May 26, 2011

Is it time for a judicial re-do?

By  Jim Banks

After a legislative session with its share of landmark policy decisions, I was eager to return home, get back to my family and my regular job and take a break from policy battles.
Unfortunately, the Indiana Supreme Court had other plans.
The outrage rolling across the state against an Indiana Supreme Court ruling has been one of the few things to unite people from different political backgrounds. With just a few simple words, Justice Steven David launched a devastating attack on individual Hoosiers’ liberties:
"We hold that there is no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers. We believe however that a right to resist unlawful police entry is… incompatible with modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence."
Contrast Justice David’s words with the actual text of the 4th Amendment:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."
I will not short change the concerns about the specifics of the case that brought this matter to the attention of the Indiana Supreme Court. Domestic violence is a serious matter and law enforcement officials must be free to protect citizens in accordance with the rights and restrictions placed on these officers by the Constitution. Unfortunately, the court’s ruling in this case will do very little to protect citizens from the horrors of domestic violence and might even open the door to abuse by some law enforcement officials.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller went on the record stating the court has ruled too broadly. Newton County’s Prosecutor Jeff Drinski issued a statement clarifying that random "door-to-door" searches would NOT be permitted in his jurisdiction. Drinski took this action after comments attributed to Newton County Sheriff Don Hartman, Sr. suggested that his officers would do so since it was permitted by this ruling.
It’s hard to believe that the court can simply decide that modern conveniences like bail, prompt arraignment and civil recourse actually trump our Constitutional rights.
The Fourth Amendment wasn’t randomly demanded by the states. Rather, it reflected an outgrowth of protection that then-colonies had already recognized in many instances in their own codes of laws. There are several examples of these colonies adopting laws protecting ordinary citizens from similar illegal incursions by government authorities.
Put yourself in the shoes of an American colonist. At the time, the Common Law guarantees enshrined in the Fourth Amendment were not a given in the colonies. British soldiers did not require justification to enter and search your home. It was just one of many examples of how property rights were not recognized by the Crown in the lead up to the American Revolution.
News articles are already circulating about law enforcement supervisors who are more than ready to flex their muscles under the new-found "freedom" granted by this court ruling.
The nature of our part-time legislature in Indiana has left many citizens feeling powerless. I’ve fielded many calls and emails from constituents who are worried that we can’t stop this dangerous ruling from being implemented. Though we don’t return to the Statehouse until next January, I am already working with other senators on drafting an amendment that will ensure our freedoms can’t be encroached by unelected state Supreme Court justices.
Governors get to select a lawyer from a group vetted by a nominating commission. We citizens get to vote to keep them or throw them out by voting to retain them for another term. How many people will have their rights trampled before then?
While in the short term I’m committed to working with my fellow conservative legislators to restore these Constitutional rights, over the long term it is clear that Indiana needs to open a debate about judicial accountability. There are a number of options on the table—perhaps giving the people a voice on these nominations by requiring the Senate to consent to these appointments is appropriate (similar to Federal judges as well as the states of Delaware and New York). Another solution used in many states might be to elect justices to the bench rather than simple appointments.
The bottom line is that Hoosiers demand greater accountability across all levels and branches of government, and this ruling throws that need into stark relief. Join me and conservative Hoosiers across the state to make your voices heard on this issue, so we can fight back and prevent this attack on our liberties from taking hold in Indiana.

Jim Banks serves as State Senator for District 17, serving much of Whitley County. Banks and his wife, Amanda, live in Columbia City where they're raising their family, active in church and community activities.

January 20, 2011

An overview of what's ahead

By Jim Banks

Passing a balanced budget and avoiding tax hikes on hardworking Hoosiers should be the top priorities for lawmakers during the 2011 legislative session, which began a little over two weeks ago at the Statehouse.
With the national recession reducing state revenues to 2005 levels, legislators should set and live within tight spending limits, just as Hoosier families, farmers and employers do every day. My goals are to prioritize education and essential services like public safety, while protecting Indiana taxpayers from recovery-killing tax hikes.
Talk among constituents clearly indicates lawmakers should also focus on fostering job creation by private employers, improving schools by putting students first and protecting voters by promoting fair redistricting. Here's a snapshot for some of this year's key issues:

Balancing The Budget, Avoiding Tax Hikes:  Legislators will be working to achieve what they hope will be a fourth consecutive balanced budget. Members of the Indiana General Assembly will be starting the budget-writing process with an approximate $500-$700 million gap to fill. This underscores the importance of having protected the $1.3 billion in rainy-day budget reserves during the last budget-writing session in 2009. We are still using those reserves.

Fostering Job Growth, Cutting Red Tape: Indiana's tax structure is the most employer-friendly in the Great Lakes region and among the top 10 nationally. State lawmakers this session must work to preserve and build on this foundation by keeping taxes low, encouraging access to capital and strengthening job-creation rewards for expanding employers. While government doesn't create jobs, government frugality and limited intervention can encourage investment and entrepreneurship. State leaders must remain committed to helping Indiana recover from the national recession faster and better than the competition.

