INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
The state Senate unexpectedly shot down a bill on Monday that would have
made Indiana’s elected schools chief an appointed position - raising doubts
over whether a key part of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legislative agenda is dead
for the session.
The bill by state
Sen. James Buck, a Kokomo Republican, failed on a 23-26 vote after 17
Republicans joined Democrats to oppose the measure, which would have allowed
the governor’s office to appoint the head of the office.
The vote came
shortly before the House approved a similar Republican-sponsored bill on a
68-29 vote, though the fate of that effort is uncertain and Speaker Brian
Bosma said the Senate defeat “raises issues.”
“I think this is
the right time,” said Bosma, who sponsored the House bill. “I know not
everyone in the building agrees - not everybody across the hall apparently
rules state that “whenever a particular bill ... receives a constitutional
majority of votes against its passage (26 or more nays), that exact language
or substantially similar language shall be considered decisively defeated
and shall not be considered again during the session.”
Democrats said the
rule was unambiguous and means the bill - and others like it - should be
dead for the year.
A spokesman for
Senate President Pro Tem David Long said the Fort Wayne Republican, who
supported the measure, was looking into his options.
For decades, both
Republicans and Democrats have undertaken efforts to change state law so
that the superintendent would be selected by appointment, lawmakers say. But
each time those efforts have been defeated.
Opponents say the
proposal is undemocratic because it takes choice away from voters.
“I trust the people
to make this decision,” said Senate minority leader Tim Lanane, an Anderson
Democrat. “I trust all of the voters of the state of Indiana ... more than
just one person.”
Indiana is one of only 13 states to elect the leader of the state Department
dominate state government and hold supermajorities in both chambers. But
they were given ample motivation for the proposed overhaul after former Gov.
Mike Pence, now the vice president, fought bitterly with former schools
Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who lost her re-election bid in
Pence wanted to
have more control over the state board of education, but vehement resistance
from Ritz, who chaired board meetings, posed an obstacle. When he tried to
push a bill in the Legislature that would have removed her as the leader of
the state board of education, it was Ritz who drew sympathetic coverage.
Holcomb made making
the superintendent an appointee of the governor’s office a major goal for
current legislative session.
“I firmly believe
that making the state superintendent of public instruction an appointed
position is a long-overdue, widely-supported and common-sense change that
will benefit students, educators and our state in the future - and it’s a
change I will continue to support,” Holcomb said in a statement.
Both the Senate and
the House measure would take effect during the November 2021 election and
would not cut short the current term of Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, a
Supporters of the
idea, including Sen. Brandt Hershman, a Lafayette Republican, said
opposition to the bill amounts to “embracing the status quo as the only
reasonable way of doing things.”
“I trust the
people, too,” Hershman said. “I trust them to elect a governor who focuses
on education as a key part of his or her platform. And if they don’t, I
suspect they won’t be elected.”