House Democratic Leader Pelath calls for common-sense solutions to Hoosier challenges

January 5, 2016 Scott Pelath

For immediate release:
Jan. 5, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS – Below are the remarks made by Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath as the Indiana House of Representatives convened today for the 2016 session of the General Assembly:

Thank you, Mr. Speaker and members of the House. It is good to be with you today.

Welcome back, and Happy New Year, everyone.

My remarks today will be brief and to the point, much as I expect this session to be. I know countless bills will be filed on matters that are of interest to someone. However, Indiana’s economic future and this abbreviated session compel us to act on three pressing matters.

The first is our economic circulatory system of jobs, goods, and services—Indiana’s state and local roads. In this case, no proclamations, press conferences, or pie charts will tell us what is plainly evident to casually observant motorists: our infrastructure is breaking. At best, it is not a selling point to those looking to do business in Indiana. At worst, it is hazardous.

Common sense action is in order.

Unlike complex matters that involve human beings, solutions involving fixed, inanimate objects need not be complicated. They require will, comprehensibility, and clear explanation.

We’ve proposed a justifiable, understandable, and straightforward solution to our road dilemma. Quite simply, if you pay a tax at the gas pump, every cent of those tax dollars would go to fix your road or local street.

What I learned since then is that citizens are dismayed to find out this is not already the case. Until now, the lion’s share of our sales tax on gasoline has been used to pad our accounts, which in turn has been used to fund corporate tax cuts, various bailouts, and other spending decisions. It also allowed the Administration the comfort to reject getting our own money back from Washington. None of these past decisions, which I will not re-debate here, are justification for denying our economy existing resources that serve all Hoosiers.

I am gratified that both sides of the aisle agree we need to do something. It is helpful that diverse voices have added local roads to the discussion. I also am pleased that the Governor, the House Democrats, and the Senate and House majorities articulated various plans and offered them up for critique. That is a good start.

In fairness to all sides, however, I wish to add a cautionary note. There are points in history—and some members of this Chamber, including me, have been through them before—where new revenue can be considered. In my experience, those situations require clear executive leadership. The Governor has to go across Indiana and make the case. And with respect to our present road crisis, I am not sure we enjoy executive enthusiasm.

Secondly, before discussing new revenue, we first have to use the dollars we’ve already taken from the People. If much of it is merely being banked away in an account… well… the storm clouds are bursting and the rain is starting to fall. We will not generate new income for the public good if the basic economic needs our state and its hundreds of communities are unmet.

Right now, the People will understand us employing the dollars they’ve already paid. But when it comes to new taxes, perhaps a dazzling presentation will assuage fears and inspire broad and jubilant consensus. Candidly, we are not there yet.

Next, our schools and their reputation constitute our second major economic task.

I implore you, Mr. Speaker, and your fellow leaders: Let’s take a break from mind-numbing school debates. The state needs a reprieve from a few chairs trying to fix past errors through a new round of confusion for children, parents, teachers, and superintendents.

Last year alone, the General Assembly passed twenty-four new laws affecting classrooms. Over the past four years, we’ve endured dozens of education bills containing hundreds of complicated and baffling provisions. That’s not conservative. That’s enough.

Folks are fatigued. Give them a break.

Until the people render another opinion on this decade’s wholesale school changes, let’s instead focus on how to avoid having D’s and F’s stamped on our entire state. We all know this condition was caused by continual tinkering with classrooms, and not because schools are faring particularly better or worse. Let us hold folks harmless for the over-exuberance of a few, and do it without complicating the issue.

It’s also time to carefully plan for the demise of ISTEP. We know a brand hit when see one, and “ISTEP” is joining the words Edsel, ValuJet, and Enron in the annals of soured products. It’s time to pull the plug in favor of something less sensational and more functional. Let’s return these tests to being the boring diversions that they are, so our teachers again can dedicate their energies toward the joy of science, reading, and critical thinking.

Let’s first stop doing harm by continually disrupting a key economic pillar of the state. Plainly fix the most immediate dilemmas without doing a single bit more than intended.

Finally, our state’s economic future demands that we attract new Hoosiers and retain current ones of all kinds. If you have dreams for a better future, we want you here in Indiana.

Already, our civil rights statute has engendered much discussion in the post-RFRA era. I will submit to you three options for handling these issues, along with a recommendation.

The first option is to do nothing. As you already know, this course will quell none of the debate, answer none of the questions, and do nothing to modernize our state’s image. Battles will resume another day.

The second option is to do a half-measure. In some ways, this approach may be harder than the first, because it requires more explanations of why some merit protection and not others. Again, battles will continue inside and outside our chamber, and Indiana’s image will remain a question mark.

The final option—which I recommend—is to add four words and a comma to Indiana’s civil rights statute. Protect Hoosiers for their sexual orientation and gender identity—period. Fully treat our LGBT citizens as the friends, neighbors, family members, and coworkers that they are.

I recognize that for some of you, this change might violate longstanding points of view. But a decisive amendment to our civil rights law will make the questions go away. It will fully heal our state’s image in the modern world by ensuring equality and fairness. And if you’re unsure it’s the right thing to do, at least embrace an end to the whole thing.

I believe there could be a bipartisan coalition in the House to pass this simple change, which would be the right one for Indiana’s future. And if you’ll accept advice from me, I also believe that the future Indiana Republican Party would be stronger for it.

While choosing a course of action, I join with Speaker Bosma on one key point. In this chamber, let us seek to best articulate our own views and even our strong criticisms without ascribing labels to each other. As tempting as it is, we often cannot pretend to know what is in another’s heart. Let us as best we can critique policies on their merits without assailing personalities.

In closing, let’s not forget that this is Indiana’s bicentennial. Two-hundred years is a length of time that deserves reverence.

If we were standing in the House chamber in 1816, imagine if we looked back another two-hundred years—to 1616.

King James I was our sovereign. It was the year that William Shakespeare died, and Pocahontas arrived in England. Captain John Smith published of a description of our land, the Dutch first mapped the Delaware River in North America, and a panel of monks denounced the idea of a stationary sun as absurd, after which Galileo was allowed a meeting with Pope Paul V to explain himself.

A lot changes in two hundred years. Our state has grown inconceivably since Jonathan Jennings became our first governor, and by 2216, it will have grown inconceivably again. It is our responsibility not to fear the future, but to expand its blessings while promoting the common welfare in our own time. If we act prudently, we will have played our part in building a pathway that is the best for the most.

House Democrats stand ready to accept this responsibility, and we look forward to the tasks ahead. Let’s get to work.