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Rep. Andy Thomas' 'Sympathy Legislation' passes House 93-0

Monday, February 6, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS -- House Bill 1112, authored by Rep. Ralph M. Foley (R-Martinsville) and co-authored by Rep. Andy Thomas (R-Brazil), passed out of the House of Representatives by a vote of 93-0.

Known as the "I'm Sorry" legislation, HB 1112 would prohibit a court from admitting a communication of sympathy as evidence of liability.

"In this litigious society, medical doctors have become increasingly concerned with the way they approach families of injured victims," stated Rep. Thomas. "This legislation would allow them to express sympathy for the victim, without the possibility of legal action against them."

Currently, Indiana law allows words of sympathy, such as "I'm sorry," to be used as evidence of fault in medical matters. If HB 1112 becomes a law, courts may admit a statement of fault into evidence; however, a communication of sympathy would not qualify as a statement of fault.

If passed, HB 1112 would become effective on July 1, 2006. Rep. Phyllis Pond (R-Fort Wayne) and Rep. Bob Kuzman (D-Crown Point) are also listed as co-authors on this bill.

There are other bills that have advanced at this point in the session.

Property tax relief. Local telephone deregulation. New checks on eminent domain. More restrictions on convicted child molesters. Moving statewide ISTEP testing to the spring.

Major Moves

Bills on those and many other issues have advanced during the first half of the legislative session. But they have all been overshadowed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' "Major Moves" highway plan and the authority it would give him to lease the Indiana Toll Road to help fund numerous highway and other transportation projects.

House Republicans passed the plan without a single vote by Democrats, who say the proposed 75-year lease of the highway to a foreign venture in exchange for $3.85 billion is a bad financial deal and a leap into uncharted territory that needs more study than is possible in a session to end by March 14.

Republicans control the Senate 33-17, and Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton says the proposal's prospects in his chamber are good.

But Daniels said he is not taking passage of his top priority and the projects and tens of thousands of jobs he says it will create for granted.

"I've learned that nothing is easy, even in the case of a fabulous opportunity like this, and so I'm ready to -- and I think it's appropriate, of course -- to answer every question and visit every legislator and continue to make the case publicly," Daniels said.

Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, meanwhile, is holding out hope that the Senate will put the brakes on the plan.

The possibility of its defeat was not over, he said, "if the Republican-controlled Senate opens its minds and ears to what's going on, and sometimes they have that capacity."

Although scores of bills passed each chamber and are now before the other, some never got off the ground or were defeated during the session's first half.

A few minutes after Daniels proposed a cigarette tax increase of 25 cents per pack, the fiscal leader for House Republicans all but dismissed its chances of passing that chamber.

Daniels said he proposed it solely because higher prices would reduce smoking, especially among youth. Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said it was a noble goal, but said there was little support among Republicans who control the chamber for raising any tax. A Senate committee gave the proposal a shot, but it was killed on an 8-4 vote and there are no signs it will be revived.

The House passed a bill that would allow local governments to merge without legislative approval, something Daniels supports, but his and other proposals to give locals new taxing options to reduce their reliance on property taxes might go nowhere.

House Republicans have shown virtually no interest in the idea, and because of that, Senate Tax Chairman Luke Kenley of Noblesville -- who pushed an alternative funding proposal for local governments last year -- has said he is reluctant to force his caucus members to vote on any new plan.

Garton indicated similar sentiments.

"Whether anything will be done this year, right now is very cloudy," he said.

A bill approved by the House would provide one-time tax credits so homeowners statewide would pay about 7 percent less in property taxes than they otherwise would this year. It also would provide relief for some property owners in future years, including a 3 percent cap on rate increases on residential property.

But the tax credits this year would cost the state about $147 million, a price tag that might not be acceptable in the Senate.

Both houses have passed legislation that would remove price controls and most regulation of local phone service, and it seems likely that a compromise on the two bills will be worked out and become law.

Opponents argue that without regulations, companies will raise local phone rates and invest the money elsewhere. But proponents say deregulation will encourage investment in telecommunications services, particularly high-speed Internet, and Daniels supports the concept.

The House passed a bill that would place new restrictions on the ability of governments to seize private property for private purposes. Republicans exempted the Indiana Department of Transportation from most of the restrictions, since they could interfere with Daniels' ability to possibly make the planned extension of Interstate 69 a toll road and lease it if the highway plan is approved.

The House also passed bills that would subject abortion clinics to new building standards, and require women seeking abortions to be informed that a fetus may feel pain and that life begins at conception. Garton gave no indication about the bills' chances of passing the Senate.

Both houses have passed bills that would require lifetime parole for those convicted of child molesting, and some would have to wear electronic monitoring devices. It is likely such provisions will become law.

The House passed a bill along party lines that would move statewide ISTEP testing from the fall to the spring, something Daniels supports but a move that fellow Republican Suellen Reed, the state's schools chief, opposes. Its prospects in the Senate are uncertain, but a similar bill failed to clear a committee in that chamber last year.

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