Monday, April 14, 2014

Judge Requires Indiana's Recognition of Couple's Same Sex Marriage--For Now

U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young in Evansville granted same sex couple Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler a temporary restraining order forcing Indiana to recognize their marriage which took place last year in Massachusetts. The circumstances are unfortunate: Quasney and Sandler argue that they have an urgent need for their marriage to be recognized because Quasney is in the late stages of cancer. As the News Sentinel describes it, their brief argues that "if the state listed Quasney as unmarried it would interfere with Sandler's ability to take care of her partner's affairs after her death, and to access the safety net generally available to a surviving spouse and the children of the person who has died." The restraining order expires on May 8. Four other court cases involving Indiana same sex couples are pending. Read more from the News Sentinel here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Donnelly and Collins Join Forces on 40-Hour Work Week Senate Bill

Moderate Democrat Joe Donnelly and moderate Republican Susan Collins are jointly sponsoring a Senate bill that would amend the Affordable Care Act's 30-hour per week definition of full-time employment back to the almost universally accepted 40 hours. The House just passed a similar bill on a bipartisan vote. The ACA 30-hour work week has been an element that has made healthcare reform difficult for businesses to manage; Collins and Donnelly say they know of businesses that have manipulated their employees' hours to avoid the full-time status which requires the provision of insurance. The fate of the bipartisan bill in the Senate is unknown, but it does show Donnelly's skill at identifying moderate positions that can appeal to both sides and that can enhance the acceptance of ACA. Read more about the bipartisan bill here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Five Suits Challenge Indiana Marriage Laws; Zoeller Prepared to Defend Laws

Five same sex couples have filed suits challenging Indiana's marriage laws; you can read profiles of the couples from the Indy Star here. The Star concludes its article noting that there have been recent successes for such suits: "Since December, federal courts have struck down state laws in Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Utah banning same-sex marriages or prohibiting the recognition of similar unions performed in the more than 15 states where they are legal."

The Times of Northwest Indiana reports that State Attorney General Greg Zoeller is prepared to defend Indiana's laws and views such suits as part of the process: "There ought to be some opportunity to make sure that the Legislature has got it right -- did it violate the Constitution, did it impinge on people's civil liberties? This is part of the process to bring the courts in to review, to make sure the statutes we have in place are constitutional."

In contrast Kentucky's Attorney General Jack Conway has told Talking Points Memo that he will not defend his state's same sex marriage laws:
"I thought long and hard. I thought about the arc of history," he said. "I thought about the fact that at one time in this country we discriminated against women. At one time we discriminated against African-Americans and people of color. At one time we discriminated against those with disabilities. This is the last minority group in this country that a significant portion of our population thinks it's OK to still discriminate against in any way. And I didn't think that was right."
The Washington Post reports that seven state attorneys general have chosen not to defend their state's same sex marriage laws

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pelath Sees Lost Opportunities in Legislative Session

Democratic House leader Scott Pelath analyzes the recently ended General Assembly as one of wsted opportunities in an editorial in the Northwest Indiana Times. Republican leadership, says Pelath, used its supermajoriy to push their usual agenda:
"Our leaders are selling soap we've bought before. Cutting corporate taxes ... again. Cutting bank taxes ... again. And the free toaster in the deal? Forcing Indiana counties to race each other to slash the business personal property tax.

On the other hand, consumers, workers and individual taxpayers — who already bear most of Indiana’s tax burden — are not guaranteed much in return for hundreds of millions in lost revenue. In a state that already has a top 10 business tax climate, there is no evidence these changes will prompt anyone to add a single job or raise a single worker’s wage."

Pelath particularly regrets the drawn-out same-sex marriage debate: "[We] all wish we could forget the one issue that sucked the air out of this session from its start: the continued insistence on putting the people of this state through an ugly, divisive debate on who can marry whom in Indiana."

You can read Pelath's commentary here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Barack-etology

If you're looking for inspiration or guidance in completing your NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket, here is President Obama completing his on ESPN, as he has done every year of his presidency.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Suit Challenges Indiana's Same-Sex Marriage Statute

A suit is being brought against Indiana's statute on same-sex marriage by four couples arguing that the state's law refusing to recognize legally married same sex couples from other states violates the U.S. constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Their suit says that Indiana “has no rational, legitimate, or compelling state interest in treating same-sex couples any differently from opposite-sex couples.”

