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2018 Session: Sunday Sales, Lack Of Focus And Chaotic End

By Brandon Smith, IPB News | Published on in Government, Politics
Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), right, tries to negotiate with Democrats on the House floor as the session's clock ran out. (Brandon Smith/IPB News)
Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), right, tries to negotiate with Democrats on the House floor as the session's clock ran out. (Brandon Smith/IPB News)

About three weeks before it began, House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) was already saying the 2018 legislative session would be different.

There’s usually one over-arching, bright, shiny object that keeps attention focused and it’s a little bit different this year,” Bosma said.

Past “shiny objects” dominated discussion throughout sessions, including road funding and Right to Work. But many of this session’s issues came and went like a flash in the pan.

One of them was a high priority for Democrats – the annual, and so far futile, effort to pass a hate crimes bill. Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) has led that effort for a decade. He says his faith was shaken by this session’s failure.

“My heart can’t do it anymore. My soul can’t do it anymore,” Taylor says.

On the House side, a Republican caucus priority couldn’t even get a vote on the floor. Township government reform – which would have required about 300 small townships statewide to consolidate – sailed through House committees. But Rep. Cindy Ziemke’s (R-Batesville) measure stalled on the final day of the session’s first half.

“I didn’t have the support of the caucus, so… I wasn’t going to call it down and have it voted down,” Ziemke said.

And while lawmakers worked to find common ground on many other issues, Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) announced he’ll retire later this year, not halfway through his term.

“I want everyone to know I’m doing this for the right reasons, because for me it’s time – and for no other reason,” Long said.

Long is a 22-year legislative veteran, who’s spent 12 years leading the Senate.

Still, the legislature moved on, and some key issues found resolution.

Lawmakers legalized cannabidiol, or CBD oil. They approved legislation to adjust Indiana’s workforce development system and a measure to fill a funding gap for K-12 public schools. And a bill cleared both chambers to ensure recipients of the federal immigration program DACA can get professional licenses from the state.

But even lawmakers called the session’s end chaotic. State law set its deadline at midnight. Yet with a few bills still unsettled – tax legislation, school safety, a Muncie-Gary school takeover bill, and autonomous vehicle regulations – lawmakers pushed things to the limit. The governor sought to extend the deadline by an hour. But legislative leaders questioned that move’s legality.

“As for the Senate, I think we should wrap up our business,” Long said.

The House followed soon after.

“Alright, well, it’s finally over,” Bosma said.

And just like that, the session ended.

Still, after all that 2018 will likely be remembered most for this:

“I respectfully ask for members to vote yes in favor of this, making history in Indiana allowing Sunday sales,” Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) said on the Senate floor.

For the first time in Indiana’s 201-plus years as a state, Hoosiers can buy alcohol at the store on Sunday.

And for some lawmakers, including House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin (D-Austin), that achievement reigned over all in 2018. He says it’s not something to be proud of.

“This session seems like a Twinkie,” Goodin says. “It fills you up but there’s just nothing of real substance or value to it.”

For those lawmakers, it’s wait ‘til next year.