Indiana representatives and senators discussed current legislation and fielded questions from community members at Third House public forums held at the Goshen and Elkhart chambers of commerce Saturday morning.
The controversial Indiana right-to-work bill brought out passionate viewpoints from both the panel and audience at the Elkhart chamber as Kyle Hannon, vice president of public policy at the chamber, and an at-large city council member, opened the forum by stating to the legislators: “all in all, we support this bill and we appreciate your support of it.”
Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, then began his remarks by stating that “facts are always stubborn and consistent. Twenty-two states have passed right-to-work, and in my opinion right-to-work will be an asset to the State of Indiana.”
“Are the people in those states doing better than in Indiana. Yes, largely on average,” said Neese. “People that have contacted me are clearly in favor of passing right-to-work by 3-1, and I can’t ignore that.”
Franklin Troyer of United Steel Workers Of America Local 12273 in Osceola fervently stated “we need to analyze the quality of life with right-to-work. This needs to be identified as a moral issue.”
A local small business owner showed concern “that average consumers would not have the purchasing power to support local retailers” if workers were receiving paychecks that were not up to par with union wages.
Tony Flora of the AFL-CIO asked “what is the purpose of draining funds from civil organizations that are called unions,” which received a passionate “yes, yes” from many of the more than 100 attendees.
The panel was asked if right-to-work could be left to voters to decide, and Neese said “I don’t anticipate that we’re going to see a referendum, and I’m of the opinion that it would pass.”
Indiana Senator Joe Zakas, R-Granger said “over in the senate it’s a different world. We have not had a boycott. In the House it’s 60-40, Republican to Democrat (speaking about right-to-work), and in the Senate it’s 37-13. So the legislature at its current time is pretty strongly Republican oriented.”
Neese addressed the issue of misplaced funds in the sum of $320 million, which he said was “an accumulative amount over a period of about four or five years. It came from corporate income taxes. It was somehow, as I understand it, put in the wrong account.” The issue now tasks the legislature with a possible audit, called for by Democrats, and future decisions as to how to appropriate the funds. Neese said that “the chairman of House Ways & Means would like to see a large portion of that go to education” because of all the cuts in the past year within that entity. Community members discussed how emergency services and infrastructure could also benefit.
Neese talked about the bill he has co-authored, which will allow retired teachers a cost-of-living increase, and about the smoking-ban bill that the House health committee has passed, which will prohibit smoking in most public places and workplaces. Casinos, fraternal and veterans clubs, and cigar and hookah bars would be exempt, but public bars and taverns would not.
Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, who was at both chamber forums, spoke about a bill he has brought forward that recognizes a “registered ministry childcare advisory committee,” which will “give advice to the standing commission on child care regulations and laws.”
“Another bill that I’m very passionate about will reward attorneys fees and court costs to a prevailing party if a court throws out a lawsuit as frivolous,” said Wesco.
Wesco, who was home schooled, has also introduced a bill that “is being called the Tim Tebow Bill. It will allow home schoolers and non-public school students to play sports at their public high schools.”
Wesco spoke about the Nepotism Bill, which prevents public officials from hiring their relatives, with exception to relatives that aren’t directly supervising one another. The legislation, which has been active for the past four years, also bans the conflict of interest that occurs when government employees are elected to supervise themselves.
Zakas said that “over 400 bills have been filed in the Senate this year. A couple of them deal with the Super Bowl situation, and one of them has to do with human trafficking. When you have Super Bowls sometimes folks come into town and utilize other human beings for sexually oriented criminal activity.” Zakas said that the Senate is trying to put into place more stringent enforcement laws.
In Goshen, right-to-work was also the big issue as State Senator Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury; District 49 State Rep. Wes Culver, R-Goshen and District 21 State Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, spoke to a room of about 50 people at the chamber.
Yoder asked “if we could do a better job in bringing jobs to Indiana, shouldn’t we do it?” Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman rose to say “I’ve tried to follow the right-to-work issue on both sides, and I’ve wavered some.” He then questioned whether workers should not have a right to a union job.
Yoder spoke about a bill that has to do with the National Anthem. “The bill started out as a school bill where schools would be fined if somebody that was singing the National Anthem butchered it, changed the lyrics, or changed the melody. I think we’ll kill that bill.”
Yoder said “we have a lot of work to do on education and funding” and Culver stated that there are “lots of bills” regarding higher education costs.
Culver talked about his “controversial bill on beer in which home brewers cannot use their bottles more than once.” Culver also spoke about the right-to-work Bill, a bill regarding taxation of Internet sales, the smoking ban bill, a bill that regards properties that are going up for tax sale, and a rural entrepreneurship bill that will act as a business incubator for job creation.
Both chambers of commerce will host the next Indiana Third House Meetings on Jan. 28.