INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mitch Daniels started his work week with praise for legislators who passed some big items on his wish list and a poke at some lawmakers for “side issues” he said he sidelined.
Meeting with reporters Monday, Daniels said he already has seen payoff from the most contentious issue of the legislative session that ended in the wee hours Saturday: the so-called “right-to-work” bill outlawing labor agreements that require workers to pay union dues.
Daniels said three companies already have decided to locate or expand in Indiana because of the legislation. He said 31 other companies have expressed direct interest in the state because of the bill that was passed and signed into law in February.
“I probably underestimated how important an addition to our already excellent business climate [right to work] was going to be,” Daniels said.
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, who led House Democrats on a series of walkouts to stall the bill early in the session, responded with his own assessment: “We made ‘right to work for less’ the law of the land in Indiana, sending our state on an express ride to the bottom where we can compete with Nevada on job losses, Mississippi on low pay and China in worker injuries and deaths.”
While Bauer said the 2012 session should leave Hoosiers wondering why lawmakers even bothered to show up, Daniels was more upbeat about the last legislative session he’ll see as governor. Term-limited, the two-term governor will leave office in December.
Daniels said the Legislature’s decision to put another $80 million into funding full-day kindergarten was a major bipartisan accomplishment – though he took some credit for it anyway.
“This has been an eight-year endeavor of this administration,” Daniels said of the increased funding. “In 2006, about one in seven 5-year-olds had access to full-day kindergarten. It’s now six out of seven, and it will soon be universally available in our state.”
Also on Daniels’ list of his legislative priorities granted by the GOP-controlled House and Senate: the phase-out of Indiana’s inheritance tax; the adoption of a ‘credit creep’ bill aimed at capping the number of credit hours needed for a college degree; an increase in compensation for victims of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse; and the passage of a statewide smoking ban that had more exemptions than what Daniels wanted.
He bemoaned the fact that he didn’t get some things on his wish list, including local government reforms that would have virtually eliminated township governments and replaced county commissions with a single county executive. He did, however, get legislation aimed at reducing both conflicts of interest and nepotism at the local government level.
He dismissed some of the issues that earned headlines during the session, including a failed bill targeting a specialty license plate granted by the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles to an organization that supports gay and lesbian youths. When asked if changes were needed to how specialty license plates are awarded, Daniels said: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
Asked by a reporter what he thought of some the “crazy” legislation that was filed this session, Daniels laughed. He said there were “side issues” he quietly worked to sideline this session. He didn’t name what those side issues were, but there were a series of bills that Republican leaders killed within their own caucus: They included bills to legalize switchblades and to allow silencers on hunting rifles, and legislation that would have allowed the teaching of creationism in public schools.
Daniels said he was undecided on one issue: Whether he’ll sign legislation that gives Hoosiers the right to use physical force against a police officer if they believe the officer is illegally entering their home. Police and prosecutors opposed the bill, fearing it will escalate volatile situations into violent ones.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1, had yet to arrive on Daniels’ desk Monday morning. It was among a flurry of bills passed late last week as legislators raced to finish before their mandatory end date of March 14. Daniels will have seven days to decide to sign or veto the bill after it’s officially delivered to his office by legislative leaders.