Jim Shella’s Political Blog

Statehouse stairway closed to interns

April 8th, 2015 at 4:35 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

A Statehouse tradition may be coming to an end.

It’s a tour that has been given to interns in the House of Representatives for a generation or more. This year those interns have been told that they can no longer walk up a secluded staircase inside the Statehouse dome.

Inside the building all you see of the dome is the stained glass that hangs above the rotunda, unless you go up a staircase behind a locked door on the fourth floor of the building.

“I was able to go up there, and I was like, this is an awesome place,” said state Representative Tim Wesco (R-Elkhart,) who was amazed by the 360 degree view of downtown.

You can also find signatures and dates written on the walls, initials placed in the dust.

You can look down on the stained glass.

A couple of years ago Wesco arranged to get his girlfriend up there so he could propose marriage.

“I surprised her, too,” he said. “So, she wasn’t expecting that, flowers up there and everything else. It was really neat. We were on top of the world!”

And that’s what the interns who work long hours for low pay were looking forward to until this year’s tour to the “top of the world” was cancelled.

Since the ’80′s House Democratic Communications Director John Schorg has escorted them up there, or arranged for someone else to do it.

“We have a host of very disappointed interns,” he said, “who always kind of look upon this as a rite of passage as the internship comes to a close. They get an opportunity to go up in the dome, sign their names like years upon years of people have done.”

Schorg is disappointed, too.

“And you don’t know why,” he said, “and it just doesn’t make any sense.”

The interns were told that the tour was cancelled for liability reasons. Those interns, by the way, aren’t permitted to talk to the media.

A spokeswoman for the Pence Administration says it is reviewing tour requests and no final decision has been made regarding future tours.

The governor, by the way, took the tour to the dome not long after taking office in 2013.


Common wage repeal heads to the state Senate

April 7th, 2015 at 4:25 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The common construction wage is one of the governor’s priorities and now it’s one step closer to becoming law.

The law has been used to set wages on public projects for 80 years but the governor says that if it’s eliminated taxpayers will save money.

It’s the only issue that has prompted the governor buy TV ads this year.

“So let’s put Indiana taxpayers first,” he says in an ad. “Let’s repeal the common construction law.”

In the wake of the religious freedom battle unions are hoping to make this debate about the governor.

An new ad from the Laborers Internationa Union suggests that Mike Pence is misguided.

“But some politicians who think discrimination is our way,” says an announcer, “think attacking the pay of construction workers is too.”

Democrats are fighting for the unions.

“A reasonable person should consider maintaining what we’ve got,” said Sen. Lonnie Randolph (D-East Chicago.)

But some Republicans say that public projects can be well executed by skilled workers even if the common wage law is repealed.

“That can be done,” said Sen. Brandt Hershman, “without continuing to allow a broken wage system to continue to operate at a cost to the taxpayer.”

The committee vote was 8-to-5 in favor of repeal with just one Republican voting no.

“And now they’re undercutting workers and lowering wages,” said Brett Voorhies of the AFL-CIO. “It’s been an awful session for workers.”

The bill to repeal the common wage law now goes to the full Senate, and when it gets to the Senate, there will be more Republicans who oppose it.

It’s likely some will attempt to delay the repeal by seeking a summer study committee.


RFRA supporter Curt Smith, law firm sever ties

April 6th, 2015 at 4:21 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Three members of the Christian conservative movement were the primary supporters of the Religious Freedom Act that prompted a boycott of Indiana.

One of them, Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute, recently parted ways with a local law firm.

Until last week Smith was the director of public policy at the Taft Law firm. One of its biggest clients is Cummins, the Columbus based engine manufacturer that was a leading opponent of the religious freedom law.

Something had to give.

Smith appeared in a photo taken with the governor at the private bill signing of the Religious Freedom law on March 26 along with Micah Clark of the Indiana Family Association and Eric Miller of Advance America.

Miller testified in last week’s conference committee meeting on a bill that gives protection against discrimination to gays and lesbians, “Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a discriminatory act,” he said. “It is a protection for religious freedom.”

But last week Smith was in the middle of a professional transition.

As recently as Monday morning his LinkedIn page showed him working at Taft Law.

But an email sent to his law firm address came back with a message saying that he left Taft to join the Family Institute as President, even though his bio at the Family Institute website points out that he has actually held that position for 11 years.

A spokesman for the law firm said that the purpose of the Family Institute didn’t match the purpose of the law firm but that it was Smith’s decision to leave.

