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3/11/2012 10:18:00 AM
OPINION: Like nature, Hoosier lawmakers abhor a vacuum

Eric Bradner, Evansville Courier & Press Indianapolis bureau

—If nothing else, the Indiana General Assembly's 2012 session showed that Hoosier lawmakers know how to fill a vacuum.

A year ago, Gov. Mitch Daniels and Republican House and Senate leaders accomplished all of their top policy priorities. So this year, they were willing to wage a knockdown, drag-out political fight over a right-to-work measure that hadn't made that original list.

Once that ended, lawmakers took a break, and the Super Bowl took over Indianapolis. When they returned in early February, there was more than a month remaining of the session and no "musts" left to tackle. Up rose the smoking ban — gutted, but eventually passed.

Even that and a handful of other news-making items still left most members of both parties with too little to do. So Democrats started an ill-timed dispute over the Indiana Department of Child Services, and a few Republicans bullied the Girl Scouts and gay teenagers.

It was always something.

And in the wee hours of Saturday morning, mercifully, it ended. All that was normal was how it did.

In one chamber, a group of exhausted senators dropped onto benches in the back. The group of conservatives lamented the notion that the police home entry bill they'd championed was perceived by some to put officers in danger.

Across the hall, a slap-happy House laughed as the intern whose job — the toughest one in the Statehouse, by the way — is to quickly read bills into a microphone accidentally called the speaker "Mr. Speakie."

Final votes were cast, and lawmakers drove off into the next election cycle.

But as they left town, there were a couple of things to be learned from the session.

Agree with his policy positions or not, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, proved himself a commanding leader who did not feel the need, as he put it, to "major in the minors," and restored the speaker's role as the most powerful man in state government during the session.

He applied the pressure of $1,000-a-day fines on Democrats who boycotted nine days to try to block the right-to-work measure in time to pass the measure before the Super Bowl, while holding his caucus together to ensure he had the votes to pass it.

Though Bosma ticked off a few other Republicans, he helped the party get plenty of distance when he mercilessly mocked Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, after Morris accused the Girl Scouts of being a radical organization that promotes abortion and homosexuality.

And unlike other recent sessions, when the Senate was regarded as the more adult, deliberative body that would kill bad bills from the House, Bosma refocused the Legislature when he ended talk about creationism and banning the pro-gay rights Indiana Youth Group's specialty license plate.

Though it did not show in the session's ultimate results, his counterpart could not exert that level of leadership.

As the session neared its end, it became increasingly clear that Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, was riding a tiger as he tried to steer his caucus.

Religious conservative activists Micah Clark and Eric Miller convinced a handful of Senate Republicans to go after the Indiana Youth Group's license plate.

Like the creationism vote before it, Long did not immediately shut down a distraction he came to despise. He either would not or could not put a lid on it.

In fact, he said they'd found a "solution" to the plate situation. Those lawmakers believed the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles could abolish the group's plate because, they said, it had violated its contract.

That's not the solution Bosma wanted to talk about.

After the General Assembly had adjourned, he framed 2012 as putting the final touches on what Republicans started on the 2010 campaign trail.

Lawmakers gave voters plenty to think about. The question now is: Will Hoosiers remember Bosma's version of this session's history, or Long's?

Copyright 2016 Journal Media Group. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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