Chesterton Tribune

 

 

State legislators: It matters when voters reach out; session could end March 11

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By LILY REX

Approximately 15 people attended a recent Town Hall event where Senator Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) and State Representatives Chuck Mosely (D-Portage), Pat Boy (D-Michigan City) and Lisa Beck (D-Hebron) visited Chesterton to talk about their progress in the short legislative session.

The tenor of the event could be summed up with one of the final audience questions they answered: is it a waste of time to call and email legislators? All gave a resounding “No.”

The 2020 short legislative session must end by March 15, per state law, but Tallian said this year’s session could end as soon as March 11, so voters should act now on matters of importance to them. Tallian and Moseley agreed one email or call seems futile, but they have influence in numbers. “It’s like votes,” Tallian said. “You think your one doesn’t matter, but once you get thousands or millions, that’s the impact.”

Before addressing that question, each legislator highlighted their work this session, and much of it was indeed spurred by or involves community input. For example, Beck and Moseley said they have their noses to the grindstone after finding out that worker misclassification is a well-known but rarely spoken-of problem in Indiana’s construction industry. Also, Boy said she introduced legislation after hearing concerns from parents of teenagers at a local NAACP meeting.

At the beginning of the event, audience members said they wanted to hear specifically about beach access and other environmental issues, as well as the South Shore Line’s double-tracking project. Two issues--HB 1414, proposed legislation that would put a hold on the decommissioning of coal plants until May 2021, and misclassification of workers--produced lengthy discussion.

Coal and Beach Access

Audience members were concerned HB 1414 is a coal bailout, but Moseley, Beck, and Beck’s husband, president of USW Local 12775 Vernon Beck, gave a different perspective. HB 1414, they said, is more a stopgap to ease the transition to no coal. Anyway, Tallian said she thinks the aspects of the bill that offered coal industry subsidies or protections won’t make it into the Bill’s final version.

Both Reps. Beck and Mosely said experts are telling them Indiana can’t cut ties with coal tomorrow--the infrastructure to make the most of alternate energy is not there yet. Despite that, Moseley said Indiana is moving away from coal, and HB 1414 is a “holding pattern” while a State task force figures out the most affordable path to a sustainable source of energy that doesn’t cause rates to skyrocket. “If there was no coal today, there’d be no steel tomorrow,” he added.

Vernon Beck said from the audience he’s learned from working at NIPSCO that Indiana is one of the highest-use coal states in the country, but wind and solar power sources get put on the grid first because federal government subsidies make it cheaper than coal. Still, the issue is complicated by the fact that 32 Indiana counties have passed ordinances that impede the construction of wind farms. “There are so many issues. It’s not just an issue of flipping a switch,” he said.

“[The Bill] gives an avenue to try to help workers who are going to lose their jobs,” he added. Along those lines, Rep. Beck said she’s looking to add an amendment to HB 1414 ensuring that coal and other utility workers would be top priority for the state Next Level Job Training program as their industries experience a major shift.

On beach access, Tallian reported both a bill challenging the landmark Indiana Supreme Court case Gunderson v. Indiana that decided the Lake Michigan Shoreline is public up to the ordinary high water mark (HB 1031) and a bill set in motion to try to codify the decision (SB 325) have stalled. The good news is the court decision stands regardless, Tallian and Moseley said.

A Westchester Township resident asked who’s behind the attempts to restrict beach access and if they are non-residents. Tallian said a group of beachfront homeowners hired a lobbyist, and, “Some, not all, are non-residents.”

Misclassification of workers

Moseley and Beck reported last year a summer study session on misclassification of workers--the act of labeling full-time workers part-time or seasonal to save on taxesŃwas productive. The goal is to create a taskforce to compile data on the phenomenon to learn how best to combat it.

“We heard the largest contractor in the state testify that he’s put at a huge disadvantage by other companies who break the rules,” Beck said, and that local prosecutors find cases of such tax fraud hard to prosecute because the workers affected are already vulnerable. They need work, and sometimes aren’t even being paid, she said.

“The volume of the fraud that’s being committed, people down state want to pretend it isn’t happening, but these people at this table are fighting it,” Beck said. She added worksite safety is a concern for contractors willing to cheat on their taxes. “An unscrupulous contractor who’s not going to pay taxes is also not going to do OHSA training.”

Porter resident Chad True was concerned how legislation about misclassification would affect the housing market and how Beck thinks the General Assembly can bridge the gap between enforcing the rules and keeping housing affordable. Tallian said the potential economic impact of housing costs following enforcement isn’t the primary concern of the proposal. Beck said legislators are looking at other ways to make housing affordable, which Tallian said is done elsewhere in a variety of ways.

Beck said the current system is just not fair to contractors who do the right thing. Moseley added, “This is about making a level playing field.”

Progress This Session

The legislators also highlighted such issues as a continued failure to raise teacher salaries and improving voting access and campaign finance reporting, among others.

Tallian reported she’s unhappy with the General Assembly’s lean toward paying cash for infrastructure instead of funding teacher raises when Indiana has a budget surplus. Moseley said he’s looking forward to proposed expansions to funding for transportation-oriented developments (TODs), especially in light of the South Shore Line’s Westlake Corridor project entering engineering and Double-Tracking getting a recent greenlight to move into engineering and design.

Moseley also proposed a bill that would extend first responder death benefits to school resource officers; it has passed the House, and Tallian said she expects it to pass in the Senate. Moseley proposed another bill to allow local political candidates to file campaign finance reports online, which he hopes will make filing more efficient and improve public access to reports.

Boy proposed legislation to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote and has advocated for voters to be notified if they are purged from the rolls. She also discussed legislation she proposed that would have leveled hefty fines on companies that don’t notify the public and relevant water companies after chemical spills, following a fish kill in the Little Calumet River precipitated by a malfunction at Arcelor Mittal in August 2019.

Boy said her environmental notice bill didn’t get a hearing, “but it got a lot of attention, which is what I wanted to do.” Boy said the water company found out about the spill at Arcelor Mittal via media inquiries. “Arcelor Mittal said they tried and couldn’t get through to the water company, but the media got through, so there’s a problem somewhere.”

 

Posted 3/4/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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