It’s an example of why on Indiana Week in Review Republican Mike McDaniel identified the biggest loser in the RFRA battle by saying, “I think it was the leaders of the Christian conservative movement, that really, probably at the end of the day, they would admit they’re the biggest losers.”

The Taft law firm, according the spokesman, has a principle of inclusiveness, and the when the Religious freedom law was perceived to allow discrimination against gays and lesbians, that apparently posed an additional problem.

Smith didn’t return a call asking for comment.


IWIR takes on RFRA

April 3rd, 2015 at 5:47 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

All of the regulars are on hand today as the Indiana Week in Review panel takes on RFRA.  The entire program is devoted to elements of battle over religious freedom and gay rights.  We conclude with winners and losers.


Religious freedom fix unveiled at the Statehouse

April 2nd, 2015 at 11:20 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

State lawmakers are acting on proposed fix to the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration act that would provide new protections for gays and lesbians.

Votes are anticipated in both the Indiana House and the state Senate Thursday on the bill that prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Leaders in the General Assembly chose that route rather than pursue a repeal of the religious freedom bill.

The protections are included in a bill that was unveiled by GOP leaders who surrounded themselves with people from the sports, tourism, and business communities as well as gay rights activists.

All of them believe that the bill should quell the firestorm of protest that was produced by the so-called RFRA law signed by Governor Mike Pence a week ago.

“The world is welcome here and once they come they will be well received and treated as equals,” said Jim Morris of the Indiana Pacers. “Everybody is welcome in our city and our state.”

“The healing needs to begin right now,” said former mayor Bart Peterson, who is now a Lilly executive. “For the first time ever the words sexual orientation and gender identity appear in the Indiana statute, or they will after this law is passed, in the context of nondiscrimination.”

Also on hand was Salesforce CEO Scott McCorkle who threatened to move employees out of Indiana if there is no fix.

“Today is a positive first step,” he said, “but it is a first step in a larger discussion as we acknowledge the importance of equal rights for all.”

“We know that this is only the beginning,” said gay activist Chris Douglas. “The end is that the equality guaranteed to all other Hoosiers through the Indiana civil rights code is guaranteed also to us.”

A conference committee immediately began consideration of the “fix it” bill.

The goal is to get the bill to the governor’s desk before the end of the day Thursday.

So far, Mike Pence has not commented on it and a spokeswoman says he won’t say anything publicly until it arrives in his office.


Religious freedom negotiation held in private

April 1st, 2015 at 4:44 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

It’s a waiting game at the Statehouse where negotiations over a proposed fix for the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act are still underway.

All of the action on the bill known as RFRA has taken place behind closed doors.

A bill meant to give protection to gays and lesbians has been proposed but we don’t know what it says and there is no agreement to pass it.

It started in the governor’s office.  GOP leaders in the General Assembly were optimistic when they came out.

“Words mean something here,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, “and so we’re working through all that at the moment and we’re closed in on something, we’re hopeful.”

“I’ve had a couple of meetings with LGBT folks,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, “and I think we’re moving in the right direction to clarify and preserve religious freedom and dispel the myth that this denies service.”

House Republicans then went into a private caucus that lasted 2 1/2 hours.

While they were sequestered home schoolers stood outside in support of the religious freedom bill.

When asked if she was opposed to protections against discrimination, organizer Debi Ketron said, “I’m not even going to talk about that because RFRA is not about that.”

When the caucus was over there was still no agreement.

“We’re still working on it,” said Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville.)

And top lawmakers then went back into private meetings with corporate leaders including former mayor Bart Peterson, now with Eli Lilly, and Mark Miles of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In the meantime, the governor wants this settled by the end of the day Thursday, a day when he has plans to leave on an Easter vacation.

Those plans are currently up in the air.


Backlash to religious freedom bill prompts action

March 30th, 2015 at 11:40 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

State lawmakers are scrambling to repair the damage to the state’s reputation caused by passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Leaders in both parties called for new legislation. But, as you might expect, the Republicans have one idea and the Democrats have another.

One thing Leaders in the General Assembly both realize is that Indiana’s reputation has been damaged severely in the days since the governor signed the religious freedom bill last Thursday.

It’s a problem that was compounded when Mike Pence appeared on ABC yesterday and refused to answer the question when asked repeatedly whether the bill would permit a business to discriminate against gay customers.

