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Maureen Hayden: Retiring legislators leave a more intense job
By MAUREEN HAYDEN
Monday, March 07, 2016 12:18 PM
State Sens. Patricia Miller and Brent Steele (top) and Sen. Carlin Yoder, Rep. Tom Dermody, and Sen. Earline Rogers, are retiring to spend time with family from a job that has grown over the past generation. (HPI Photos by Mark Curry)
INDIANAPOLIS – When Indiana voters were asked in 1970 to amend the state Constitution to allow legislators to meet annually, rather than every other year, they were assured it was for good reason. An added, 10-week “short” session in even-numbered years would let lawmakers deal with emergencies or minor, time-sensitive corrections to laws passed in the longer, 16-week sessions that met in odd-numbered years.
Voters said yes to the idea strongly backed by legislative leaders. Two years later, in the Legislature's first annual “short” session since 1850, lawmakers filed more than 800 bills. On review, plenty seemed worthy -- like raising fishing license fees for out-of-state anglers -- though not exactly emergencies.
Lawmakers have been cramming a lot of work into their short sessions ever since. About 800 bills were filed again in this year's session, slated to close March 10.
Among those are some critical, road-funding bills and a measure giving schools a temporary reprieve from a standardized testing mess. Also on the list of bills passed is one that bars local governments from restricting the use of disposable plastic bags.
The amount of work packed into the session may not have changed, but some retiring lawmakers say the intensity and expectations have. The job is no longer that of a “part-time citizen legislator” that Indiana’s forefathers conceived 200 years ago when they drafted the state's Constitution at the former capitol in Corydon.
Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, for example, says she’s leaving a job, at age 81, that much’s different than it was when she walked into Statehouse as a member of the House 38 years ago. “Back then, I’d might get 40 letters or phone calls from constituents in a week,” she said. “Now, I’m getting hundreds of emails in a day. I feel an obligation to respond to them all, but I can’t.”
Legislating in the digital age doesn’t stop when the session’s out.
Lawmakers spend significant amount of time helping constituents, vetting legislation in summer study committees, and campaigning for election. A 2014 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that Indiana lawmakers typically spend more than two-thirds of what would be considered a full-time job as legislators.
Their work is also more complex – or, at least, more costly. The year before the Legislature started meeting each year, legislators crafted a biennial budget of $1 billion. The two-year budget they approved last year was closer to $30 billion.
Special interests have followed. They spent almost $24 million lobbying the General Assembly last year – up from about $15 million 15 years ago.
Retiring Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, longtime chairwoman of the Senate Public Health Committee, describes the job's hours as a demanding “24/7” - which is why she’s leaving the state Senate after 35 years. “I just really want to spend time with family,” says Miller, who turns 80 this July.
In total, 17 of 150 lawmakers aren’t seeking re-election this year.
Some are still politically ambitious. Sens. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, and Jim Banks, R-Columbia, are all running for Congress.
Some - like Senate Roads and Transportation Chairman Carlin Yoder, R-Goshen, and House Public Policy Chair Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte - are leaving behind powerful political jobs to devote themselves to their full-time jobs and their children back home.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brent Steele, R-Bedford, decided not to run for another four-year term after two decades of combined House and Senate service. At 68, he says he doesn’t want to become what he calls “dinosaur-ius” like some aging legislators who won't leave on their own. Said Steele: “I figured, what was I going to accomplish in the next four years that I didn’t get accomplished in the first 20?”
Maureen Hayden covers the Indiana Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com
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Trump demands Friday vote; Mulvaney says Obamacare stays if it fails
“We have a great bill and I think we have a very good chance.”
, commenting on the American Health Care Act just has Speaker
postponed the vote mid-Thursday afternoon. By 8 Thursday evening, OMB Director
said that Trump was demanding a vote on Friday, and if it fails, he will leave Obamacare in place. The Washington Post reported there are 35 no Republican votes and another 16 are leaning toward no. The bill will fail if 23 Republicans oppose.
Trump and truth
The Obamacare repeal is teetering in the House. Why? Remember the old story of the boy who cried wolf? President Trump’s penchant for lies is beginning to take such a toll that NBC reporter Kasie Hunt said this morning that some members wonder if he’ll even be around in a year. So when Trump threatened retribution against recalcitrant House members on Tuesday, its impact was dubious. The Wall Street Journal editorialized today: “If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. The latest example is Mr. Trump’s refusal to back off his Saturday morning tweet of three weeks ago.” The other emerging dynamic is that the Pence/Marc Short legislative team hasn’t done the legwork on the RyanCare bill. It could all come down to Vice President Pence, HHS Secretary Tom Price and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to round up about eight votes and keep Republicans like Rep. Hollingsworth in the fold.
- Brian A. Howey, publisher
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