With 2020 just a couple of weeks away and the governor, Indiana lawmakers and even some county and local governments spelling out their legislative agendas for 2020, I figured I may as well jump into the mix and offer up a few thoughts on what I think lawmakers should also pursue next session. By the way, I have no pride in ownership, so if you’re a government official feel free to adopt these as your own. By the way, some of this I pulled from “Black Agenda” for Indianapolis that I unveiled earlier this summer.
Start drafting a plan for legalization.
Medical and recreational marijuana is coming to Indiana, eventually, so lawmakers should start the process now of working out what the “infrastructure” should look like for its sale and distribution. There are least 33 states that have some form of legalization so why wait to map out a game plan? Indiana should get off the pot so it can get on the pot.
Decriminalize possession for less than an ounce.
Marijuana may still be illegal, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue to clog up our jails with low-level non-violent offenders. The law should be changed so that simple possession under less than an ounce is at best a ticket with a minimum fine.
Make Indiana K-12 public school state employees.
For some strange reason, the more vocal advocates for increasing teacher pay can’t seem to grasp the concept that a teacher’s salary is set by the school board and whatever agreement they reach with the collective bargaining unit. So since that’s what these people think, then make it so. Make Indiana’s more than 61,000 teachers state employees. And the state can have full responsibility for determining salaries and because they are state employees, collective bargaining won’t be necessary and school districts can simply be pass-throughs for pay and administering benefits. And the state can eliminate all collective bargaining for educators since the teachers now work for them and teachers can be paid accordingly.
In the alternative of making teachers state employees, the state should give school districts the direct power to levy an income tax to pay their employees more money or rework the state’s tax increment finance laws (TIF) to allow more funds to flow to school districts and allow those dollars to be used exclusively for teacher pay.
Create TIFs for local road funding.
Just like tax increment financing can be used for economic development, there’s no reason why it can’t be used for local road projects as well. A portion of the sales tax on gasoline that’s sold in certain neighborhoods (particularly those designated economically depressed) can be designated specifically for street and sidewalk repair in those areas.
Change county/local income tax distribution system.
One of the big issues in Indiana is that when counties collect income taxes the money goes back to the county where the person lives, not where it’s earned. That should be changed so the income tax will stay in the county where it is earned. However, realizing that there are a lot of bond projects that were financed with those dollars, the best thing to do would be to give counties the ability to increase their COITs, but the increased revenue will stay in the county where the income is earned and that way, past projects are paid for, but locals get the revenue they need for day to day operations.
Tougher penalties for crimes committed in “economically challenged” areas.
Since people who live in low-income areas are more likely to be victims of crime than other parts of the city, the state should work with local “economically challenged public safety zones” (which can be based on census data) and increase the penalties for offenses committed in those areas.
Creative post-conviction sentencing.
The state should work with the criminal justice system and implement a program where non-violent, first-time offenders are sentenced to school as part of their probation. A judge under state law (IC 35-38-2-2.3) as part of probation, can order a defendant to “Work faithfully at suitable employment or faithfully pursue a course of study or career and technical education that will equip the person for suitable employment.” This will be cheaper than incarceration, and the long-term result is a productive citizen who is repairing homes and automobiles instead of breaking into them.
Increase development in economically challenged areas
Encourage developers who receive state and local tax incentives also to build, where feasible, in select areas that have economic challenges.
Work with local governments to protect longtime homeowners from skyrocketing increases in property tax assessments due to gentrification by freezing their assessments in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification until the home is sold or transferred.
These are just a few thoughts. Feel free to do with them what you will.
Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an attorney, political commentator and publisher of IndyPolitics.org. You can email comments to him at email@example.com.