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Military trial rights, machine gun converters among bills debated


Military trial rights, machine gun converters among bills debated

Mar 15, 2023 | 6:30 am ET
By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Military trial rights, machine gun converters among bills debated
Various bills passed Senate committees or were amended on the floor Tuesday. (Indiana State Flag)

Senators on Tuesday spent nearly an hour debating a change to a controversial proposal barring Indiana National Guard members from demanding a military trial for smaller offenses — but ultimately advanced an unaltered bill.

Lawmakers also moved bills applying existing machine gun laws to plastic converters, establishing a camera pilot program for road construction zones and tweaking some court-ordered pregnancy support payments.

Senate sides with National Guard in right-to-trial dispute

Indiana National Guard leaders want to nix guard members’ right to demand a military trial in exchange for ditching jail time as a non-judicial punishment. But some say the change would leave members vulnerable.

Senators spent about 50 minutes Tuesday debating one proposed change to House Bill 1076, which would preserve the right to request a court-martial. Some argued the right placed too heavy a burden on the guard, and that members could take advantage.

“The Indiana National Guard does not have a judge. They do not have the staff. They do not have the lawyers. They do not have a courtroom. They do not have the budget to do these,” said the bill’s Republican Senate sponsor, Sen. Aaron Freeman of Indianapolis. “So the practical effect is: they know this [court-martial] is not going to happen.”

Military trial rights, machine gun converters among bills debated
Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis (From the Indiana Senate Democrats)

But guard leaders haven’t asked Gov. Eric Holcomb to convene any general courts-martial — the most serious kind, which only he can call under current law — since 2017, reported WFYI. And there have been zero requests for special or summary courts-martial, which the guard’s leader can convene, in that same time period, amendment author Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, added.

“I think that [the court-martial right] should stand and then we should figure out how to put the resources in place on the very, very, very, very, very rare occasion that it should ever be needed,” Hunley replied.

Noblesville Republican Sen. Scott Baldwin, a veteran himself, said keeping the right would deteriorate the guard’s discipline. He said lawmakers should trust guard leader Dale Lyles to “appropriately handle” allegations serious enough for courts-martial.

Otherwise, Baldwin said, soldiers could simply ask for courts-martial and kill the non-judicial proceedings against them.

“Listen, we had something in the Marine Corps called the Lance Corporal Mafia, the Lance Corporal Underground,” Baldwin said. “Some of these guys — I was one of them — signed up for 36 months as a lance corporal E3, we would do anything to game the system. That’s just how we operated, man.”

Hunley reminded her colleagues there is no proof the bill is needed and “… If the fact that there’s the ability to have checks and balances in our system is scaring commanders into not offering punishment, then there’s an issue there.”

Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, likened the bill to taking away the right to request a jury trial for misdemeanor offenses.

Four Republicans — Buck, Eric Bassler of Washington, Vaneta Becker of Evansville, and Sue Glick of LaGrange — joined Democrats in voting for the amendment. It failed 13-34.

The bill will be up for a final vote beginning Thursday and could be law before the end of the week.

Lawmakers take aim at machine gun converters

Machine gun conversion devices are illegal on the federal level, but a Senate committee on Monday advanced a bill adding them to the state’s definition of a machine gun.

The small plastic switches, which can be 3D-printed, can turn a semi-automatic gun into one that can fire continuously as long as the trigger is down. 

Military trial rights, machine gun converters among bills debated
Rep. Mitch Gore (Photo from Indiana House Democrats)

“These devices are being used with more and more regularity by the criminal element to increase the deadliness of their shootings,” House Bill 1365 author Rep. Mitch Gore, D-Indianapolis, told the Senate’s corrections committee.

“It’s our law enforcement officers who are being outgunned and it’s our communities who are being caught in the crossfire,” Gore concluded. He’s also a captain with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Gore said that making the converters illegal would add accountability for those who use them. Lawmakers also floated the idea of adding extra penalties for the devices.

The majority of witnesses spoke in support of the bill. The Indiana Public Defender Council’s Zach Stock opposed the measure, arguing that – given ongoing cases, existing federal law and global trade – the courts and federal government should play a larger role in handling the surge in devices.

The committee advanced the bill unanimously, 8-0. It now goes to the full Senate for potential amendments and final vote. It mirrors similar language in a Senate public safety bill.

Construction zone cameras see success

The Senate transportation committee advanced a bill 8-1 Tuesday that would allow the Indiana Department of Transportation to use license plate cameras to enforce speed limits in highway work zones.

Bill author Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, has backed the bill in the House for several years — to little avail until this year. It passed the chamber in a 70-28 vote last month, with some Republicans split on the issue.

The GOP-dominated supermajority has long resisted efforts to use camera technology for highway speed violations or passing of school buses.

Pressel’s latest proposal – which now heads to the Senate — would create a pilot program for speed cameras. The technology would ticket drivers going more than 11 mph over the speed limit in an active work zone. Only four cameras could be used statewide and construction workers would have to be present.

A driver would receive a warning for an initial work zone speed limit violation. Violators would then face a $75 fine for a second offense and a $150 fine for a third offense and beyond.

Court-ordered payments also move

Senators also tweaked a bill broadening the pregnancy and childbirth expenses for which fathers can legally be on the hook. House Bill 1009 is a post-abortion ban attempt to better support Hoosier mothers.

Military trial rights, machine gun converters among bills debated
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis. (Courtesy Indiana Senate Republicans)

Indiana law already allows court orders to include half of costs for prenatal and postnatal care, delivery, and hospitalization for children born out of wedlock. The bill would add two more options: “other necessary expenses” related to birth, and “postpartum” expenses.

Freeman successfully offered an amendment adding the word “reasonable” to curb committee concerns that mothers could take advantage of the court-order to purchase unnecessarily expensive versions of necessities.

And courts would have to make men undergo blood or genetic testing to ensure they’re the biological fathers before they can be required to pay up, under another successful Freeman amendment.

The bill will be up for a final vote beginning Thursday.

Capital Chronicle Reporter Casey Smith contributed to this report.