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Daniels to Give Home ‘Honest Look’
May 13, 2009 - With state lawmakers' inability to pass a budget before the legislative session ended, leaving the fate of the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home in doubt, Home supporters received a small glimmer of hope last week from an unlikely source.
During a morning press conference last Friday, Gov. Mitch Daniels, who has supported the Indiana Department of Health's plans to close the Home at the end of May, said the issue would be given "one more very honest look." Saying a final decision had not yet been made, Daniels said whatever ends up being done will be "first of all in the interest of the children, and secondly in the interest of the employees, and certainly in the interest of taxpayers."
Daniels' comments were in response to a question about whether or not closing the Home before state lawmakers return for a special session would be a violation of legislative intent. Although a budget bill that would have kept the Home open at least one more year did not pass, Republicans and Democrats in both the state House of Representatives and Senate had shown strong support for the Home.
At last week's press conference, Daniels said he'd visited with lawmakers concerned about the Home as recently as the day before. While Daniels' press secretary, Jane Jankowski, said she had no information about which lawmakers the governor met with last Thursday, Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Dist. 54) confirmed that he met with Daniels that day to discuss the Home.
With the ISDH planning to close the Home at the end of this month, lawmakers tried to prevent the closure with various pieces of legislation. As their session wound down in late April, however, the only legislative hope for the Home remained with language that had been inserted into the budget.
House Bill 1001, the budget bill, included about $10 million to keep the Home going at least one more year. When the bill was sent to the Senate, it was amended to also establish a task force to study if the Home should be kept open past next school year.
The budget bill ended up in a conference committee as the result of House members not agreeing with all of the amendments senators had made to the budget. These disagreements did not, however, appear to have anything to do with the Home, but were with respect to other unrelated issues.
Following the conference committee, the Senate passed the budget when it returned to their chamber for a vote. The House, however, failed to approve it, making it necessary for lawmakers to return for a special session to try to work out differences on the budget.
A big concern for supporters of the Home has been that the ISDH, with the governor's tacit approval, will go ahead and move forward with closing the Home before lawmakers hold their special session. Because there had been bipartisan support in both the House and Senate for keeping the Home open at least one more year, they believe this would amount to the ISDH and the governor ignoring the will of legislators on this issue.
One other avenue of hope still available to Home supporters rests in litigation that is pending in the Rush Circuit Court. The Home Alumni Association and a current student filed a lawsuit in early February, asking for a an injunction that will prevent the state from closing the Home until after lawmakers have addressed the issue.
The state has filed a motion with the Rush Circuit Court seeking to have plaintiffs' case dismissed. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for Friday morning.
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