[r47] HJR-1: The rest of the story (2/4/2008)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Start Date: 2/4/2008 All Day
End Date: 2/4/2008
 INDIANAPOLIS - The Indianapolis Star and some other members of the Fourth Estate have chastised Indiana House Republicans of late for offering amendments to House Joint Resolution 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have permanently capped property taxes.

The logic has been that the amendments caused House Democrats to withdraw HJR-1 from consideration by the whole House on Jan. 29.

My goodness.

Star reporter Bill Ruthhart had the basic facts correct in his initial news story, although the actual number of amendments filed was 18 instead of 12: "House Democrats have killed a constitutional amendment that would have placed caps on property-tax bills into the state Constitution.

"The proposal, which is part of Gov. Mitch Daniels' property tax relief plan, was withdrawn late Tuesday night after Republicans tried to change the measure.

House Republicans had filed 12 amendments to the constitutional amendment, and when they proposed the first one for debate, Democrats killed the legislation. That amendment would have eliminated residential property taxes . ."

Unfortunately, later Star stories, columns and editorials have not been so careful with the facts. A newspaper with the resources and reputation of The Star should not be so uninformed, naive or dismissive of the facts of both the story and the legislative process. To label this "politics as usual" is inaccurate, and that inaccuracy is not responsible.

Of the 18 amendments filed for HJR-1, the House Republican caucus had decided to support two of them; one would have placed a constitutional cap on state spending, and one would have led to the elimination of the homestead property tax. It was the second one that Rep. Tim Harris was in the process of offering when the Democrats withdrew HJR-1.

Filing an amendment does not mean the amendment will be offered on the floor. Many amendments are filed but never offered. For example, more than 100 amendments were filed for House Bill 1001, the property tax reform bill - a healthy mix of Republican and Democrat ideas - but only a minority of them were heard on the floor. On the other hand, no amendment is heard if it is not filed.

This has not been pointed out, and it should be: There was no agreement between the House Republicans and House Democrats on handling HJR-1. What happened was apparently a well-orchestrated Democrat maneuver to avoid open and public debate.

Democratic debate is healthy, and time was available. There was another whole calendar day to discuss HJR-1, but that time was thrown away by the House leadership in its rush to adjourn.

In a surprise move, House Democrats called down HJR-1, ostensibly for an open debate. But, before any real conversation could start, HJR-1's author abruptly withdrew the measure. In less time than it takes to tell about it, the Rules Committee chairman moved to adjourn, and the day's session was over.

The Republican side of the aisle was taken by surprise.

All House Republicans wanted was a chance to debate the merits of HJR-1. The Star assumes something else, all without asking direct questions of the people involved.

Readers of The Star and people who believe in public debates of important public policy deserve better.

Is The Star against open discussion and full explanation of the legislative process? Does The Star appreciate legislators in the minority representing the thousands of their voters who seek a voice in the legislative process?

As one of the vendors in the marketplace of ideas, The Star should support civility, debate, fairness and accuracy.

Indianapolis' local daily deserves a "Thumbs down" for its misguided agenda.

My goodness.

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Rep. Ralph M. Foley (R-Martinsville) is the ranking minority member of the House Rules Committee.