It also claims that marriage is a fundamental right and that the U.S. constitution requires it to be recognized across states: “Same-sex spouses who have entered into legal marriages in other jurisdictions have a reasonable expectation that they will continue to be protected by the rights and protections conferred by marriage when they relocate to another state.”

In the past year similar suits have been won in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Utah. (It's worth noting that an Indiana constitutional amendment could be overturned if it was found to violate the US constitution, as happened in Oklahoma and Utah.) Read more from the Statehouse File here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hershman Bill Prevents Already-Prohibited Joint Tax Filing by Same-Sex Couples

Sen. Brandt Hershman, who represents parts of the Greater Lafayette area, sponsored a bill that deleted a state tax provision that would have inadvertently allowed same-sex couples to file joint state tax returns in Indiana. It passed the Senate 41-6. Indiana code currently prohibits joint filings by gay couples. “This only codifies current practice. This is not piling on or anything like that." So why is additional action needed? Probably for the same reason we need a constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex marriages that are already illegal in Indiana by statute. Read more about Hershman's bill from the Indy Star here.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Pence Agenda Not Faring Well in General Assembly

With the current session of the Indiana General Assembly drawing to a close, it appears Gov. Mike Pence's legislative agenda has not fared particularly well, even with Republican supermajorities in both the senate and the house. Here's how the Indy Star's political reporters Tony Cook and Barb Berggoetz describe the status of Pence's major initiatives:

With just two weeks left in the session, his preschool voucher program could be headed for a summer study committee, his efforts to phase out a key business tax have received only token support, and Senate Republicans have cut in half his request for $400 million in highway funding.

Other Pence proposals also have encountered problems.

He wanted to offer stipends to teachers willing to work at low-performing schools, but a Senate committee stripped funding from that proposal. He wanted to increase family income tax exemptions with inflation, but that idea is stalled in another Senate committee. And he wanted to create a fund to reward innovative teachers, a proposal that didn't even get an initial hearing.

IPFW political scientist Andy Downs thinks things are not going well for Pence. "You would expect him to have a far better track record. I think it's safe to say he's not having a particularly good year. You might say he took on way too aggressive an agenda and is paying the price now." Downs thinks this lack of major accomplishments will impact Pence's presidential ambitions.

Read the Star's complete analysis of Pence's legislative agenda here.

Monday, February 17, 2014

HJR-3 Passes Senate

The proposed constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in Indiana passed the state Senate by a vote of 32 to 17. Five Republicans joined 12 Democrats in voting against it. The Senate did not restore the second sentence of the original amendment, which banned any benefits for civil unions, which means that the amendment must be approved by another session of the General Assembly before any ratification vote by citizens. Thus, amendment will not be part of the 2014 election ballot; the soonest it could appear would be the 2016 ballot.

Megan Robertson, campaign director of Freedom Indiana, said, “We can finally breathe a collective sign of relief that lawmakers are finished with the amendment this session and it will not appear on the ballot this November.” Robertson said the amendment's opponents were "underdogs" and expressed pride in their efforts: "Our success reflects the strength of the incredible coalition we were able to build in just six months." Read more about the vote from the J&C here.

A footnote: Senator Mike Delph, an HJR-3 supporter who'd been tweeting incessantly about it and the failure of Republicans to retain the second sentence, had promised a surprising announcement today, and delivered one in an impromptu news conference before the vote: he said he would vote against the amendment if the second sentence was not restored. It wasn't and he did. Delph explained, "The can keeps getting kicked down the road while culture change grows. The state of Indiana needs to bring this issue to closure once and for all. We shouldn't put the state through this debate for the next several years." Sadly, 32 of his colleagues did not agree, and we'll confront this issue again in the next General Assembly, but hopefully in the context of the powerful "culture change" Sen. Delph seems to fear. Read more about Delph's position here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Delph Tweets on HJR-3: Right to Marry Is a "Modern Perversion"

State Senator Mike Delph appears to be having a Twitter meltdown on the uncertain status of HJR-3 resulting from our "self absorbed Godless culture that is fast tracking our nation to ruin." Then he tweeted about the idea of a right to marry: "Natural rights come from God and govts. are instituted amongst men to protect those rights. Same God as in the Holy Bible. But the liberal view of rights to clean water, air, a decent job, a house, car, health benefits is a modern perversion." Senator Delph tweeted that on Monday morning he will make an announcement "that you won't want to miss," presumably related to this matter. Read WRTV's reporting here.