Simpson applauds progress of smoking ban, home energy assistance bills

Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson discusses the progress of House Bill 1149, the statewide smoking ban bill, which passed out of the Committee on Public Policy earlier this week. The full Senate also passed House Bill 1141, extending low income home energy assistance to vulnerable Hoosiers.

Open for Questions: Your top five questions answered

In December, the Indiana Senate Democrats launched an interactive campaign to learn what you wanted to know about state government. The Open for Questions campaign recorded 136 questions and 3,973 votes were made on those questions.

The five most popular questions and answers straight from Senate Democratic Caucus members are featured below. Thank you to those citizens who participated in this online conversation.

“If the senators work for the people how come we can’t cut their pay or reduce their benefits? Do you think we should start voting on pay raises or benefit packages for you?” -DC from Dyer, IN

“If students who receive voucher money to attend private school are dismissed (kicked out) mid-year and return to the public school, do the private schools return any of the money to the public school fund?” -Paul from South Bend, IN

“As the Indiana population continues to age, what can Indiana legislature do to ensure appropriate care (physical and mental) of its’ older adults living below the poverty line?” -Angie from Indianapolis, IN

“How will the legislature deal with the families who pulled their kids from private schools for one year so they can get voucher money forever thereafter? Is this not “playing” the system? A gold mine for private (religious) schools?” -Brian from Chesterton, IN

“When will a law be passed that prohibits those in public offices from receiving more than one paycheck from the same government unit?” -JLp465 from East Chicago, IN

“Right to Work” passes Senate 28 – 22, Democrats vote “No”

House Bill 1001, the so-called “Right to Work” bill, passed the Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 28 -22. Governor Mitch Daniels promptly signed the bill into law. Senate Democrats, opposing “Right to Work” from it’s start, unanimously voted “No” on the bill.

Listen to audio from Feb. 1, 2012, debate presented by the Senate Democrat members on the floor in opposition to “RTW”>>

Thousands of protesters were at the Statehouse to watch the final vote, then flowed out of the building to march downtown to the Super Bowl Village.

Watch a video of Sen. Simpson addressing “RTW” protesters on the Statehouse lawn>>

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The RTW bill has been one of the most divisive issues recently brought before the General Assembly. First discussed during the 2011 legislative session, the bill prompted House Democrats to walk out and drew thousands of protesters to the Statehouse daily. In November 2011, Republican leaders in the Senate and House announced the bill was their top priority for 2012, and the lengths they went in order to get the bill passed made that intention evident.

Despite concerns over how the proposal would depress average wages in the state by $1,500 per person per year, lower the wages being spent in local economies, and interfere with the freedom to make agreements between employers and employees, the bill was rushed for passage before the Super Bowl.

Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson posed this question to the full Senate: “Was this worth it?”

In the Senate, an unorthodox schedule was employed to get the House bill through the Senate by Wednesday. Senate Democrats decried not only the substance and impact of the bill but the shortcuts and limited debate by which the legislation was moved through the process. Read more about Democrat concerns over the process>>

Although one of the primary assertions by Right to Work supporters was an employee’s right to not join a union, federal labor laws are already clear on this issue.

Despite the rush to sign the bill into law before the Super Bowl, protesters are expected to make their concerns known throughout the weekend. Democrats have continually said the law will be an embarrassment for the state while it is under international spotlight for the event. The NFL Players Association issued a statement against Right to Work in January.

Senate Democrats’ comments from Feb. 1 “Right to Work” floor debate

Senate Democrats rallied one last time on Wednesday to speak out against the contentious “Right to Work” bill as it gained passage in the Indiana State Senate. With a vote of 28 to 22, House Bill 1001 was sent to Governor Daniels who promptly signed the legislation this afternoon. Click the links below to listen to Senate Democratic Caucus members floor comments in opposition to the legislation. (Read more about events of Feb. 1 >>)

SEN. SIMPSON: “Weeks and months from now I want you to ask yourself this question; Was it worth it?…”

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SEN. SIMPSON: “Right to work is a race to the bottom, it’s a downward spiral…”

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SEN. ROGERS : “There’s a different relationship between management and unions now and we don’t need to interfere…”

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SEN. SKINNER: “I don’t believe for a minute that companies are going to flock to Indiana…”

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Senate approves “Right to Work” bill over Democrat objections

Despite numerous objections by Senate Democrats, the Indiana Senate voted 28 to 22 to approve Senate Bill (SB) 269, the controversial “Right to Work” bill, on Monday. Senate Democrats argued that the legislation will be harmful to Indiana workers, working families and local economies by lowering average incomes statewide. Democrats also argued that the legislation is unnecessary due to current federal protections for those who choose not to join organized labor and that no concrete evidence has been presented showing that not having this policy has stifled job growth in the state. Nine Republicans voted with the 13 Democrats in the Senate in opposition to the bill.

