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League of Women Voters Held Open Forum With State Representatives

State legislators representing the Monroe County area gave their views on more than a dozen pieces of proposed legislation at a forum last Saturday.

The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County, which holds monthly legislative updates when the state legislature is in session.

State Senator Mark Stoops, as well as representatives Bob Heaton, Peggy Mayfield, Matt Pierce, and Eric Koch participated. The group was asked first about HJR-3, the measure to ban same-sex marriage in the Indiana Constitution. The question came from Bloomington resident Trish Kerle, who is also a host on the WFHB program Interchange.

“It is illegal to destroy a gun in Indiana, but it’s not illegal to limit a woman’s right to choose, nor to limit the rights of two adults to marry if they are the same gender,” Kerle said, “My question is to the representatives who voted in favor of HJR-3. What specific evidence do you have that my marriage to my partner will be detrimental to you or any of your constituents?”

Like many other issues, the support for the marriage amendment broke down along party lines.

The three Republicans — Heaton, Mayfield and Koch — all voted for the amendment. Heaton said he only wants to give voters the chance to decide on the issue in a referendum, which is required before an amendment can pass.

“As far as with you and your partner, I don’t care what two individuals do in their home,” Heaton said, “I’m being consistent with my message in that I will let the people to vote for it, or not, come this fall.”

Kerle tried to press Heaton further, because he didn’t provide the evidence she asked for, but the moderator stopped her.

Koch and Mayfield also declined to answer the question, saying it didn’t apply to the current debate over HJR-3.

“This question is not what the debate surrounding HJR-3 is about,” Koch said, “We’ve had a definition of marriage since the 80’s, that’s current law. The discussion surrounding HJR-3 is whether the people of Indiana should be able to use a mechanism given to them in their constitution to prevent that law from being overturned by the judicial branch, by unelected judges. So, the policy has been in place since the 1980’s, and that’s not what this discussion is about.”

Mayfield added that the process the amendment is going through is the topic of the discussion, not its merits or lacktherof.

The marriage amendment has passed the House of Representatives, but a portion of the text was removed. Unless the Senate changes the language back to its original form, the measure won’t be on the ballot next year.

The legislators were also asked about a bill that would require drug testing for people receiving benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Pierce opposed the bill, and he said similar measures in other states have been expensive and have led to very little discovered drug use.

“The saddest thing for me, is that I think the bill is based on an attempt to drum up the worst stereotypes people have about those on public assistance,” Pierce said, “Most people on public assistance are working hard, and they are the exact people my Republican friends like because they are out working hard and not just waiting for a hand-out. They are trying to get ahead.”

Heaton defended his support for the bill, saying he recently surveyed his constituents about the issue.

“The question was, ‘Do you believe Indiana, like some other states, should submit random drug testing as a requirement in receiving government assistance,” Heaton said, “81 percent said yes, and I know you don’t like to hear that, but that’s just who I represent and who I vote on behalf of.”

Karen Green-Stone, from Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan, asked the group about Medicaid expansion. So far Indiana has declined federal funding offered through the Affordable Care Act, which would expand Medicaid coverage to approximately 350,000 people who have incomes too low to afford insurance through the federal exchange. Stoops said the state loses millions of dollars a day by refusing the expansion.

“In a state where we have high unemployment rates still, we are actually turning our back on 30,000 healthcare and other related jobs that this Medicaid expansion would have brought to Indiana,” Stoops said.

Mayfield did not say she was opposed to Medicaid expansion, but she said she supported Governor Mike Pence’s delay in accepting the funding.

“Governor Pence made that decision early on and I think that he has a cautious approach,” Mayfield said, “I think that there is something between the broad expansion of Medicaid and maybe a more limited expansion using just HIP, and honestly I think that’s what they’re investigating and I think they need to continue that.”

HIP is the Healthy Indiana Plan, which provides subsidies for some low-income residents to buy private insurance. There is a long waiting list for the program, but Pence has proposed expanding it to cover more people.

Pierce said there are problems with that approach, but he is willing to negotiate with conservatives on the issue.

“I said I think that there are a lot of politics involved with this is because it’s an Obama program and a lot of voters don’t like Obama or the program,” Pierce said, “I think that the Governor knows that something needs to change in order to get this done. I expect something will happen before the end of the year, which is unfortunate because people won’t have coverage. It’s not tenable to be an island of the uninsured.”

The next legislative update sponsored by the League of Women Voters is scheduled for March 1 at 9:30 a.m, in the Bloomington City Council chambers.

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