June 25, 2021

Summer Study Committees Lead To Mixed Results

first_imgBy Abrahm HurtTheStatehouseFile.comINDIANAPOLIS— A summer study committee spent hours last year examining Indiana’s alcohol laws and one of its recommendations, sell booze on Sundays, became law.But the committee’s recommendations alone didn’t deliver the votes in the General Assembly needed for the Sunday sales bill. An agreement between two powerful lobbying groups,the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers and the Indiana Retail Council, provided the push to change the law.“I think certainly, thanks to our efforts, we were certainly able to raise its visibility,” Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council, said. “I think that combined with the endorsement by the code revision committee and the agreement between us and the liquor stores all played a part.”Summer study committees tackle a range of complex and controversial issues, but often the recommendations lead nowhere. While some see the value of taking time to study difficult issues outside of a legislative session, to others it becomes a way for lawmakers to put off making hard decisions.Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said these committees are beneficial for long-term studies on topics like criminal justice reform but that does not always happen.“You can recommend a summer study committee in part maybe because it’s a tough issue and you don’t want to take a position, at least not now,” he said. “You can recommend it and if it actually gets to a summer committee you may have only postponed the discussion. Often times, however, as a sop, somebody will put something into a summer study committee, and it never gets granted.”This year, summer study committees will be examining issues that include sports wagering, the Department of Child Services and sexual harassment policies for legislators.The committees are often viewed as a tool for creating new legislation, but Dr. Laura Merrifield Wilson, professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis, said that has not been a recent trend.She said in the case of gerrymandering, they talked about the issue and discussed potential policy, but ultimately it did not really have an impact.“It gives legislators kind of this neat little way out where they can say, ‘Oh, but we talked about that issue,’ and they can tell constituents they’re discussing it,” she said. “Even though policy change has not actually occurred and discourse is not the same as legislation.”The head of last summer’s alcohol commission, former State Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, said she thinks there is a real need for summer study committees to create recommendations.Former State Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield“During the session, things move so very quickly and you really don’t have time to get as much in depth and information that you need on a lot of issues,” she said. “If summer study committees are handled right and the chairman really digs deep, they can provide committee members with a lot of valuable information.”Gard was preparing for a second year of examining Indiana’s alcohol laws when she was replaced Wednesday with former state Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, made the announcement Wednesday, giving no reason for the decision, except to say that Davis would prove to be a strong leader.The recommendations from study committees sometimes lead nowhere.Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana was hopeful that the commission addressing the issue of gerrymandered legislative districts would lead to redistricting reform. The panel, led by a retired state Supreme Court justice, developed recommendations that were quickly shot down in the General Assembly.In February, for the second year in a row, Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, killed a redistricting reform bill that would have established redistricting standards for congressional and state legislative districts.Smith said the topic needed more time and study, while fellow Republicans cited the pending lawsuits at the Supreme Court as reasons not to act on the legislation.A year earlier, Smith refused to hold a vote on a bill that would have created a nonpartisan redistricting commission to redraw state and congressional districts. Then, too, he said the issue needed more study.“I think the subject has been vetted as deeply as it can be, but Rep. Smith is opposed to considering any redistricting reform, and he offered that as an excuse,” said Ted Boehm, the former Supreme Court justice who chaired the Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting in 2016.Smith’s communications staff did not respond to a request for an interview.Boehm said he is generally skeptical of summer studies, but he said the redistricting commission was an unusual case.“It was essentially really composed of people who might actually come up with a reasonable report from a balanced point of view,” he said. “But in this General Assembly, those things aren’t going to get anywhere because the General Assembly is pretty skewed heavily in favor of essentially non-centrist positions.”“I’ve been around the Statehouse working as a lobbyist since the mid-1980s and I do think that in earlier years these recommendations carried more weight,” Vaughn said.Boehm said summer study committees can have real value such as research on health needs in various types of urban and rural environments.“I think they work if there really is an issue that requires extensive canvassing from experience in other states or some otherwise real research values to it,” Boehm said. “But sometimes they really want to study something that is essentially a policy question where most of the members of the General Assembly already know what they think about it.”Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img

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