EDITORIAL: Legislature must focus on unfinished work

2013-05-01T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Legislature must focus on unfinished work nwitimes.com
May 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

On two issues -- sentencing reform and local government reform -- the Indiana General Assembly took a step in the right direction this year, but not far enough.

The General Assembly did well in finally rebalancing the scales of justice after five years of hard work. Over time, as legislators add new crimes to the books and enhance penalties for others, the sense of perspective gets distorted. This happens in every state.

So House Enrolled Act 1006, not yet signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence, adds two levels of felonies to ensure similar crimes are treated the same way and the most serious offenses get the toughest penalties.

Felons serving time in prison will be required to serve at least 75 percent of their sentences, up from the current 50 percent.

For many nonviolent crimes and other low-level felonies, sentencing options include serving time in county jails, community corrections, home monitoring and other alternatives to prison.

The revised criminal code doesn't take effect until July 1, 2014, to give the criminal justice system time to adjust.

However, legislators were so intent on cutting state spending that they left unresolved the issue of how to pay for inmates who will serve time in county jails or other alternatives to the state prison system. That still must be resolved next year.

In another case of work left undone, Indiana lawmakers will review the structure of county government this summer.

This is unfinished business from former Gov. Mitch Daniels' legislative agenda.

The study under Senate Enrolled Act 475, signed into law by Pence, will look at replacing the three county commissioners with a single county executive. The study will also examine giving the county council legislative and fiscal powers, as is already the case in Lake and St. Joseph counties.

These were two top recommendations in the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform's 2007 report. The General Assembly has yet to adopt them, however.

In looking at how to make county government more efficient, the state lawmakers should compare county government to municipal government. The county board of commissioners is, in essence, a three-headed mayor.

This study should recommend making county government more like municipal government to increase accountability and effectiveness while reducing cost.

The Legislature's unfinished business on sentencing reform and local government reform should be dealt with promptly, not allowed to linger.

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