Yesterday I testified before the State Senate Corrections, Civil Committee on Senate Bill 399, a proposal by Senator Mike Young (R-Indianapolis) to address excessive fines being imposed by traffic court judges, such as is occurring in the Marion County Traffic Court on the east side of the City.
All the people who testified on the bill spoke in favor of it. This included Larry Landis, head of the State Public Defenders Council. Several were ordinary citizens who came to the podium to tell horror stories of what they experienced in Marion County Traffic Court, including a young mother who was made to nurse her baby standing up standing in the hallway while she waited 5 hours to be called for her hearing. She had 3 $150 tickets, including for expired registration, improper placement of license plate and unsafe lane change. She actually won the expired registration issue, and then said the judge refused to take evidence on the other two issues, finding her guilty and increasing her fines to almost $1000.
Members were stunned and outraged by the stories of how the Marion County Traffic Court is being run. Several Indianapolis-area senators signed on to be co-authors of the bill. It passed committee without changes. Only one Senator voted against it.
Although I used to work in the State Senate and have for years followed the state legislature much more closely than our local city-county council, that renewed experience with our legislature opened my eyes. Although the Indiana General Assembly is routinely derided as being incompetent and bought for with lobbyist dollars, it is still light years ahead of our Indianapolis City-County Council.
The experience yesterday really opened my eyes on how completely dysfunctional Indianapolis city politics has become. Those Indianapolis-area legislators were greatly concerned about how their constituents were being treated in Traffic Court and were very interested in taking action. On the other hand, I know several members of the Indianapolis City-County Council were notified of the problems of treatment of people in Traffic Court. Even after the horrid treatment of these mostly Indianapolis residents hit the media, not a single member of the Indianapolis City-County Council has publicly expressed concern about how their constituents were being treated.
The difference between the State Senate and the Council can be summed up in one word: leadership. Most state senators see themselves as leaders in the community and consider taking action when they perceive a wrong. They don't believe that they've been elected to rubber-stamp the agenda of the Governor and they exercise independent judgment. The Council, on the other hand, acts mostly as a rubber-stamp for the Mayor's agenda and is direly lacking in leaders, people who are willing to speak out on behalf of their constituents when speaking out is contrary to the official position of the Mayor's Office or might ruffle the feathers of other elected officials or the elites who run this city.
It was an eye-opening, pleasant experience. Mock our General Assembly all you want, it is still light years ahead of the Indianapolis City-County Council in terms of competence and leadership.
How exposing of our apathetic city-county council! Thank you, Mr. Ogden.
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