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 Reps Want to Strip ISDH of Closing Power

January 21, 2009 - Six state lawmakers met with State Health Commissioner Dr. Judith Monroe and two other State Department of Health employees last week to discuss Monroe’s decision to close the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home at the end of the current school year.

The meeting, held on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 13, had been requested by Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Dist. 54). Speaking to The Banner the Friday before the meeting, Saunders had said he was “disappointed that the state’s decided they need to close it. I think there’s some other alternatives that we need to be looking at to keep the facility open. ... I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but it’s not over until this session’s over.”

Joining Saunders at the Jan. 13 meeting with Monroe were Sen. Jean Leising (R-Dist. 42) and Rep. Bob Cherry (R-Dist. 53), whose respective legislative districts include the Home. The other three lawmakers in attendance were Rep. Scott Reske (D-Dist. 37), Rep. Cleo Duncan (R-Dist. 67) and Sen. Beverly Gard (R-Dist. 28).

“I feel ... that the legislators, collectively, have been totally blindsided by this decision,” Leising told The Banner the day before the meeting. “It’s unfortunate. It’s not a great way to run things. … This whole thing just seems like it was handled extremely poorly. … Government’s not supposed to work this way.”

Lawmakers had no luck convincing Monroe during last week’s hour-long meeting to change her mind about closing the Home. Instead, the meeting ended with the legislators resolved to move forward on their own to try to stop the Home’s closure.

Legislative action will be initiated by Reske, who said he plans to amend another piece of legislation, House Bill 1599, through a “strip-and-insert” process. When he spoke to The Banner last Friday, Reske said the intention is to take the power to close the Home away from the ISDH, possibly shifting the Home’s oversight to another agency. He also said lawmakers will try to better define the Home’s mission and improve the efficiency of its operation.

“Letting the Home close means that we are giving up on the children that live there,” Reske said in a press release issued later that day. “My colleagues and I will do all in our power to save this institution for all current and future children that would benefit from its services.”

Reesa Kossoff, press secretary for the House Democratic Caucus, told The Banner last Friday that “the language for the bill is still in the discussion phase.” She said the language of HB 1599 was not yet publicly available and did not know when it was scheduled for hearing in committee.

“I think there’s a good chance that Reske might be able to get that through the House,” Leising said. “The House is Democrat-controlled.” She said she thought the biggest challenge in getting legislation approved in the Senate will be getting it by a finance committee.

Saunders and Cherry both plan to support Reske’s efforts on the House side. Saunders told The Banner that it’s important for citizens wanting to keep the Home open to continue to let lawmakers and the governor’s office know how they feel, and he said a rally planned for Monday, Jan. 26, in the atrium at the Statehouse in Indianapolis will be a great opportunity to do that.

For those planning to attend the rally, Saunders said they should given themselves plenty of time to get there before the 10 a.m. start. “In order to get in that building now, you have to go through metal detectors,” he said. “So, it may take you a few minutes to get through there.”

“The more people we get to this rally, the more opportunity we have to convince the governor,” Saunders said. “Let’s be honest, the governor can pick up the telephone and say, ‘Take this off the list.’”

Saunders, Leising, Reske, Cherry and Gard were all scheduled to be at the Home yesterday from 10 a.m. to noon. Besides touring the facilities, the lawmakers were also expected to meet with Home staff.

 

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