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LSA leaves opinions at the door

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In the political arena that seems dominated by strong views, little patience and loud voices, Jack Ross is an anomaly – a man with no opinion.

He has sat in the leadership chair of the Legislative Services Agency at the Indiana General Assembly for five years and marshaled the staff of roughly 80 professionals as they have drafted bills, provided fiscal analysis, and printed the legislation. Most importantly, he has made sure his charges express no opinion.

They not only keep any personal biases and political leanings from their work at the LSA, they also avoid any activity that could be interpreted as favoring one party over the other.

il-jack-ross02-15col.jpg Jack Ross stands in the Indiana Statehouse where he has aided the legislative process for 30 years. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

In a world of partisan wrangling, the agency has “jealously guarded” its nonpartisan nature.

“More than anything else, I think the nonpartisanship of this entity has to be maintained,” Ross said. “We cannot compromise a bit or the whole (legislative) process, I think fairly shortly, would become chaotic.”

The foundation for that nonpartisan reputation was laid when the LSA was established in the late 1960s and has been built through the tenures of seven executive directors. At the end of November, Ross will turn over the responsibility of the agency as well as the keys to his office to someone else.

Ross is retiring as the LSA’s executive director, and the four partisan leaders of Indiana’s Senate and House of Representatives are searching for a replacement. Being dispassionate and non-ideological will be the first requirement.

The backbone

Before the Legislative Services Agency began operating, bills were primarily written by lobbyists and the governor’s office. These authors had their points of view which could be reflected in the proposed legislation.

Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, knows the history of the Legislature from both his father, who served in the state Senate, and from his work as a legislative staff member prior to being elected to office.

Energy bills were written by utilities, local government bills were written by local government representatives, and tax bills were bent in one direction or another. While many of the individuals drafting these pieces of legislation had good intentions, Bosma said the prior situation underscores the need for a “nonpartisan, non-ideological, Jack Webb just-the-facts-ma’am” approach to writing bills.

Without the agency, House Minority Leader Linda Lawson, believes the General Assembly would stop. The members would not get anything done because they would be uncertain of whom and what they could trust.

“Honestly, the LSA is the backbone of the legislative process,” the Hammond representative said. “They help us in ways you just can’t imagine.”

The agency has several roles in the General Assembly. Along with the bills proposed by legislators, it drafts amendments, conference committee reports and most resolutions. It also writes and updates a fiscal note, indicating what, if any, impact the bill will have on taxpayers and the state budget.

Under Ross, LSA has paid more attention to its fiscal division and improved a database that draws information from a broad array of agencies. Bosma remembered during the debate over property tax caps, the data provided by the agency was frequently updated, very detailed and gave the impact on every political subdivision from townships to schools.

If the Legislature did not have that fiscal information, the members “would have been shooting completely in the dark” when crafting the tax caps, Bosma said.

Crafting a bill

Proposed legislation can arrive at the LSA in many forms – from an idea for changing or creating something to a draft completed by an organization or individual outside the General Assembly. Members of the House and Senate bring their propositions to the agency where they are assigned an attorney who will prepare a written document.

Ultimately, the legislator has the final say on the contents of any bill. The LSA attorneys will point out any potential legal trouble spots in the draft, such as conflicts with other provisions or what may be unconstitutional, but they do not give advice on policy or indicate whether they think the legislation is good or bad.

“I think the Legislature relies on us to draft bills, tell them what the bill does, and the fiscal impact,” Ross said. “They view us as giving an objective description and fiscal analysis. Without us, they could not rely on description or fiscal impact.”

As the bill proceeds through the legislative process, the LSA will keep track of conflicts within the document. When the proposal gets far enough in the process to pass from one chamber to another, the LSA alerts the partisan staffs to any oncoming problem.

Ross credits this cooperation with the partisan staff members with making the resolution of conflict smoother and with reducing the number of technical corrections that need to be made after the conclusion of the Legislative session.

The final bill that lands on the governor’s desk is not always pretty or reads perfectly, Ross said, but when the process comes together, sometimes it is magic.

A replacement

Before he joined the LSA, Ross had extensive experience with the Indiana Legislature. He was an attorney for the Senate Democrats for 25 sessions.

There, his job was to be partisan and that background gave Bosma pause when Ross applied for the LSA position. However, Bosma got a recommendation from a trusted friend, and he knew that Ross had a reputation for being a problem solver, so the Speaker gave his support to the eventual executive director.

For his part, Ross said his partisan background is constantly on his mind, and he is sensitive that everyone is watching.

“I don’t want there to even be the perception of any partisanship,” he said.

Going through the search process, Lawson admitted she has changed her mind about who would best lead the agency. Initially, she thought the position needed to be filled by someone who was more of a manager, who could bring people together and be assertive without being a bully.

While she still believes managerial skills are necessary, she thinks the best person for the position will be an attorney. The four leaders hope to have the new director in place by the beginning of November but, she said, legislators are already filing bills for the 2013 session and an attorney would have the advantage of understanding the law and being able to get up to speed more quickly.

Ross, a 1973 graduate of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, agreed the job does come with managerial demands, noting the office is filled with well-educated, highly skilled professionals. To his successor, he would say, “You’ve got a good staff. These people know what their job is and know how important it is to be impartial and accurate.”

By the application deadline for the executive director position, Bosma said the number of candidates had reached 52 and includes a mix of LSA personnel, government employees from around the state, and out-of-state professionals.

The new LSA head will have a full agenda overseeing the preparation of bills and fiscal analysis for the 2013 legislative session while deflecting the constant pressure to be partisan and coordinating a full upgrade of the computer hardware and software systems at the statehouse. Looking ahead, Bosma does not foresee the agency diminishing in importance.

“I think as the issues the Legislature is dealing with become more complicated – and they become more complicated daily – the role of the LSA will only become more predominant,” he said. •

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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