DEBATING THE ISSUES: Indiana State Reps. Terry Goodin, left, and Jim Lucas, right, and State Sen. Jim Lewis, center, spoke with residents Saturday during the Third House forum in downtown Madison. The legislators shared their views on a variety of subjects currently under consideration in the General Assembly. (Staff photo by Brett Eppley/beppley@madisoncourier.com)
DEBATING THE ISSUES: Indiana State Reps. Terry Goodin, left, and Jim Lucas, right, and State Sen. Jim Lewis, center, spoke with residents Saturday during the Third House forum in downtown Madison. The legislators shared their views on a variety of subjects currently under consideration in the General Assembly. (Staff photo by Brett Eppley/beppley@madisoncourier.com)
Courierarea residents had a chance to speak with their state legislators Saturday in a return of the Third House forum series.

About 20 people attended the event at the Red Bicycle Hall to meet with Republican state Sen. Jim Smith, Republican state Rep. Jim Lucas and Democratic state Rep. Terry Goodin. 

Discussions touched on redistricting, roads funding, education and the environment.

On a local level Goodin was asked about the status of “Laura’s Law.”

House Bill 1518 was authored by Goodin to honor the memory of Laura Russell, who was murdered by her husband in October 2016 in Jefferson County. If made into law, the measure would allow prosecutors a second chance to persuade judges to issue arrest warrants in domestic violence cases if one was not issued after an initial hearing.

Goodin said that the House courts and criminal codes committee chairman Thomas Washburne denied a hearing for the bill, effectively killing it.

“Like most times, Indiana’s being reactive instead of proactive,” Goodin said, vowing that he will bring the bill back this summer.

“We’ll keep pushing it because there’s people’s lives at stake here.”

On other issues:



Redistricting

The morning began with a question about House Bill 1014 – a measure to create a nonpartisan commission to potentially redraw general assembly and congressional districts. The bill was introduced in the House by two Democrats and two Republicans.

Goodin said he supported the bill as current districting allowed some legislators both on the left and right to only appeal to certain voters, leaving Congress with no moderates. Lucas and Smith weren’t as quick to support the measure. Lucas said it gave him pause anytime a bill is brought forward to potentially change the state Constitution.

Smith, who has not seen the bill on the Senate side, said he’d like to take a closer look at the bill when it gets there. He then offered his opinion on the 17th amendment – which established the popular election of state senators – to illustrate his concern over the bill.

The 1913 amendment “changed the course of our nation forever,” he said.

“Because the U.S. Senate is not there to represent people, it’s there to represent the state – that’s why each state gets two,” Smith said.

The amendment then made senators “a celebrity” he said.

In the end, for any redistricting commission, Smith said he worried about fairness and impartiality.

“Once we start changing the way we do these things, there are generally unintended consequences.”



Education funding

When the topic of education funding and “school choice” was addressed, Lucas took the lead with his argument for placing choice into the hands of parents. The conversation soon turned into a friendly debate and occupied much of the 90-minute session.

“It shouldn’t be an us-versus-them argument,” he said. “That issue’s been settled.”

“I have yet to have anybody realistically, reasonably or logically answer: Why shouldn’t a tax-paying parent have a choice in their child’s tax-payer funded education?”

Lucas and Smith both said they support the voucher system that gives parents  a certain amount of money per child to use at whatever school they choose — private, charter or parochial.

“We’re up here talking bureaucracy and state running education and Terry’s a superintendent,” Lucas said, noting Goodin’s education background. “It’s foolish for somebody like Senator Smith and me to tell Terry how to run his school corporation.”

“Why don’t you go tell the rest of your friends that?” Goodin asked in reply.

“If I give you a voucher for you to send your child to whatever education facility is available, I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Lucas said. “You’re in charge.”



Roads

Smith told Jefferson County Commissioner Norbert Schafer that he shared his concern over a recent road funding bill that included an “enormous tax increase.”

Smith went on to say he figured the bill would see a “slew of amendments” before it moved forward in the legislature.

“When we get new dollars, the first thing executives all across the state do is build new roads,” Smith said, noting that in his experience money isn’t often used to actually maintain roads. Then, he said, that problem is passed on to newer representatives and senators.

All three men agreed that there should be some kind of way to keep road money and taxes in road repair funds – not used elsewhere.

“I think there’s simply a trust issue,” Smith said.

The men also debated toll roads in Indiana, with Goodin the most opposed, calling a gas tax “an unjust tax on Hoosier workers and families.”

Goodin suggested Indiana residents be exempt from potential tolls on state roads and leave visitors from other states to pay.

In the forum’s final minutes, the group addressed the state’s lack of hate crime legislation, TIF zones, and the environment.

Lucas and Smith said they “don’t believe in hate crimes,” and Goodin called himself a “‘tweener,” and said that a middle ground should be found that gave prosecutors the “right tools to work with.”

On TIF zones, all three men agreed that while they could be good for business, they often last too long and aren’t used for their original intended purpose of bringing economic development to otherwise blighted areas.