South Bend Tribune. March 12, 2021.
Editorial: Racial tension at Indiana Statehouse is sad. But it’s not shocking
The recent dispute at the Statehouse between Black lawmakers and their Republican colleagues drew statewide attention and calls for racial sensitivity training.
But smaller incidents that occurred over the past several years - incidents that generally didn’t attract as much attention - offer some context.
The conflict came during a floor debate on a bill, related to the South Bend Community School Corp., that raised concerns about discrimination. According to reports, several Black lawmakers were shouted down and booed by Republican lawmakers. The passionate exchange spilled over into the hallway outside the chamber after several members walked out in frustration. A confrontation erupted between Reps. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, and Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, a member of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus. Several other lawmakers were involved in trying to separate the two.
In response, the Black caucus called for mandatory implicit bias training. And House Speaker Todd Huston urged members “show proper respect” and address issues in an “appropriate dialogue.”
It’s not something that should happen at the Statehouse - or in any workplace, for that matter. It’s also not the first time that some legislators have been accused of racial insensitivity at best. In a recent report, The Indianapolis Star listed a number of times that Republican lawmakers come under fire for targeting or mocking underrepresented groups. They include:
• In 2016, Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford, retweeted a photo of Donald Trump protesters shown with a meme saying, “Democrats haven’t been this angry since we freed their slaves.” Nisly later apologized, calling it a “mistake” and saying “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”
• In 2018, in a three-year-old private Facebook discussion, Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, said “racism is not real,” the Journal Gazette reported. He also called the white male “the biggest minority class in America.” After the comments surfaced, Zay said that racism “is not a topic that should be taken lightly” and that he should have been “more careful with my words.”
• Last year, state Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, posted a photo on Facebook of black kids dancing with the words “We gon’ get free money!” Lucas, who said he doesn’t see color, explained he created the meme to protest federal bailouts that have created more debt for future generations. He happened to find a picture of black kids dancing in the meme generator, he said, but could have just as easily chosen a photo with white kids. After he was removed from two committees and demoted in another, Lucas said he wished he hadn’t posted the image.
If you consider these and other incidents, the confrontation at the Statehouse - the accusations of racism, the adamant denials - shouldn’t be surprising. History tells us that such racial turmoil doesn’t just happen, doesn’t appear out of thin air. And, most importantly, if not properly addressed, the problem doesn’t just disappear. So, be sad and outraged about the racial disruption in the state capitol, and the deeply felt emotions behind it. But don’t be shocked that they exist.
Columbus (Ind.) Republic. March 12, 2021.
Editorial: Backlog of court cases concerning
While COVID-19 restrictions have loosened, the dockets for some of the state’s busiest courtrooms are already filling up for 2022.
Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush halted all in-court jury trials statewide in mid-December before lifting the order on March 1. During that time, cases piled up across Indiana - including in Bartholomew County, where local judges were already only conducting essential court matters.
Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin said that her court used to set 15 to 20 cases on a jury trial day, but now estimates it will be 33 to 40 on average.
Most of the cases will end in plea bargains, but the likelihood of an extended jury trial - which would cause further delays - is far more likely at present, Benjamin said.
But Benjamin isn’t the only judge in the county gearing up for an increased workload.
Superior Court 1 Judge James Worton said he expects he will be presiding over at least one trial each week through June. In Superior Court 2, Judge Jon Rohde said there are only two weeks this year where a jury trial has not been scheduled, so trials are now being put on the calendar for next year.
As far as which cases get seen first, the judges will be prioritizing. Defendants in jail who have not been convicted, because they have constitutional rights, will thankfully be at the front of the line.
There’s no perfect solution to the issues the courts are facing, but continuing to delay cases because of the pandemic would be problematic for all sides involved.
Indiana Supreme Court orders led to the setting aside of fast and speedy trial requests - which are guaranteed to citizens via a clause in the Sixth Amendment - while face-to-face trials were suspended. Worton said that with so many upcoming trials, there could be issues if two defendants both want fast and speedy trials at the same time.
“We may have to prioritize whoever has been in jail the longest,” Worton said. “That means people who are not in jail who are criminal defendants get pushed down the calendar further. And that’s not even talking about civil trials.”
Health and safety precautions must remain a priority moving forward, but any new restrictions shouldn’t shut down the judicial system like it did before.
Thankfully, Benjamin and Rohde have been permitted to conduct jury selections in the spacious Nugent-Custer Performance Hall at the The Commons , and Worton’s courtroom is large enough to move small clusters of people to select juries.
The Bartholomew County Health Department is also providing guidance on how to keep any potential spread of the virus under control.
As of Tuesday, no jury trials had been held in the county. However, the Circuit Court and Superior Court 1 both said there’s potential of having one as early as March 23.
Hopefully no more delays will be needed, and the courts can start to catch up on their cases. In the meantime, those awaiting trial will continue to wait for their day in court.
Anderson Herald-Bulletin. March 11, 2021.
Editorial: Don’t eliminate gun licensing
If a bill now pending in the Indiana Senate were to become law, gun permits would soon be a thing of the past.
House Bill 1369 passed the Indiana House of Representatives last month by a vote of 65-31. If approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, the law would take effect in March 2022.
Let’s hope it doesn’t.
The bill would eliminate the state’s current licensing procedure, allowing anyone not specifically prohibited from carrying a firearm to do so without a license.
Supporters say current law punishes law-abiding citizens and does little to keep criminals from obtaining weapons. People shouldn’t need a license, they say, to exercise a freedom that is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Many police agencies oppose the measure. They say eliminating the screening that is part of the permitting process would put more guns on the streets and make communities less safe. It’s just a fact, they say, that without proper screening, more people who should not own guns will have them.
Indiana already has among the least restrictive gun laws in the country. Hoosiers don’t need a permit to own a handgun, just to carry one.
To obtain such a permit under current law, an applicant must be at least 18 years old and go through a registration process that includes fingerprinting and a background check.
The bill’s supporters say that’s just too much hassle for the average citizen to endure, but the fact is, Indiana law enforcement agencies turned down nearly 4% of applicants last year because of red flags uncovered in those background checks. With more than 120,000 applications, that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,800 people who were denied a license last year.
Without a licensing process, every one of those applicants would have a gun today.
There is one other issue with eliminating handgun permits. These licenses generate more than $5 million in annual revenues. That’s money the state uses to pay for the training of police officers. Without that revenue, of course, the state would have to find another source of funding.
It’s undeniable that criminals will find ways to get their hands on weapons with or without a licensing procedure.
Still, the fact that law enforcement is hard doesn’t mean society should give up the effort.
Indiana should do all it can to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. Eliminating handgun permits is a step in exactly the wrong direction.
The Senate should reject this bill, and if it fails to do that, Gov. Eric Holcomb should not hesitate to exercise his veto.
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