[r72] A Clere view of the Statehouse: Hope for the future - newspaper style (4/13/2011)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Start Date: 4/13/2011 All Day
End Date: 4/13/2011

The merger of the Tribune and Evening News has brought about many changes, and this column is no exception. You may have noticed its absence from last week's paper.

Newspaper management has decided to cut back my column to publication every other week. I started writing weekly in January 2009 and wrote a column every week - I never missed a week - until  the end of last August, when my column was suspended abruptly for the two months leading up to the fall election. I started writing again the week after the election and have continued writing weekly ever since. To date, I have written more than 100 columns.

I'm not sure how much longer my column will continue to appear. I have been informed it will cease as soon as I hold a fundraiser, announce my intention to run for re-election or file to run, whichever comes first. I'm likely to start holding fundraisers in June or July, so that may be the end of my column.

I disagree with the new policy. Its practical effect will be to preclude publication of my column for more than half of my two-year term. I'm sure the policy is aimed at promoting fairness, but it's unfair to readers, who will receive less information about their state government. Regardless, I appreciate the paper's publication of my column, and I will continue writing it as long I'm allowed. I try to minimize politics in my column; of course, sometimes politics is unavoidable. Regardless, I always seek to inform, and I always try to be fair.

In addition to continuing my column as long as possible, I will also continue to communicate by mail and e-mail. I realize many folks who read my column are not newspaper subscribers and receive my column by e-mail the day after it runs in the paper. I will supplement the column with additional e-mail communication, but folks who don't have e-mail will miss out.

I admit to having a stronger affinity for newspapers than many other people my age (I'm 36; I'll be 37 on Saturday). Part of my affection comes from having worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, including three years at the Tribune, which is also where I met my wife, Amy. But it's about more than affection and nostalgia. Newspapers are important for democracy. I'm a big Internet user, and I enjoy having access to electronic news and other information. There's no question the explosion of the Internet has been good for democracy, but newspapers still play an important role, and I lament their continuing demise.

Thomas Jefferson is often quoted in support of newspapers: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

That's the short version. The quotation is from a 1787 letter. Here's a more complete version:

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."

Of course, the quotation highlights not only the importance of newspapers, but also the essential role of education. Education is one of many important topics the legislature is addressing as the session draws to a close.

By law, the legislature must adjourn by April 29. That's little more than two weeks away, and there's a lot to do in the meantime. After a five-week walkout, House Democrats returned two weeks ago, and we've been working hard to make up for lost time.

This week and next will be spent finalizing bills in committee and on the floor of the House and Senate. The final week will be devoted to reconciling differences between bills that have passed both chambers but in different forms. For example, a House bill may have been amended in the Senate, or vice versa. Conference committees meet to work out differences and hammer out a final version of such bills. In some cases, the differences can't be worked out and the bill dies.

Likewise, sometimes similar bills pass both the House and Senate, and decisions have to be made about which bill will become law. For example, there are both House and Senate bills that would do away with so-called universal carding - the requirement that everyone, regardless of age, show identification to buy alcohol. The law requiring universal carding, which was part of a bill that passed last year, went too far, and now the question is how to change it to balance the need to prevent underage drinking with the convenience of consumers who are obviously of age. One bill would require ID from anyone who looks younger than 40; the other would set the age at 50.

In other cases, a bill may pass one chamber but not the other, in which case it is eligible to be amended into another bill during the conference committee process. That may be what happens with the bill I introduced to create a standalone park district in Floyd County. The bill passed the House but tied in committee in the Senate. It may receive another vote in the Senate, but time is running out.

I'm glad we're back to business in the House, and I'm optimistic the session will still be highly productive for Hoosiers, in spite of the walkout, which slowed the process but didn't stop it.

I also remain hopeful about our new paper, the News and Tribune. Perhaps the merger will result in a stronger, more competitive paper. I wish the staff all the best, and I'm grateful for the space I have. See you in two weeks.