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Cost-benefit unbalanced on drug tests

A year after his criticism of the Girl Scouts brought him national attention – not the good kind – Rep. Bob Morris has maintained a low profile in the General Assembly. None of the five bills he authored received even a committee vote. But he did speak out publicly last week on the bill to subject welfare recipients to drug tests.

Morris is a co-author of House Bill 1483 – one of 31 co-authors added on the same day in February. Others include Republican Reps. Phyllis Pond, Dan Leonard, Matt Lehman and Dennis Zent. Rep. Rebecca Kubacki had signed on earlier.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has estimated the state will reduce Temporary Assistance to Needy Families payments $1.5 million by cutting off recipients who test positive and those who are found ineligible.

But the costs of the testing program are estimated to top $2.7 million – which means the constitutionally questionable bill, if it becomes law, will cost Hoosiers about $1.2 million, most of it for administrative expenses.

In other words, Morris and his fellow conservative Republican reps want to increase government bureaucracy for a program that will cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

Rookie success

State Rep. David Ober from Albion has been a little more successful than Morris. Though six of the seven bills the freshman rep authored never made it out of committee, the House did pass his bill making it easier for the Ports of Indiana to buy goods without competitive bidding. His bill raises the level that triggers a bidding process from $25,000 to $150,000.

Indiana has three ports – one on Lake Michigan, two on the Ohio River.

All of them are far from Ober’s district.

Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany, though, lives near the Jeffersonville port. Clere had reached the House’s self-imposed limit of 10 bills individual representatives could file, and some House observers believe less-experienced lawmakers were invited to “author” bills on behalf of more senior lawmakers who had hit the limit.

Another freshman, Rep. Ben Smaltz of Auburn, saw one of his bills passed by the House: A stricter punishment for violating the open container law. The day it was filed, Rep. Ed Soliday was listed as co-author. Soliday – chairman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, which approved the bill – had also hit his 10-bill limit.

Back to Ober, the House also adopted his two resolutions, one honoring the 150th anniversary of Kendallville and the other honoring the 60th anniversary of the Albion Lions Club.

Helmke honored

Paul Helmke – former mayor, former president of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence and now a professor at IU-Bloomington – will be in the city on Wednesday to accept the Father Tom O’Connor Light of Christ Award.

The award is in honor of Father Tom O’Conner, pastor of St. Marys Catholic Church from 1970 until his death in 2004.

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981. He can be reached at 461-8113 or by email,