are seen as a key component of the lawmaking process. Advocates say through the interim groups legislators have time to investigate issues and solicit the views from experts in a given field.

“I think they’re essential,” said Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, pointing out that certain issues cannot be dealt with adequately during a session. “If the summer study committee is focused and does its job, we produce some very good legislation.”

Messy, thoughtful process

The Legislative Council is scheduled to meet May 23 at the Statehouse to determine the interim committees and the topics to be reviewed. From there, senators and representatives will be assigned to the different groups.

Oftentimes, topics are routed to interim committees for a full vetting. Other times, issues are given to study groups as a way to buy time while public opinion catches up or as a way to bury an issue that is not thought to be good public policy.

Pointing to the number of bills that get filed – more than 2,000 in 2013 – John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, said tackling issues and giving them a thoughtful examination is difficult during a regular session, especially in a part-time Legislature.

Many of the bills never get a hearing. Those that do get attention will be squeezed onto a standing committee’s loaded agenda. Not surprising, these committees have little time, if any, to hear multiple people testify and review piles of documents.

As executive director of the ARC of Indiana, an agency for people with developmental disabilities, John Dickerson has testified before interim study committees and watched the groups craft legislation. The interim format gives citizens and interested parties the opportunity to speak to the committee and build relationships with legislators.

Hearing many individuals discuss complex issues can make the interim committee process messy. Interested parties that testify may not get what they want or the committee may not propose any legislation.

Still, Dickerson sees value in holding interim studies.

“It is not always clear, it is not always clean, but it is the best way out there,” he said. “I think it is good democracy. It allows for people to study the issue and move it forward.”

Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, agreed that interim committees provide a forum for thoroughly vetting a subject, but he believes the structure of these committees could be improved.

Namely, Brown has been pushing for the interim committees to be populated with the members of standing committees that are studying similar topics. Instead of randomly selecting legislators to investigate subjects they may not be familiar with, he said, the leadership should assign the senators and representatives who work with comparable issues during the session.

Consequently, when the legislative session opens, bills coming from the interim committees would be able to progress more quickly to the floor, he said. Currently, the General Assembly experiences a lull of one or two weeks at the start of each session while the House of Representatives and Senate wait for the standing committees to crank out the bills.

“I think it is a good process, but there is a better process,” Brown said of interim committees. “If we’re going to do this during the summer, the issues should be assigned to standing committees instead of selecting individuals.”

In the Legislature

The DCS Interim Study Committee recommended a handful of bills, the most significant of which was the establishment of the Commission on Improving the Status of Children.

To shepherd the proposed legislation through the General Assembly, four members from the interim committee – Holdman, Mahan, Kubacki, and Indiana Justice Loretta Rush – along with John Ryan, who served as interim director of DCS after Payne resigned, met every Tuesday morning.

The individuals convened to ensure that nothing fell through the cracks, Holdman said. They made sure they were saying the same thing and getting the facts straight so they could quickly dispel any rumors.

Bills coming from an interim committee generally carry more weight among the legislators because these measures are perceived as having been mindfully studied. When colleagues had questions about proposals from the DCS interim committee, Holdman was able to refer to discussions among the committee members and how a consensus was achieved.

One significant bill that came from an interim committee is headed back for additional work. The overhaul of the state’s criminal code, House Enrolled Act 1006, was the product of the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission and passed through the Legislature in the 2013 session.

Although the measure prevailed in the Statehouse and was signed by Gov. Mike Pence, the legislation will be taken up by an interim committee this summer. Namely, the committee will be charged with reviewing sentencing issues and taking a closer look at the costs of alternative probation programs.

Steuerwald, author of HEA 1006, called the CCEC the best study committee on which he has ever served. Members spent thousands of hours reviewing the state’s criminal code line by line and drawing insight from a broad cross-section of experts including prosecutors, public defenders and probation officers.

The members of the CCEC knew they were there to get a job done. “It was a good effort,” Steuerwald said, “and (HEA) 1006 is a really good bill.”•

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New laws

Here is a snapshot of some of the bills that Indiana Lawyer covered during the 2013 legislative session that have been signed into law.

Senate Enrolled Act 125: establishes child fatality review committee and Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana

SEA 164: allows a prosecuting attorney to request a juvenile court to authorize the filing of a petition alleging that a child is a child in need of services

SEA 224: describes the duties of delegates and alternate delegates to a convention called under Article V of the United States Constitution

SEA 225: provides for the appointment of delegates and alternate delegates by the General Assembly to a convention called under Article V of the U.S. Constitution

HEA 1006: overhauls Indiana’s criminal code

HEA 1016: provides additional circumstances under which a person can participate in a problem-solving court program

HEA 1054: provides that the Indiana Secretary of State may refuse to accept certain filings or records. Bill targets “sovereign citizens” who have been filing fraudulent Uniform Commercial Code financial statements against civic leaders and using SOS documents in fraudulent real estate transactions.

HEA 1320: specifies after June 30, 2014, the pecuniary liability for workers’ compensation and occupational diseases compensation payments to a medical service facility

HEA 1482: provides that a court shall expunge records concerning misdemeanor convictions and minor Class D felony convictions under certain circumstances and that a court may expunge records concerning more serious felony convictions

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  1. 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!!!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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