For whom the bell tolls: Indiana General Assembly at halfway mark

INDIANAPOLIS

Hundreds of bills are dead at just past the halfway mark of the legislative session, with none killed more vividly than a measure to legalize chemical cremation.

State Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton, did his best to convince colleagues that a process using lye to dissolve much of the human body is a cheaper, greener way to dispose of remains than setting them on fire or sinking them into the ground in a concrete vault.

The part about disposing of leftover liquid matter down the drain proved fatal. It only took one legislator — casket company owner Rep. Dick Hamm, R-Richmond — to liken the process to flushing a loved one down the toilet to trigger a bipartisan wave of revulsion.

Chemical cremation went down, crashing with many other bills at the mid-session deadline for legislation to cross from one chamber to the other.

Dead, too, is an effort to end one of the last vestiges of Indiana’s blue laws — the one that still bans sales of carryout alcohol on Sundays.

Despite a massive, well-funded effort by Sunday sales supporters — including Kroger and Wal-Mart — the legislation got bogged down with language mandating new and costly restrictions. Among other things, it would have required the grocery and big-box stores that now sell alcohol six days a week to put their liquor behind a counter, cordon off beer and wine displays, and ban booze buyers from self-service check-out lanes.

Rather than letting the bill get voted down, author Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, pulled it from the line-up, knowing that it may need to age another year before returning to the Statehouse.

Sex — or maybe the fear of it — killed a bill aimed at increasing vaccination rates for human papillomavirus vaccine. The HPV vaccine protects teenage girls from cervical cancer, but it’s controversial because HPV is sexually transmitted.

The measure wouldn’t have required teens to be vaccinated but instead set a goal to increase Indiana’s immunization rate to 80 percent, which is four times the current rate. It went down to defeat with help from Gov. Mike Pence, who said that’s a matter better left to parents.

Also on the long list of late legislation is a bill to let communities adopt a food and beverage tax, like the one granted to Indianapolis and surrounding counties when the Colts wanted a new stadium.

Lawmakers remain gatekeepers of the tax, deciding one community at a time who can have it.

Gone, too, is a measure to put cameras on school buses to deter drivers from illegally passing. It was opposed as a case of government spying gone too far.

A Democratic bill calling for a raise in Indiana’s $7.25 minimum wage was gone much earlier — dead from the outset in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. A bill to kill the prevailing wage earned by construction workers on public projects marched ahead instead.

Finally, legislation to make Indiana students show that they know how government works also died.

That bill, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, would’ve required high school graduates to pass the same civics test given to aspiring U.S. citizens.

It’s just a one-hour test, but even that’s too much in the recent din of controversy over the state’s standardized test, ISTEP, which has grown in length.

The Republican Senate, worried about test-fatigue, put that one to rest.

Maureen Hayden is the statehouse bureau chief for CNHI newspapers. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.

Maureen Hayden is the statehouse bureau chief for CNHI newspapers. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.