INDIANAPOLIS | State Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, skillfully handled a controversial guns-at-schools proposal Wednesday during his first meeting as chairman of the House Public Policy Committee.
House Bill 1048, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, originally would have made it a misdemeanor, instead of a felony, for a person to bring a firearm into a school, on school bus or on school property.
Lucas, who unsuccessfully tried last year to require at least one person in every school be armed at all times, said licensed handgun carriers shouldn't face a potential felony conviction, and the corresponding loss of their Second Amendment rights, just for stepping on school property while armed.
Well aware Lucas' idea likely wouldn't fly with prosecutors, school leaders and most lawmakers, Dermody worked with representatives of those groups, and Lucas, prior to the committee meeting to hammer out a compromise.
Before Lucas began speaking about his proposal, Dermody offered an amendment. Bringing a gun into a school or on a school bus would remain a felony, but a Hoosier licensed to carry a handgun could keep a gun out of sight in his or her locked vehicle while on school property.
Dermody said the revision would make it easier for parents who regularly carry guns to drop their children off at school, or even pop into the building to meet with a teacher without having to park off school property.
With that, a 60-seat committee room filled with people prepared to oppose the legislation mostly endorsed it. Even Lucas, who still doesn't think it should be a felony to bring a gun into a school, said he was willing to accept Dermody's changes.
Afterward, Dermody said lawmakers working together to find the best results is how he plans to lead the Public Policy Committee. That panel oversees some of the state's most contentious issues including guns, alcohol, gaming and abortion.
"That's what committees are here for — to work through the process and discuss the bill, so when it's on the (House) floor it's in good shape," Dermody said.
The committee did not vote on the guns-at-schools legislation Wednesday. Dermody wanted to be sure committee members were satisfied with the measure before having to decide whether to send it on to the full House.
"I never liked when you had to vote a bill outright after hearing it," Dermody said. "You want to sleep on it. You want to have answers to other questions that come up and take your time. You want to do it right. Especially in my first year here, I'm going to be very cautious to make sure we send bills out of here in good shape."
The top committee Democrat, state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, who was first elected alongside Dermody in 2006, said he believes Dermody will be an "outstanding" chairman.
"He's open to input from the minority party," GiaQuinta said. "We've already had a couple lunches together and laid out the ground rules that both sides could agree on going forward."
Committees are the workhorses of the Indiana General Assembly. All legislation filed by lawmakers is assigned to a committee.
The committee chairman decides what proposals will be heard. No measure can advance to the full chamber for a final vote until it wins committee approval.