Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Anderson Herald Bulletin. September 9, 2022.

Editorial: Immigrant-friendly cities possible due to loopholes

There are nearly 200 cities, counties and states in America that are considered sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. The best known cities are San Francisco, Chicago and New York.

A sanctuary city or welcoming city bars local resources, such as police, from assisting in some elements of federal immigration enforcement.

Indiana doesn’t immediately come to mind when discussing sanctuary cities. That’s because the state legislature in 2011 passed an anti-sanctuary city law whereby a government body could not enact its own ordinance to prohibit cooperation with federal authorities when a case concerns citizenship or immigration status, among other provisions.

That’s the tricky loophole here; what constitutes cooperation in investigating immigration status.

Sanctuary cities have been controversial since the 1980s, when people from Guatemala and El Salvador sought asylum in the U.S.

In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which makes it illegal for state or local governments to prohibit any government agency from sending to or receiving information about anyone’s citizenship or immigration status. Again the loophole.

In 2017, East Chicago’s city council passed a “Welcoming City” ordinance. Of most relevance, however, is a provision in which an East Chicago city agency can offer, at best, a statement concerning an individual’s citizenship or immigration status but not much more beyond that. East Chicago police probably won’t join in on Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.

Two Lake County men sued, alleging that the city law was in conflict with Indiana code. A Lake County Superior Court agreed and enjoined the city from enforcing its ordinance.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals in mid-August sent the case back to Lake County, ordering that it be dismissed. The appellate court wrote, “A potential conflict between an ordinance and a statute, without more, does not necessarily harm the public.”

The plaintiffs do not live in East Chicago, don’t pay city taxes and couldn’t show how they would be harmed by the welcoming designation.

That might be a good lesson for Hoosiers who oppose sanctuary cities on principle. Injury does not need to be physical. Maybe a resident of East Chicago can establish “injury” showing evidence that an increase in crime is attributable to undocumented immigrants or that local workers are losing jobs due to the welcoming status.

In this case, the Court of Appeals is wisely sidestepping the divisive politics of immigration. Underscoring the ruling, however, is the concern that if the two plaintiffs here received a favorable ruling, could a political activist in Fort Wayne sue over a local ordinance in Jeffersonville?

Just having a feeling that sanctuary cities are repugnant isn’t enough, the court sagely decided.

It’s up to our state legislature to determine if it wants to fix the loophole or let communities decide how “welcoming” they want to be. It may be best to let community authorities listen to differing opinions and decide their own paths. And hope that those routes don’t actually or legally “harm” or “injure” anyone in those entities’ jurisdiction.

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Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. September 9, 2022.

Editorial: Given the state’s coffers, taxing student loan forgiveness is indefensible

Once again, Indiana is making headlines for the wrong reason, joining Mississippi, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arkansas and North Carolina in taxing forgiven student loan debt.

When Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston said Tuesday that he expected “conversations to continue” concerning the state tax on student debt relief, we’d like to believe his words weren’t a hollow response to an obvious public relations snafu. With Indiana flush with cash, a good deal due to pandemic relief funds from Congress, the legislature would be wise to change state code to exempt student loan relief from taxation.

Under President Joe Biden’s plan, 40 million Americans could see their student loan debt cut or eliminated. The plan calls for up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for individuals with incomes of less than $125,000 a year, or households that earn less than $250,000. Federal Pell Grant recipients could receive up to an additional $10,000 in federal forgiveness under the plan. Federal taxes will not be assessed.

On Tuesday, the Indiana Department of Revenue confirmed that Hoosiers who participate will be taxed at a rate of 3.23%. That equates to $323 for federal loans, while Pell recipients with federal loans would have to fork over $646. Then there are county taxes, which for Allen residents are at a rate of 1.48%.

With soaring consumer prices and the potential for higher heating and fuel costs going into the winter, the state looks harsh. If you add the legislature’s myopia, then its action borders on hostility.

“The American Rescue Plan Act excluded certain circumstances of student loan cancellation from the calculation of gross income at the federal level, but the state legislature decoupled Indiana’s tax code from that provision, according to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue,” reported The Journal Gazette’s Brett Stover.

Huston told the Indianapolis Star in a story published Thursday that changes in 2021 to federal tax law concerning student loan forgiveness left “states in the dark about the potential impact of this change or how it would eventually tie into a future program.”

No one wanted to “blindly align Indiana’s code with federal code,” he added.

“The final version of House Bill 1001, the state budget, did pass with almost unanimous support last year after a last-minute windfall in state tax dollars led lawmakers to make historic investments in the state’s public education system and give teachers long-sought raises,” the Star reported Thursday.

Huston’s being disingenuous. The Democrats were not going to stand in the way of a budget that included a much-welcomed cash infusion from Congress. However, the legislature could have foreseen the possibility of student loan forgiveness as the White House and some in Congress were signaling their intent. In a narrative – an overused term these days – this is called foreshadowing.

Biden’s plan has already been savaged by the GOP. But a slim majority of registered voters support the president’s initiative, according to the Brookings Institute. This majority includes majorities of swing voters, moderates and suburban voters.

Huston and his supermajority need to reconsider their position and support the plan of state Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, to retroactively eliminate state and county taxes on forgiven student debt.

It’s the right thing to do.

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