Improving Schools, Putting Students First:  Hoosiers have historically supported providing the most funding possible for education, but are today demanding the most education possible for that funding. Concerned lawmakers, parents and educators will recommit this legislative session to further improving our schools by putting students first. Such efforts include ensuring teacher quality, holding schools accountable and providing more options for families - especially those trapped in chronically failing schools.   

Protecting Voters, Promoting Fair Redistricting: Indiana's Constitution specifically charges the Indiana General Assembly with drawing new legislative and congressional districts after each national census, so representation is apportioned fairly. Republican senators last year attempted to put into law objective guidelines that would have, whenever practical, preserved traditional neighborhoods and local communities of interest, protected minority voting rights, created simply shaped, compact districts and respected county and precinct lines. We stand publicly committed to following these guiding principles during this year's important redistricting process.
I invite constituents to give feedback on these and other issues by completing this year's legislative survey, now available at www.in.gov/Senator.Banks.
Constitutuents may also keep in touch during the session - which runs through Friday, April 29 -  by e-mail at Senator.Banks@iga.in.gov, by toll-free call at 800-382-9467 or by mail at Senator Jim Banks, Indiana State Senate, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204.

September 08, 2010

2010: The Year of the Caucus

By Jim Banks

Recently, we received the second letter in the mail from a candidate announcing their intention to run for the At-Large County Council seat I will be vacating when I begin my service in the Indiana State Senate later this year.  A third candidate announced his intention at our August Whitley GOP breakfast.  Now that we have passed the deadline for an opponent to file against me in the State Senate race, I can begin to plan with certainty that I will be vacating the County Council position I was elected to in November of 2008. 
Since I announced I was running for State Senate exactly a year ago I have had over a dozen Whitley County residents acknowledge to me they will run for my seat on the council if I am successful.  In what has already become an interesting season in political caucuses over the past few months, the Whitley County Council caucus will add more intrigue to the system we employ to choose candidates and elected officials due to vacancies.  
Our Whitley County Republican precinct committeemen have been busy.  They helped choose State Senator Marlin Stutzman as our party’s candidate to become our next Congressman in the Third Congressional District on the ballot in November.  When State Representative Matt Bell surprised many this summer announcing that he was moving on to be executive director of the Northeast Indiana Regional Chamber of Commerce, nine of our precinct committeemen helped choose Whitley County resident Kathy Heuer to take his place on the ballot to represent House District 83.  In addition, precinct committeemen from Union and Richland Townships gathered after the Primary Election to choose candidates for vacancies on their Townships Advisory Boards.
In just six weeks I will preside over the caucus to replace myself on the County Council.  All 34 of our precinct committeemen will have the opportunity to pick my replacement.  
Unlike local and national offices, I will become “State Senator” immediately when the votes are cast on Election Night, forcing me to resign from the County Council at that point.  With consideration of that and the scheduled Council meeting the morning after Election Night, I have scheduled the caucus for October 20 at 5:30 p.m. in the County Council Chamber in the Whitley County Government Building.  For those who have never witnessed a caucus, these events can become good theatre - just ask Kathy Heuer who tied her opponent after several rounds of voting.  Our 34 precinct committeemen will vote until a candidate has a majority of the votes cast.  With several candidates expected to run for the position, we could potentially vote several times.
My hope is that Whitley County residents will take note and do two things.  First, the precinct committeemen system is not perfect but it is the system we use to make important decisions when vacancies arise.  Additionally, precinct committeemen choose the party chairmen who largely determine the direction of both of our local parties.  On the Primary Election ballot in 2012, voters will have the opportunity to choose their precinct’s committeemen.  Whitley County voters should pay more attention to this position.  It is often ignored on the ballot and left vacant in many cases.  With the attention paid to these caucuses this year I hope that more people will run for these spots and more voters will take an interest in who we choose for these positions.  In cases where more than one person runs for precinct committeemen, call these candidates and ask questions about what types of candidates they will choose when given the opportunity.
Secondly, I hope Whitley County residents will pay attention to the cast of candidates who throw their proverbial hat in the ring to run for the Council position and, even though only 34 people get to make this decision, take some interest in who we choose.  Call your precinct committeeman and weigh in about your favorite candidate or simply ask questions about who they will choose.  Though precinct committeemen lists are not public record (an issue I’d like to change in the legislature next year), I’ve asked Jennifer Romano to post our Republican list in this column and she has agreed to do that.
It has been a privilege to serve on the County Council where I have learned far more than I’ve contributed.  I will do my part as one of the 34 to choose a replacement who will dig in on Day 1 to make a difference for the future of Whitley County.
Contact me any time at jim@jimbanks.us.

February 25, 2010

Put Hoosier students first

Whitley County resident, county councilman and District 17 senate candidate Jim Banks believes it is time to make sure every capable Indiana high school student who wants to attend one of our taxpayer subsidized universities has the opportunity to do so...even if that means capping the numbers of out of state students who seek to attend Hoosier colleges.

Click here to read Banks' editorial on Community Voices.