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Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson says the bill doesn’t confer rights, but instead makes it illegal for unions to make employees who benefit from negotiated salary, safety and benefit terms pay their fair share of the cost of providing those benefits.

SEN. SIMPSON: “This so-called “Right to Work” bill is not conferring any rights to a job on anyone…”

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State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said the issue is really about the ability to join as a collective voice and the strength of the middle class embodied by the union movement.

 SEN. TALLIAN: “This legislation is a classic class fight between unfettered, unrestricted, unregulated capitalism…”

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State Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) said the legislation is about paying one’s fair share. He also questioned the wisdom in the state’s interference in contracts between employees and employers as proposed under the bill.

SEN. LANANE: “There is one thing that I think is absolutely true, that is that this bill will hurt unions…”

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State Senator John Broden (D-South Bend) says Right to Work will set off a decline in wages because every study shows that where an industry is unionized, wages are higher for all workers in the area not just those in the union.

SEN. BRODEN: “After having heard all the debate…”

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SEN. BRODEN: “Every study shows that where an industry or area is unionized…”

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State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said the legislation will hurt working class families and lower wages.

 SEN. TAYLOR: “This is an effort by people to stomp on the interests of working class citizens…”

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State Senator Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute) said he is concerned that the message this bill sends is counterproductive for workers and businesses. He says he is convinced that this bill will bring wages down, not help families make a living in Indiana.

SEN. SKINNER: “I taught in a very blue collar area of Terre Haute. A lot of kids whose families were in unions…”

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State Senator Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) said she is concerned that the legislation will begin a spiral of low quality jobs with lower wages in Indiana.

 SEN. BREAUX: “My fear is that if we introduce ‘Right to Work’ that not only will we see a decrease in wages…”

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State Senator Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond) said the legislation targets a fabricated problem at the expense of working families in the state.

 SEN. MRVAN: “I think this ‘Right to Work’ law is phantom issue…”

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Last week, Senate Democrats offered a number of amendments to the bill, including a referendum proposal that would allow the law to be voted on by the public.

SB 269 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration. A companion bill, House Bill 1001, is also now moving through the House and may be voted on in that chamber on Tuesday. Either of the bills could become law if approved by both chambers, as Governor Daniels has committed to signing the legislation into law.

Senate Democrats offer referendum, other amendments to “Right to Work”

Today the Indiana State Senate debated a number of amendments on Senate Bill 269, the so-called “Right to Work” bill. Senate Democrats offered seven amendments, including an amendment by State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) that would allow a public referendum if the legislation was approved by the Indiana General Assembly and became law.

AMENDMENT #13: Public referendum on “Right to Work”

Under Sen. Tallian’s proposal, the legislation would become effective on Nov. 5, 2012, and include an expiration date of Nov. 7. A public vote would be held on Nov. 6 providing voters with the choice of allowing the law to expire or affirming the law and eliminating the expiration. Amendment 13 was defeated by a vote of 14-36.

SEN. TALLIAN: “This so-called “Right to Work” issue has divided our legislature this year, last year and in previous years…”

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Senate Democrat Leader Vi Simpson (D-Ellettsville) rose in support of the referendum saying it would allow time for the public to fully learn the language of the bill and then voice their opinion. Simpson contended that if those on either side of the facts were confident in their research, they should be open to a public discussion on the merits of the bill.

