By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS — After House Speaker Brian Bosma’s mother died last week, her funeral memory page was filled with harsh words — from comparing Bosma to Nazis to saying he’s un-Christian — causing him to kick off the 2018 legislative session calling for civility from lawmakers on their social media pages.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, announces the House of Representatives is partnering with the Indiana Association of Resources and Child Advocacy during the 2018 legislative session. In Indiana, nearly twice as many children are in foster care system than there are available foster homes. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli, TheStatehouseFile.com
“I refuse to participate in the long spiral of uncivil conduct in political life that seems to emanate from D.C. in all directions,” the Indianapolis Republican said. “I refuse to participate, but not everyone in this building agrees. Some of you encourage incivility, encourage misrepresentation and I would only encourage you to stop.”
Bosma spoke to members of the House of Representatives Tuesday to prepare them for the upcoming session and encourage them to lead by example as part of the annual Organization Day. The minority leader will give his speech on the first day of session — Jan. 3 — but, at this time, it isn’t know who that’ll be.
Minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, announced Sunday he will step down from his position to focus on his family. Democrats are expected to choose a new leader later this month.
“You [Pelath] have been an inspiration on how our majority and minority work together,” Bosma said as he thanked Pelath for his service.
Afterward, the Senate convened for the first time during the session to talk about their goals. Senate leaders said they plan to tackle the opioid crisis and create new workforce development programs.
Both goals align with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2018 agenda released earlier this month.
“I’m encouraged by Gov. Holcomb’s creation of the drug czar,” said Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne. “This is an issue that will be a burden on all of our members of society and we have a special responsibility to do as much as we can do.”
Long said he also looks forward to working with the governor on his workforce development plan.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, touted the goals of the Senate Democrats outlined last week, which also includes tackling the drug epidemic and working on workforce in addition to passing a hate crime bill and raising minimum wage.
Before the House and Senate briefly gaveled in, advocacy organizations tried to catch the attention of lawmakers with press conferences, rallies and speeches about different issues from foster families to redistricting.
Advocates for the Central Indiana Alliance Against Hate joined hands at the Statehouse Tuesday highlight that Indiana is one of just five states without hate crimes law that protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, race and religion.
“We are not going to apologize for sounding like a broken record — it is time Indiana joins the other 45 states to recognize bias crimes,” said Terry Curry, Marion County prosecutor. “There are particular crimes that we as a country, we as a state, need to take seriously.”
During the 2017 legislative session, a hate crimes bill failed. It would have allowed Hoosier judges to consider enhancing criminal sentences based on whether a crime was committed because of a victim’s religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender.
Adding hate crimes legislation is a key focus of the Senate Democrats for the upcoming session.
Indiana Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers, and for many years have not been fond of other’s efforts to create an independent commission to draw the new districts after the census.
That brought Common Cause Indiana to the Statehouse to urge lawmakers to make redistricting reform one of its top priorities in 2018 and to pass legislation to create a citizen redistricting panel.
“Too many legislators have put partisan interests above the public interest when it comes to redistricting,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director at Common Cause Indiana. “We need more former and current political leaders using their influence to convince lawmakers to do the right thing.”
A 2014 study by the Social Science Research Network said Indiana’s House districts are some of the most gerrymandered in the country. The districts are redrawn every 10 years by whichever party holds the majority, allowing them to draw the lines in a way that makes seats uncontested and nearly guarantees incumbents victory.
Members of the House of Representatives choose a charity each year to give back to throughout the session. This year, lawmakers are focusing on foster families.
“We have too many children across Indiana who are waiting for a foster or adoptive family,” Bosma said. “We need more loving homes to bring safety, stability and hope to children and adolescents who have nowhere else to turn.”
The bipartisan philanthropy project partners with the Indiana Association of Resources and Child Advocacy — a group that serves 4,600 Hoosier children in foster homes, group homes and treatment facilities to improve their lives and match them with families.
The 10-week legislative session begins Jan. 3.
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.