It’s why Republicans leaders promised to clarify the bill on Monday.

“Last week the governor, when he signed the bill, said I don’t believe this discriminates against anyone and if it did he wouldn’t have signed the bill,” said Senate GOP Leader David Long. “It would have been helpful if he said that yesterday.”

“6 times yesterday the governor was asked if this would allow discrimination,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, “and he didn’t answer that.”

Democratic leaders who are now calling for a repeal of the of the religious freedom bill.

“They were wrong,” said House Minority Leader Tim Lanane, “and it’s time that they admitted that they made a horrible  mistake.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma says a repeal is unlikely.

Instead GOP Leaders are looking to pass a bill that would clarify the intent of the religious freedom bill so that it couldn’t be used to discriminate.

They won’t spell out the specifics until they can talk with other GOP members in a private caucus. However, they promise quick action.


IWIR

March 27th, 2015 at 5:09 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Robert Vane is the Republican today as the Indiana Week in Review panel tackles these issues:

  • The flap over the religious freedom bill
  • Dan Coats announces retirement plans
  • Eric Holcomb for Senate
  • Baron Hill for Senate (maybe)
  • The Final Four floor arrives

Mike Pence inserts himself in another controversy

March 27th, 2015 at 5:05 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

On the day after Mike Pence signed the religious freedom bill into law the governor is wading into the middle of another controversy.

He is spending campaign funds to push another item on the conservative agenda.

The governor supports elimination of the common wage law that is used to set wage rates on public projects and he appears in new TV ads in support of a repeal.

“Let’s repeal the common construction law,” he says in the ad, “and let’s keep Indiana building.”

The ads are part of a $250,000 campaign to sway members of the state Senate.

“What he’s doing is immoral and I don’t see how the governor can even sleep at night,” said AFL-CIO President Brett Voorheis.

He also called the governor’s actions shameful.

“What he’s been doing to education, what he’s been doing on discrimination,” he said, “now he’s trying to lower workers wages, you know, when’s the bleeding gonna stop?  What is this governor’s priorities?”

The wage bill was not part of the governor’s legislative agenda but when GOP lawmakers passed it through the House he promised to sign it if it gets to his desk.

“Don’t let our legislators create a poorer Indiana,” says a union backed ad that has been on the air for days. “Stop the race to the bottom.  Protect common construction wage.”

Union backed ads have been on the air for days. They portray the wage bill as an attack on workers.

“It’s not an attack on anybody,” said Pence campaign spokesman Robert Vane. “What it is is Governor Pence showing leadership telling taxpayers we know your budgets are tight we owe it to you to give you the most value for your money.”

And it’s the first issue this year that has prompted Pence to spend campaign funds on TV ads.

The bill to repeal the common wage law will be heard in a state Senate Committee on Tuesday.

The governor’s ads, meantime, are scheduled to end on Tuesday.


Mike Pence signs Religious Freedom Restoraton Act

March 26th, 2015 at 3:10 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Mike Pence rejected calls to veto the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and signed it into law Thursday.

He also blamed the media for the way the bill has been portrayed.

Yet the governor signed the bill into law in a private ceremony. The media was not permitted to attend and that has contributed to the controversy created by this bill.

Photos posted on Twitter by people who were invited to the bill signing show a crowded room filled with lawmakers, conservative activists, and religious leaders.

The governor told reporters that attendance was limited for administrative reasons.

“It’s just a scheduling matter,” he said.  “It was pretty crowded.”

Democratic leaders didn’t see it that way.

“The governor had one last chance today to restore sanity, to veto this measure,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, “but instead he chose to go behind closed doors and put his signature on one of the most mean-spirited and controversial pieces of legislation that we’ve seen in recent times.”

It’s a characterization that the governor disagrees with and in a news conference he blamed the media for wrongly portraying bill.

“This legislation restricts government action,” he said. “It doesn’t apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved.”

He said that calling the bill a consolation prize for the people who lost the gay marriage fight is inaccurate but in a photo from the bill signing he posed with the three most vocal opponents of gay marriage, Micah Clark, Eric Miller and Curt Smith.

As for corporate leaders and convention organizers who are rethinking plans to do business in Indiana now, the governor said he is concerned.

“I’ll call ‘em,” he said. “I’ll talk to ‘em.”

Pence points out that 19 other states have a similar religious freedom laws, including Illinois.

The new law takes effect here on July first.