SEN. SIMPSON: “This amendment is about letting the people have a voice. You know, we tried to close down the statehouse…”

State Senator John Broden (D-South Bend) also spoke in support of the amendment, saying that he has seen no issue that requires more public education and input than the so-called Right to Work legislation. Broden also quoted comments from Governor Daniels urged the legislature in his 2008 State of the State address to “trust the people, give them the facts and let them vote” in reference to another public debate

SEN. BRODEN: “In the eleven years that I have been here in the General Assembly I don’t think I have ever encountered an issue that more strongly begs for a vote from the people…”

AMENDMENT #5: Affirming current right to not join unions

Sen. Tallian also offered an amendment to the bill that would strip all language except the clause that protects an individual’s right not to be required to join a union. Tallian said the amendment should address the primary concern asserted by “Right to Work” advocates that the issue centered on one’s freedom to not join a union. Amendment 5 was defeated by a 13 – 37 vote along party lines.

SEN. TALLIAN: “Federal law already prohibits forced unionization, but for those skeptics I offer this solution…”

AMENDMENT #3: Protecting existing union contracts with in-state employers

Another amendment offered today would have grandfathered in existing negotiated contracts between employers and employees. State Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) spoke in favor of the amendment arguing that it would provide an alternative by making Indiana a “Right to Work” state for businesses relocating here after the law’s effective date, but not affect current contracts between unions and employers already doing business in the state. Some proponents, including Governor Daniels, have said the “Right to Work” law is critical for recruiting new employers to the state. Amendment 3 was defeated by a 14-36 vote with one Republican voting in favor of the amendment along with the chamber’s 13 Democrats.

SEN. LANANE: “So I have a little bit of a problem with the argument that I have heard about Right to Work..”

AMENDMENT #2: Set back effective date to Jan. 1, 2013

Another amendment would have removed an unusual emergency clause and effective date of Mar. 14, 2012. State Senator Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte) spoke in support of the amendment, saying the implementation of a law with such dramatic effects on working families should not be rushed. Legislation typically has an effective date of July 1, the beginning of a new state fiscal year, or Jan.1. Amendment 2, which would have moved the law’s effective date to Jan. 1, 2013, was defeated by a 14 – 37 vote.

SEN. ARNOLD: “I think this bill is being driven and being geared around the Superbowl..”

State Senator Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute) also spoke in support of the amendment, saying that he sees no need for the emergency clause when even the governor has stated that there is no rush to approve the legislation at an accelerated speed.

SEN. SKINNER: “I see absolutely no need to rush this on, to have an emergency provision in this bill…”

Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) questions Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) over an amendment to enact Right to Work in Indiana

Video: Simpson and Lanane react to one-sided debate on “Right to Work” bill

Senator Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) and Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) address the rushed approach and lack of debate on Senate Democrat amendments to the so-called “Right to Work” bill. The divisive legislation was heard on second reading in the Indiana Senate today.

Indiana Lifeline Bill approved by senate committee

New legislation co-authored by Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson (D-Elletsville) aims to protect the lives of Hoosiers by providing immunity for callers requesting medical assistance for another person who is experience an alcohol-related emergency. Called the “Indiana Lifeline Bill,” Senate Bill (SB) 274 had bipartisan support as it passed out of the Judiciary committee on a 10-0 vote.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill with an amendment to clarify some points in the bill and to restrict immunity in some cases.  Hoosiers who are drinking and driving, possess drugs or are acting disorderly with medical personnel will not receive immunity.

While the bill would not provide immunity for the person in need of emergency help, it would require the prosecuting attorney to withhold prosecution if the individual for whom emergency assistance was sought agrees to a pretrial diversion program. The pretrial diversion program would include completion of an alcohol education programs and 20 hours of community service within 90 days of the the initial hearing. This option would be available for cases that involve a charge of public intoxication or underage possession, consumption, or transportation of an alcoholic beverage.

The Indiana Lifeline Bill has the support of many college student interest groups including Purdue University’s Student Government, Indiana University Student Association and the Hoosier Youth Advocacy. Several Indiana college students were among those who gave testimony in support of the bill during committee.

The legislation now moves on to second reading and will be heard on the Senate floor where any senator can offer amendments to the bill. Next, the bill will be eligible for a final vote in the Senate on third reading. If the bill successfully passes the State Senate, it will move across the rotunda to be considered by the Indiana House.

The act was approved by both chambers and signed into law by the governor, and became effective as state law on July 1, 2012.

Watch Sen. Simpson discuss the Indiana Lifeline bill below.