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Control is the Republican anthem at the Statehouse

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Control is the Republican anthem at the Statehouse

Feb 23, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Niki Kelly
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Control is the Republican anthem at the Statehouse
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Republican lawmakers that control the House and Senate are pushing to extend their grasp. (Niki Kelly/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

This might age me, but one of my favorite songs from childhood was Janet Jackson’s “Control.” And I think the Republican supermajorities running the Indiana General Assembly could use it as their anthem:

“I’m in control, never gonna stop
Control, to get what I want
Control, I like to have a lot
Control, now I’m all grown up.”

Control is definitely the theme for the 2024 session. And the GOP seeks more of it, in various ways.

First, the legislature wants more control over the executive branch.

Last year, lawmakers passed a bill reforming administrative rule-making and even requiring state agencies to bring fees and fines to the State Budget Committee. That work is continuing this year with Senate Bill 4, which has further fiscal and rule oversight provisions. The language is pretty insider baseball but essentially is the legislative branch flexing over the executive.

The Senate also moved a bill this year to limit how long a governor can impose a disaster declaration — a leftover battle from COVID-19.

Local government in the crosshairs

The next area of control comes over local communities.

Already this year, the General Assembly has approved legislation invalidating 21 local ordinances on pet sales. Lawmakers are also considering barring local health departments from requiring septic inspections when a property transfers ownership.

This preemption of local government isn’t new — remember when they said local units can’t ban plastic bags?

But lawmakers save most of their attention for Indianapolis. This year there have been bills passed to micromanage whether the city can post “no turn on red” signs; block dedicated bus lines for mass transit and end an economic district slipped into last year’s budget. The latter bill — after hours of largely supportive testimony — has gotten edits and preserves the district; but the House must agree to those changes to send it to the governor.

Education attention

The third area of control is education – both K-12 and postsecondary.

Language in Senate Bill 202 would’ve given appointments to higher education boards of trustees to legislative leaders. That provision was removed Wednesday in the House, but the bill has not been finalized and could return. The bill also aims to make conservatives more comfortable on college campuses and impact tenure with prescribed disciplinary procedures.

In the K-12 realm, legislators have pushed control by mandating the posting of materials, book lists and more. This year, they’re moving to require school districts to have a policy on cell phone use by students. Of course, districts can already do this, and I know students who have had phones taken away for inappropriate use (ahem, my daughter). The bill certainly doesn’t hurt anything, and no one opposes it, but is it necessary?

Perspective

Gregory Shufeldt, associate professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis, has written several articles on preemption and notes it isn’t new or novel to Indiana. And Democrats do the same when in power.

“Republicans might ideologically today oppose the federal government and prefer more local control on issues. Likewise, Democrats might be more predisposed to want the federal government to address issues — but at the end of the day — parties pursue whatever path is available to them to achieve partisan and ideological aims,” he said.

But sometimes Republicans are passing these laws even though their own counterparts are in control, such as Gov. Eric Holcomb in the executive branch.

It seems the longer the supermajorities in the House and Senate exist the more extensive this move for control is. And frankly, there’s not much left that isn’t in their grasp.