News and Tribune

February 12, 2014

THEIR VIEW — For Feb. 12

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers. Distributed By The Associated Press.

Legislature finds time for frivolities

The General Assembly is spending a lot of time this session on the really big issues - things such as the gay marriage debate, which would constitutionally enshrine a values point of view; tax-cut plans, which could help businesses but, some fear, hurt local governments; and school initiatives, which could strengthen early childhood education and make Common Core go away.

But our representatives and senators are still finding time for the frivolous issues they shouldn’t even be considering, bless their hearts. These wrongheaded bills don’t just risk putting bad or silly laws on the books. They take away the time and effort needed for those major initiatives, which legislators especially need in this every-other-year short session.

A good example is the so-called “Merry Christmas Bill,” which would “allow” holiday celebrations in schools. It would let schools decorate with Nativity scenes or menorahs if paired with another religious or secular symbol. The legislation would also permit lessons on the history of winter holidays and traditional holiday greetings such as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.”

The bill’s author says it is needed because “Christmas is under attack” and something needs to be to stem the chilling effect lawsuits in other states have on holiday celebrations. But he notes only one case of a school clamping down on Christmas, and this really seems more like the umpteenth effort to sneak religion back into the classroom in a clever way the courts won’t catch on to.

Other examples abound:

• A proposal to bar programs under which some cities pay residents to turn in weapons that are later destroyed. Now, gun buybacks might be a silly way to combat crime - more symbolic than substantive - but is it really appropriate for the state to engage in this level of micromanaging?

• A proposal to keep those under 18 out of tanning beds. Is this the most serious health problem the state should address? Sunlight causes skin cancer, too. How about a bill requiring teens to stay indoors during summer?

• A proposal to require schools to teach cursive writing. What’s next - telling schools what to cut to make room for cursive writing?

Are you seeing a common theme emerge? The state is attempting to make decisions that other jurisdictions should be making. Let school districts decide what to teach, cities decide whether to have gun buybacks, boards of health rule on tanning. It’s not about whether these are good or bad ideas - some are one, some the other - but about which officials have the best knowledge on which to act.

The first question for any legislative proposal is, “Should we really be doing this?” Too often, the state skips right over it.

— The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne

Scooter bill should pass without requiring insurance

Supporters of Indiana state legislation to regulate motorized scooters could make progress during the current legislative session, if they pass up attempting to insure the small bikes. The bill, which passed the House last week, would include registering and plating scooters, but not the key hurdle, insurance.

This is a particularly important issue in Evansville, where the police department is campaigning for the regulation of scooters, which require no identification.

Evansville police believe registration of scooters would help the department better deal with stolen scooters. Evansville Police Sgt. Jason Cullum, who has been lobbying for the legislature to regulate scooters, said the number of automobile and scooter thefts in the city is comparable.

Such legislation has failed in the past, but this year it is given a shot at passage without a provision for insurance. The bill is being carried by state Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, and requires drivers of motorized scooters to register and plate their bikes with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Cullum said the Evansville police support Wolkins bill as written, but hope it will lead to addressing other issues in the future, among them insurance.

(To her credit, this bill was written by Indiana State Auditor Suzanne Crouch over the summer while she was still a state representative.)

The bill puts the cost to register at $17.30 with a $10 annual excise tax charge. That could be an issue for low-income riders in that these scooters provide vital transportation for people who cannot afford other modes of transportation. The House bill also would require a state-issued identification card with a motor driven cycle endorsement. To gain the endorsement, the rider would need to pass a road signs test.

There is an issue also with the freedom to ride, especially in rural Indiana where people like to own and ride scooters without government regulation. This is why some opposition to the legislation will come from rural interests.

Hopes of the bill passing this year were heightened last week when an influential state lawmaker, State Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, made positive statements about the bill. Wyss is chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Affairs Committee, where the legislation is likely to be assigned. Over the years, Wyss has been a positive force on a number of transportation issues in the Indiana Legislature.

What is clear is that this bill will not pass this session if anyone inserts an insurance requirement. Instead, lawmakers need to pass it this session with minimal requirements, and then see what happens in future sessions.

— Evansville Courier & Press