Chesterton Tribune



House passes DNR alcohol bill 58-38

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Dunes Creek on the move: As the sun rose today early visitors to the Indiana Dunes State Park were treated to the sight of Dunes Creek taking a westward route across the north face of the historic beach pavilion. The creek has cut ephemeral sand cliffs 8 to 10 feet tall. The site for the proposed private banquet center is at left.                         (Tribune photo by Margaret L. Willis)



The most surprising thing about the Indiana House’s vote on Tuesday on HB 1247--which would force the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to issue the DNR three-way permits on behalf of its state parks--isn’t that the House passed it, 58-38.

The yea votes were largely party-line: 50 Republicans joined by only eight Democrats, with four of the latter having already voted in favor of it as members of the Public Policy Committee.

The most surprising thing isn’t that almost as many Republicans voted against HB 1247 as did Democrats: 17 of the former versus 21 of the latter.

The most surprising thing isn’t even that one of the eight Democrats who did vote for HB 1247 was State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, the northern boundary of whose district is all Lake Michigan shoreline.

The most surprising thing, actually, is that one of those 38 nay votes belongs to State Rep. Tim Wesco, R-21st, a member of the Public Policy Committee which sent HB 1247 to the floor in the first place. After hearing several hours of testimony about the bill on Wednesday, Wesco expressed serious reservations about it in committee, only to return on Thursday to vote in favor of it, saying that he’d done some research the previous evening and concluded that the legislature needed to “step in and fix something that wasn’t carried out correctly in the first place.”

Wesco didn’t say on Thursday what, in his view, had gone wrong on the local level. But sometime between Thursday’s committee vote and Monday’s floor vote, Wesco apparently did yet a little more research, enough at any rate to cause him to change his mind again about HB 1247.

“I’m thinking that before the big vote he went back and looked at it again,” Jim Sweeney, president of the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, told the Chesterton Tribune today. And it’s Wesco’s second volte-face that gives Sweeney a “cautious optimism” that the Senate could in the end see its way clear to killing the bill, at least in its current form.

In fact, the sheer number of Republicans who broke party lines to vote against HB 1247--about a quarter of the caucus--Sweeney found gratifying. “A lot of people are really upset about this,” he said. “We feel it’s not just a Chesterton issue. It affects state parks and communities around the state.”

“The General Assembly will be off Thursday through Sunday, so they’ll all be home,” Sweeney noted. “We’re trying to get face-to-face time with as many senators as we can to tell them why we’re opposed to the bill.”

Sweeney did say he was stumped by Charlie Brown’s vote, both on the Public Policy Committee and on the House floor, in favor of HB 1247. “I know that Rep. Brown is getting an earful about it from his constituents.” As near as Sweeney can figure it, Brown and the seven Democrats who joined him on the floor must have decided--once the bill’s original “messiness” had been cleaned up--that making the DNR a three-way permittee would be “a good fundraising” move.

Notwithstanding Sweeney’s cautious optimism, opponents of the bill may still have a hard slog of it in the Senate, comprised as it is of 40 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Of the four Democrats in the Northwest Indiana delegation, two are currently inclined to vote against it, a spokesperson for the Senate Democrat Caucus told the Tribune today: Sens. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, and Earline Rogers, D-Gary. One, Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, is inclined to vote for it and has put his name on it as co-sponsor, while the fourth, Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, was not available today for a straw poll.

Certainly all four are getting e-mails from constituents. State Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan--and the House Minority Leader--evidently received many himself over the past weekend, some of which he took the opportunity to read on the House floor on Monday before casting his own nay vote.

Chesterton Town Council Member Jim Ton, R-1st--and a member of the not-for-profit which submitted its own proposal for the Pavilion in response to the DNR’s prospectus--had this message to the Northwest Indiana legislative delegation. “Any local legislator who supported this appropriation of the public will should assume there will be resulting political consequence,” Ton told the Tribune. “All current candidates for office should be pressed for a position statement regarding their stand on the entire project. The ‘Partners’ project is an oxymoron, because the voice of the people definitely has not been included.”

Meanwhile, one of those who testified in favor of the bill on Wednesday, Heather Ennis, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum, declined to make any prediction today about the Senate vote. She did say, however, that the gist of HB 1247--the ATC’s issuance of alcohol permits without local ABC oversight--is by no means unprecedented. Both the State Fair Grounds and Lucas Oil Stadium received their permits directly from the ATC, Ennis noted. “You can’t put the decision in local hands. Dunes State Park is a state asset and shouldn’t be subject to the peer pressure of local control. The ability of an angry mob to make people feel intimidated is overwhelming.”

“I firmly believe that the banquet center, along with the Pavilion restoration, is an excellent economic development project,” Ennis added. “Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, they all have entertainment amenities along their Lake Michigan shorelines. There’s nothing like that in Indiana and that breaks my heart.”


Posted 2/3/2016





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