Hoosier lawmakers bring session to an end

Heat at the start, quiet at the conclusion

March 12, 2012

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, speaks to reporters at the start of the session in January.

Back in early January, on the first day of the Indiana General Assembly session, hundreds of pro-union organizers greeted lawmakers as they came to work in Indianapolis.

It was loud, boisterous and heated as unions geared up for a fight with Republican lawmakers and tried to prevent a right-to-work bill from going through.

That fight was over weeks ago – with Republicans proving to be stronger by approving right-to-work legislation, which is now law in the state of Indiana.

The law prohibits companies from requiring employees to join a union as a condition of employment, even if a collective bargaining contract already in place calls for it.

But by Friday’s final day of the session, gone were the noise, shouts and political threats. All that remained were tired legislators looking to make last-minute changes to several bills.

The session officially ended at 2 a.m. Saturday, two hours after the required midnight close.

In the final day, lawmakers passed a bill that gives Hoosiers greater authority to resist illegal police entry into their homes. The law is in response to a ruling last year by the Indiana Supreme Court in the Barnes vIndiana case. The ruling suggested residents could not refuse police entry into their homes, whether police officers came with a warrant or not.

Randy Head, a Republican from Logansport, Ind., says the legislature needed to address the issue because the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling was too broad.

“Bottom line for me under Barnes is that it says if a police officer is off duty and breaks into a house, clearly unlawfully, and steals something from that house or hurts someone in that house or sets fire to that house,” Head told Indiana Public Broadcasting, “the homeowner has to say, ‘Officer, stop or I’m going to sue you later.’”

But some lawmakers say the law complicates the issue even more for both the public and police.

The legislation says residents can only use force against police if they feel their life is in danger.

In the Barnes case, police in the far southwestern Indiana city of Evansville responded to a domestic abuse case. When police arrived, the estranged wife of a man thought to be harming her refused police entry into their home.

Police entered despite the objections of the husband, who claimed all was well.

In other action, lawmakers passed a bill that prohibits public smoking in certain places, but there are many exceptions. Smokers can still light up in casinos, bars, private clubs and veteran organization facilities like VFW halls.  The law is viewed as so weak, however, that the American Heart Association pulled its support of the law.

House speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, says a lot was accomplished this year.

“Safe to say we’ve seen the strongest reform-minded General Assembly, at least in institutional memory and perhaps in recent history,” Bosma said.

Twenty members of the Indiana General Assembly, including longtime Democratic Northwest Indiana legislators Dan Stevenson of Highland and Chet Dobis of Merrillville, are retiring from state politics.