Scott Tibbs
blog post
January 23rd, 2006

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Bills before the State Legislature

Following is a commentary on three bills before the Indiana Legislature.

1. Don't feed the trolls

In filing his bill to increase penalties for disorderly conduct at funerals, State Senator Brent Steele is giving the Westboro Baptist Church extremists exactly what they want.

The WBC are attention addicts. Their gimmick of picketing funerals of homosexuals was not getting as much attention as it used to, so they needed a new way to get their fix. They found it. WBC also wants to be "persecuted" so they can proclaim their own righteousness. This bill will only convince them that they are right.

I like and respect Senator Steele, but I disagree with this legislation. I am concerned with the First Amendment implications of the bill, especially since the good senator's stated intention is to eliminate all protests at funerals. The reason we have a First Amendment is not to protect the speech that everyone agrees with or approves of, but to protect the speech that is universally repulsive.

2. Cigarette tax

Governor Daniels is supporting an increase in the cigarette tax. One of the stated reasons for this is to reduce teen smoking. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase cigarettes now, although teens will always find a way around it. A better way to reduce teen smoking is to step up enforcement of existing law.

Realistically, I do not think this is about reducing smoking. State government is looking for more revenue, and "sin taxes" are easier politically than an across-the-board tax increase. I do not think, however, that the government should be using the tax code for social engineering. I expect that the cigarette tax will face an uphill battle in the legislature, with many people committed to opposing any tax increase. This is a good thing. Government does not need more money.

I am concerned about how this tax will impact small businesses on the border with Michigan and Ohio. There are several tobacco shops in Steuben County, for example, that take advantage of Indiana's lower cigarette taxes as people come across the border from Michigan to purchase cigarettes at Indiana's lower tax rate. Will this tax increase cost Hoosier jobs?

3. Covenant restrictions

Matt Pierce has introduced a bill to ban covenant restrictions for movie theatres. This is a purely political bill to please the "historical preservation" activists in Bloomington, Indiana. The fact that the bill specifically targets movie theatres and no other covenants makes that obvious.

I am not a huge fan of covenant restrictions on property, but I recognize them as a legitimate outgrowth if the free market. Kerasotes did not want the competition from an upstart theatre at the Von Lee, so they put a restriction on the property. Anyone who purchases this property does so with the full knowledge that they are limited in what they can do with that property. No one's rights are being violated.

Unfortunately, the Von Lee has become an eyesore because "historic preservation" advocates have prevented it from being used for something else, like an upscale bar. It is a blighted area in much the same way as the former Burger King property is, despite being prime real estate. Why should one of the most valuable locations in the city or county be a blighted area? Time passes and things change. It is time to let the Von Lee go.