Indiana Speaker Brian Bosma announced the House Republican legislative agenda Jan. 8, focusing on “five key areas to strengthen Indiana.”
Bosma’s priorities for the 2014 General Assembly:
1. Preparing kids for their careers.
2. Connecting crossroads to communities.
3. Equipping our workforce.
4. Cutting taxes.
5. Stopping burdensome regulations.
Nowhere on the list do you see legislative approval of the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which Bosma elevated Tuesday above every other issue facing Indiana.
Bosma, faced with the possibility that HJR-3 might die in the House Judiciary Committee, moved the bill to the House Elections Committee. Members passed it the following day.
Just as Bosma wanted all along.
“I responded to the overwhelming majority of the Republican caucus who have extensively lobbied me to bring this to the floor in one fashion or another.” Bosma told reporters for The Indianapolis Star.
Here’s a more honest explanation — Bosma wants the bill to pass at all costs. House Judiciary Committee members threatened the speaker’s top personal legislative priority by listening to Hoosiers who pointed out compelling flaws in HJR-3, and rather than allowing the legislative process to work as designed, Bosma rigged the game.
Not only does moving HJR-3 to the elections committee show that he’s willing to mislead Hoosiers about his agenda, it proves that he’s just as disconnected, tone-deaf and undiscerning as the two local lawmakers who authored the proposal — Reps. Timothy Wesco, R-Mishawaka, and Wes Culver, R-Goshen.
Wesco and Culver represent a county where November unemployment increased to 7.6 percent. That’s still almost twice the jobless rate for Elkhart County at the end of 2007, before the Great Recession flattened the RV and auto industries, throwing thousands of people out of work. Unemployment in Elkhart remains at 9.1 percent — 2.5 points higher than the national rate for November.
Childhood poverty reached 27.2 percent among Elkhart County children in 2011. It declined to 21.2 percent in 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. That still left nearly 12,000 county children living in poverty.
In 2007, before the recession, the childhood poverty rate was 16.2 percent.
More than 20,000 Elkhart County schoolchildren — nearly 56 percent — qualified for free and reduced-cost lunches in 2013, according the Kids Count Data Center. That number increased from the height of the recession in 2009, when half of the county’s students — about 18,000 — qualified.
Finally, the Indiana Youth Institute found that in 2011, 24.6 percent of the county’s children lived in food insecurity. And that’s despite figures showing about 30,000 people here received food stamps each month in 2011 — a figure that barely changed in 2012, but exceeded the 2008 average by 60 percent.
Bosma and the General Assembly should be focused on legislation like House Bill 1281, which echoes a bill Culver proposed last year requiring the state to return all income tax revenue owed to a county. Or House Bill 1109, co-authored by Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, ending sales taxes on recreational vehicles sold to buyers living outside Indiana.
Yet two lawmakers who represent this county made their priority this session to co-author HJR-3, which does nothing to create jobs, feed children or lift families out of poverty.
To the contrary — HJR-3 threatens to irreparably damage Indiana’s economy.
Indiana law already prohibits same-sex marriage. HJR-3 not only amends the state constitution to single out gays, it also prohibits civil unions.
That’s why many of state’s biggest employers and universities oppose HJR-3 — because they understand, in ways that Bosma, Culver and Wesco either choose to ignore or cannot grasp, that the proposed constitutional amendment establishes Indiana as hostile to gays and their allies. Essentially, the rest of the world.
Indiana cannot compete for the brightest students, the most gifted researchers, the most aggressive and innovative entrepreneurs when it alters its constitution to discriminate against people specifically because of their sexual orientation. Other states will point to our intolerance and use it against us.
Bosma got his way. A constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, the issue most important to him, could go to a House vote Monday.
Approving it won’t help anyone in Elkhart County find a job. It will not lift local families out of poverty or feed a single child.
Instead, HJR-3 could damage the state’s economy so badly that we will give back every gain we’ve made since the Great Recession. And it will cost the state untold thousands of dollars when it’s challenged in court.
Anyone truly for the people of Elkhart County — and Indiana — cannot support HJR-3.