Two weeks to go in the Indiana General Assembly’s current session, and what do Hoosiers have to show for it?
A long and divisive debate over same-sex marriage. Repeated attempts to allow guns on school property. Alcohol at the state fair. More efforts to restrict abortion rights. A likely tax cut for business owners – at the expense of schools and local government.
Not an impressive record. There’s still time to produce meaningful legislation that will improve Hoosiers’ lives more than cursive writing instruction, but lawmakers are struggling to stay on task. Just last week, Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, attempted to amend a bill to allow employers to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion – at the height of an uproar over a discriminatory measure approved by Arizona lawmakers. His amendment followed one pushed by Rep. P. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, that would have permitted charities and private universities that contract with the state to use religion-based employment guidelines. State contractors are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, disability or ancestry. House Speaker Brian Bosma wisely spiked the amendment, but not before the measure drew the attention of USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the Advocate, the leading national publication for gays and lesbians.
The disparaging publicity certainly does nothing to promote Indiana as an open and welcoming state for potential employers or employees.
Hoosiers themselves aren’t feeling so great about their state. The just-released Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index finds Indiana 40th in the nation on residents’ perceptions on financial security, access to food, shelter and health care, and other measures. The survey found a strong correlation between Gallup’s job creation, economic confidence and underemployment indexes, each of which found Indiana ranked in the middle or lower half of the states.
Poverty is growing in the state. From census data, the Working Poor Families Project finds Indiana ranks 18th in the nation for the number of female-headed low-income working families. As of 2012, there were 235,831 low-income working families in the state, with 91,703 headed by working mothers.
While demands have increased exponentially over the past several decades, state policies do not reflect the reality of low-income working families. The broken rungs on the ladder to economic mobility have resulted in too many working families working harder for less, said Jessica Fraser, program manager for the Indiana Institute for Working Families.
Efforts by Indiana lawmakers could improve well-being measures and the state’s poverty rate. In the waning days of the session, legislators could:
Improve access to health care by expanding Medicaid, as the Indiana Hospital Association recommends. (The association’s president, David Leonard, writes of this issue on Page 12A.)
Support job creation with employee-friendly measures rather than legislation marking the state as intolerant.
Improve schools by supporting research-based methods, not by continued cuts to funding.
There’s still time for lawmakers to emerge from the session with a record of improvement. Step up – show Hoosiers and the rest of the nation that you’re committed to making Indiana a better home for all.