Commentary

Indiana bills that never caught a rabbit, and ain’t no friend of mine

January 16, 2024 7:00 am

Indiana legislators have filed hundreds of bills for the 2024 short session. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

For nearly half my life, I have had my eye on the Indiana General Assembly. Looking back on all the things I could have watched during the bulk of the last three decades, I’m deeply saddened by the choice I made. I could have chosen sunsets, priceless art, or what social media now knows is a favorite in my house, Golden Retriever and Dachshund videos. 

But not Hound Dogs. Nope. The best thing about a hound dog is the song. And that one isn’t flattering either. Even when The King himself sang it. 

Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, is famously known in Indiana politics as an Elvis impersonator, a tragically embarrassing vocation. Now, I love Presley as much as anyone, but imitating him should be limited to the privacy of one’s shower. Those doing it in public are likely to do other dumb things. Like file House Bill 1334. 

To quote this masterpiece, HB 1334 actually says: “An employer may require an immunization only if the employer respects the employee’s right to refuse an immunization.” No, that’s not edited. No, I took no dramatic or creative freedoms with the actual words on the paper. 

To listen to a podcast version of this column, go here.

In case any employer or contractor out there is curious whether this innovative policy idea applies to them, the answer is yes. Unless, drum roll, you are the federal government. It turns out the Indiana legislature is not the boss of them.

Something that could make this mess of a bill seem sane would be comparing it to Senate Bill 187, filed by Senator Gary Byrne, R-Byrneville. That is also not a typo.

This is the entire bill: “A public transportation agency shall not implement free or reduced fares on a general, primary, or municipal election day.” This one surprised me a little, because I thought the bill would prevent people from getting a free ride specifically to vote. What the bill says is that on days legally defined as Election Day, public transportation agencies can’t provide free rides or reduced fares to anyone, in route to anywhere. 

Since studying this one sentence bill long enough to understand it only took a few seconds, I was immediately distracted by how it would enhance people’s lives in Byrneville, from where Senator Byrne hails. The “town” is actually an unincorporated area in Harrison County, and likely doesn’t have a “public transportation agency.” It once had a post office from 1851 to 1906, but I don’t know if there once was free horse and buggy service to it. 

Arika Herron of Axios Indianapolis wrote about SB 187 last week, when Sen. Byrne said the bill is about fairness for Hoosiers. Specifically, he said, “The rural parts of those counties can’t get a free ride.” What he left off of that sentence was the word, “ever.” There is no public transportation in deep, rural Indiana on Election Day, or any other day. That’s part of the charm of rural living: no traffic. 

Even worse bills

But the worst bills of this legislative session aren’t humorous, or merely humorless. They are hateful. 

House Bill 1291, filed by Rep. Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne, attempts to erase the word “gender” from the Indiana Code and replace it with “biological sex.” He wants to legally cancel all transgender people in Indiana. If his bill were to pass, as filed, transgender people would no longer exist in the state. The bill creates definitions for other things too. Words like “woman,” “man,” “girl,” and “boy,” would now all mean what the legislature says they mean. 

Maybe if transgender Hoosiers have no legal standing for who they are, they won’t want to live here anymore. Is that the goal? Statistically speaking, how many people will we begin pretending no longer exist? According to data gathered by IUPUI from Gallup and the Williams Institute, about 27,600 people. An enormous number of people who aren’t being protected enough already.

Even when this bunch seemingly attempts to provide assistance to people in need, they can’t help but throw in a little harm to go with it. A prime example, House leadership wants to protect the 18,000 members of Indiana’s Jewish community by specifically defining “antisemitism” as religious discrimination, while overtly ignoring the 40,000 Muslims in the state who are suffering every bit as much. This incongruence is insulting to Hoosiers—as if they think we are all as ignorant as they are. 

Luckily, legislators will have time to learn up before enacting any of these awful ideas. 

All of these bills are all designed to hurt people. And if I could give this legislature one assignment for positive change, The King himself might instruct the same thing: “Don’t Be Cruel.”

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Leppert
Michael Leppert

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com.

MORE FROM AUTHOR