Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Jan. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Off target. Ending gun permits a singularly bad idea

Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards didn’t have to think long to explain why she opposes House Bill 1369, legislation to eliminate handgun licensing.

“This morning is the perfect example,” she said Tuesday, referring to a deadly shooting at a Fort Wayne motel. “With the number of homicides we have, unlicensing handguns is a bad idea all the way around.”

Paul Helmke, former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, agreed.

“Indiana already does too little to keep loaded guns out of public places and out of the hands of dangerous people. This bill would make us all less safe,” the former Republican mayor wrote in an email.

No license is required to buy a firearm in Indiana, but one is required for open or concealed carry. Individuals with a conviction for a felony or misdemeanor domestic battery are ineligible, and a license can also be denied in other prescribed situations.

HB 1396 is one of four so-called “constitutional carry” bills proposed by the Republican supermajority, but this one is authored by Auburn Republican Ben Smaltz and co-authored by Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, two powerful members of the House majority. Smaltz is chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, where his bill is assigned and was scheduled to be heard Wednesday. Ironically, the session was canceled over concerns for violence spilling over from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The prosecutor noted the violence in Washington, and pointed to the state’s record.

“I think for a number of reasons, it’s a really bad idea,” Richards said. “Given the crime rate in this state, I don’t think making it harder for us to prosecute cases and easier for people to carry a handgun is probably a good idea.”

She said current law works well in allowing law enforcement to revoke licenses when necessary – in cases involving mental health issues, for example – and to prosecute cases where violations occur.

“Under this new legislation it would be virtually impossible at the scene to determine if someone had the requisite issues or convictions to prevent them from having a handgun,” Richards said.

Helmke, now a professor of practice at O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, said the bill places more Hoosiers at risk.

“Not only does this proposal make it easier for ‘dangerous’ people to carry loaded guns in public, but it means more chances of ‘good’ people misusing or losing their loaded guns, or having their loaded guns taken from them by others,” he wrote. “Indiana doesn’t require people carrying loaded guns to know our gun laws, gun safety, or even how to shoot a gun, but would now be encouraging even more people to carry these dangerous weapons in public.”

Helmke also pointed to the additional risk placed on police officers, who would have to presume someone carrying a loaded gun is doing so legally.

House Minority Leader Phil Gia-Quinta, D-Fort Wayne, noted the cost of the bill, which would eliminate licensing fees used to support firearms training. The Legislative Services Agency estimates Smaltz’s bill would cost local law enforcement $8.5 million in licensing fees over the next three years.

“I oppose any legislation that would make it easier for convicted criminals and the mentally ill to obtain firearms,” GiaQuinta said. “In addition to my concerns about public safety, I’m also concerned about Indiana’s law enforcement agencies, who rely on permit fees to keep our communities safe.”

But GiaQuinta’s vote can’t stop the supermajority from taking a dangerous step backward. Smaltz, Lehman and their Republican colleagues need to hear from their constituents that more people carrying guns does not make Indiana safer.

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South Bend Tribune. Jan. 24, 2021.

Editorial: Indiana legislation is a good start toward police reform

Among the bills that have started to pass through the Indiana Statehouse is a police reform measure that’s been described as historic.

The bipartisan bill, unanimously approved earlier this month by the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, includes provisions for mandatory de-escalation training, misdemeanor penalties for officers who turn off body cameras with intent to conceal and bans on chokeholds in certain circumstances.

The measure requires police departments to share full employment records with other agencies. That’s an effort to help identify bad cops and keep them from easily moving jobs.

The legislation is inspired by the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus’ proposed package of police accountability and criminal justice reforms released over the summer, in the wake of protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Authored by Rep. Gregory Steuerwald, R-Danville, the bill has earned support from Indiana’s legislators, law enforcement leaders and such groups as the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus and the NAACP.

Steuerwald said the measure has “total support” from law enforcement. Police organizations, including the state Fraternal Order of Police, the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police and Indiana Sheriff’s Association, backed the legislation, as did the Indiana Public Defender Council.

Democratic Rep. Robin Shackleford, who co-authored the House bill, calls the bill “a great start,” while acknowledging that some wanted stricter language on chokeholds and more funding for body cameras.

“I think it’s probably more than we expected to try to get passed in this bill, because it did have some controversial parts,” Shackleford said. “I’m just glad everybody was able to get things worked out and we got as much in here as we could.”

This bill addresses many of the issues — including body cameras and a discipline matrix — that have come up in South Bend. While there has been some local progress on police reform, there’s still work to be done, and this bill would serve as a complement to such efforts.

Count us among those who are encouraged by the widespread support for the bill, which was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. It’s a good beginning toward the sort of accountability and transparency that’s necessary to build trust between police and the communities they serve.

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Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Jan. 22, 2021.

Editorial: Women in elected offices an inspiration for youth

It is impossible to know who might be inspired by women like Kamala Harris or Dr. Janie Myers.

A young girl sitting in a Vigo County elementary school, perhaps. Or a quiet kid in a Wabash Valley Girl Scouts troop. Or a teenager casting her first vote. Or all of the above.

As 2021 begins, young women will see female faces representing them as never before. Such breakthroughs mark progress. A representative government should look like the population it represents. As the nation, states and communities move toward equality, more people from under-represented populations will in turn vote, run for office and serve.

This month, elected officials take their oath of office across the country. One of the most high-profile swearing-in ceremonies in American history occurred Wednesday outside the U.S. Capitol. Kamala Harris became the nation’s first woman vice president. She broke other barriers, too. Harris, the daughter of immigrant parents from Jamaica and India, is the first Black and South Asian person to serve in the second-highest office of the federal government.

Harris’ achievement is a landmark. It is also sobering, given that it took 245 years for a woman to occupy the vice presidency.

Fittingly, Harris took her oath with her hand over two Bibles, including one that belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice. Current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina, administered Harris’ oath.

That moment was seen around the world Wednesday. Back in Terre Haute, Dr. Janie Myers saw Harris’ inauguration as a step that should encourage others. “I think people always look up to people they can emulate and follow,” Myers said. It shows “they can do it if they want to,” she added.

Myers stands as a “can do” example, too. She is now Vigo County’s coroner, after winning November’s election and becoming the first Black woman elected to a countywide office here.

She also was part of a small wave of women swept into Vigo County elected offices last fall. The most dramatic change came on the School Board. Newcomers Stacy Killion and Amy Lore defeated incumbents in the Nov. 3 election, leaving the board with six women and one man for at least the next two years — a first for this county.

Female candidates also won other county offices, including a County Council seat, recorder, treasurer and Superior Court judge. Voters reelected Tonya Pfaff to a second term representing Terre Haute in the Indiana House of Representatives. Pfaff is the first woman elected to do so since World War II.

Firsts tend to only be the beginning. As new Vice President Harris has said many times since she and Biden won in November, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.”

Indeed, the elections of Harris, Myers, Pfaff and other women last fall will surely lead others to successfully do the same. Each crack in the glass ceiling in America, Indiana and communities like Terre Haute and Vigo County hastens the process of forming a more perfect union.

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