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Legislature's end suspenseful for legal community

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As the Indiana General Assembly got down to its final hours in a short-session, significant changes for the Hoosier legal community were on the table to possibly increase the number of appellate judges, change how one county chooses its trial judges, and impact how juveniles can be placed outside the state.

In the end, lawmakers didn't act and the changes weren't adopted by the time they adjourned just before 1 a.m. Saturday. But how that process played out in the final days and hours is even more telling than the measures themselves and reflect what might happen in the future if the topics come up again.

Three days before the session ended, lawmakers resurrected House Enrolled Act 1491 that would not only have scrapped merit selection in favor of nonpartisan elections in St. Joseph Superior Courts, but also add a new panel to the Indiana Court of Appeals. The governor vetoed it last year with a strongly worded message supporting the current system that's been in place for more than three decades, and criticizing the merging of the two issues, which he believed should be considered separately.

In the final hours before the session ended, lawmakers still hadn't acted on it and weren't sure what the prospects were for possible consideration. The legislation's author, Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawka, was outside the state during the final week of the session and neither he nor House Speaker Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, returned messages from Indiana Lawyer about why HEA 1491 was resurrected. But it didn't get attention and was taken off the agenda at about 8 p.m. Friday, lost in the shuffle as lawmakers negotiated a session-ending deal involving unemployment insurance, jobs, and various financial issues.

As HEA 1491 faded, so did the prospects for Senate Bill 149 that would have repealed the Department of Child Services out-of-state placements statute change from last year - a revision that surprised and outraged juvenile judges and lawmakers for the most part because it came at the last-minute during special session conference committee talks. House Bill 1167 initially dealt with that issue and representatives approved it 93-4, but the measure died after failing to get a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The repeal was merged into SB 149 that included multiple DCS-related law changes, but some lawmakers opposed that move and it went to conference committee during the legislature's final week.

Attorney-lawmaker Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, had originally signed on as a sponsor to HB 1167. He was disappointed it didn't get support in the end, but said he wasn't surprised because DCS had considered it a high priority to defeat the measure. Some last-minute negotiations were happening to keep it included, but those fell through and lawmakers had to eliminate the placement issue in order to get the broader SB 149 approved.

Three of the four final conference committee members - Rep. Dennis Avery, D-Evansville; Rep. Matt Bell, R-Avilla; and Sen. Connie Lawson, R-Danville - said the opposition was too strong to get the placement law changed. The fourth committee member, Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, couldn't be reached by Indiana Lawyer deadline.

Avery co-sponsored the amended SB 149 and said he worked on the conference committee for eight days to get it passed, but eventually let it die when it was clear the full bill wouldn't pass if the placements provision was included. Word was that the judiciary's chair Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, refused to hold a hearing and later opposed the amendment because it appeared to circumvent the committee process, Avery said. He also heard that the Senate leadership was supporting the administration and felt the placement revision was an attempt to embarrass the DCS and Director James Payne, a former juvenile judge.

Bell, one of the representatives who'd opposed the idea on the House floor, said he believes that juveniles shouldn't be sent outside Indiana because current service providers offer adequate and quality facilities that aren't fully used. He also noted that other measures in the legislation had been removed by the conference committee, including a provision that would have required DCS to adopt rules setting reimbursement rates for adoptive parents and service providers. This issue is currently the focus of an Indiana-based lawsuit in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Bell said some worried a law change now could impact that pending litigation.

Despite the lack of success relating to out-of-state placements this session, Broden on the Senate side doesn't think the issue is dead and he hope to bring it back in the future.

"As long as juvenile judges, who handle these placements first hand, have concerns, lawmakers will be knocking at the door on this issue," Broden said. "I think this will be an ongoing dispute we have to address."

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  1. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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