This Boilermaker Prefers Copperheads to Rattlesnakes

BrewerThis past year was quite the adventure for me. Last March, I left the Indiana Chamber after 14 years to tackle a new chapter in my life. I could blame the move on the brutal winter that year, but I think the time had arrived for me to explore and to feel like I tried something new. With the exception of a semester abroad in college, I had lived all 37 years in the good ol’ Hoosier state. I didn’t want to look back some day and say, “I should have tried” or “what if?” So, my wife and I packed up our two Subarus, then headed west to Tucson, Arizona with great enthusiasm and a terribly confused dog.

I’ve told many friends that this past year was arguably the year I learned the most about myself. I learned how to avoid multiple rattlesnakes on trails. I learned how to carry 100 ounces of water on a mountain bike ride. I learned how important it was to continue to see new places and grow my need for wanderlust. Most importantly, I had plenty of time to think after climbing to the top of four of the five mountain ranges surrounding Tucson, and it made me realize what was most valuable to me… my mom’s pecan pie. Well, her pecan pie made the most missed list, but being in the same area code with my Montgomery County family and all of my friends in Indianapolis was most important to me.

The direct flight from Indy to Phoenix was fairly easy, but life just wasn’t as fulfilling. I missed seeing my nephew’s first start at defensive end for Rose-Hulman’s football team. I missed seeing Purdue thump IU both times during the basketball season. I missed the community feel of my old, funky Broad Ripple neighborhood. I missed my favorite beer at Thr3e Wise Men. I certainly enjoyed the active outdoors lifestyle in mountainous southern Arizona, and I continued Chamber work with four state chambers, but it just didn’t feel right. After one year, we came running back, and the dog was even more perplexed.

My new role with the Chamber starts this week as the advertisement sales director for BizVoice magazine. I really enjoyed my time at the Chamber in membership and helping members, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to work with the Indiana business community again.

That’s enough reflection for one day. Time to head to Crawfordsville for a piece of my mom’s pecan pie.

Good to Know: NLRB Sides with Employer in Twitter Dismissal

If you’ve drafted a social media policy for your company, you’ve learned by now that it’s a bit of a gray area. A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board should inspire some confidence in employers that — should the time come — it could be allowable to dismiss a staffer due to questionable use of social media. Although, in this case, note that the Tweeter in question did identify himself as an employee of the company in his bio. An electronic alert from the Oregon law firm Barran Liebman has the report (reposted here with permission):

In good news for employers, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued an advice memorandum finding that an Arizona newspaper’s termination of one of its reporters for inappropriate Twitter postings was not an unfair labor practice. The NLRB’s advice memo itself is great guidance for employers looking to understand what they can and cannot do when employees post offensive or disruptive messages about the company on social media sites.

Here are the basic facts that the NLRB examined: A Tucson, Arizona newspaper publisher terminated its public safety reporter after he posted a series of messages on his Twitter account, which the newspaper encouraged him to set up and which identified him as a reporter for the newspaper and included a link to the newspaper’s website. After the reporter tweeted, "[The newspaper’]s copy editors are the most witty and creative people in the world. Or at least they think they are," human resources questioned him about why he felt the need to post his concerns on Twitter instead of speaking to people within the organization. Although the newspaper did not yet have a formal social media policy, it then told the reporter that he was prohibited from airing his grievances or commenting about the newspaper in any public forum.

The reporter continued tweeting, including a tweet about a local television news station misspelling something in its Twitter feed and several tweets of his own commentary about homicides in Tucson:

"You stay homicidal, Tucson. See Star Net for the bloody deets."

"What?!?! No overnight homicide? WTF? You’re slacking Tucson"

"Hope everyone’s having a good Homicide Friday, as one Tucson police officer called it."

The publisher confronted the reporter about his tweets and instructed him to not tweet about anything work-related until they determined what to do. The newspaper then suspended him and terminated his employment.

The reporter filed a complaint with the NLRB, alleging that his termination violated Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Section 7 prohibits employers from disciplining employees (regardless of whether the workplace is unionized) who have engaged in "concerted activity." In this case, the NLRB attorneys concluded that the reporter’s Twitter messages were not protected and concerted activity because they did not relate to the terms and conditions of his employment, or seek to involve other employees in issues related to employment. For that reason, the newspaper was free to discipline and terminate him for misconduct since his conduct did not involve protected activity.

UPDATE (May 24): Here’s another NLRB decision regarding social media and the termination of employees. Clear as mud now?

Results Available; New Poll Seeks ‘Loser’

We’ve been asking you poll questions related to this year’s legislative session, but not reporting back on the final results. What’s up with that? I could offer a variety of excuses, but none would really suffice.

Below are the outcomes of your votes. We’ll do better in the future. And check out the current poll, which asks you to select the "loser" as the result of the recently concluded House Democrat walkout.

  • Do you support an Arizona-style immigration law for Indiana? 53% yes; 47% no
  • Should the responsibilities of Indiana townships be transferred to the county level? 68% yes; 32% no
  • Did you support House Democrats leaving the state in an attempt to kill legislation they opposed? 75% no; 25% yes
  • Do you believe that K-12 education dollars should follow the child — allowing parents to send their children to the school of their choice? 64% yes; 36% no
  • And last week we asked: How do you think this legislative session will end? Gov. Daniels calls special session(s), 47%; Democrats return at end to vote on budget, 29%; key bills revised and House Democrats return, 12%; and Other, 12%

That special session could — but hopefully not — still come into play. As we’ve said multiple times, it’s time for legislators to complete the job they were elected to do.

Ice Chills Big Day at Statehouse

What was shaping up to be a day of MAJOR committee hearings at the Statehouse on Wednesday fell victim to Mother Nature. Among the bills that were scheduled for debate — and we mean real debate:

  • A lengthy immigration battle was set for the Senate chambers; it has been moved to the afternoon of Feb. 9. Senator Mike Delph had promised a few weeks ago to pursue Arizona-type legislation, but word in recent days was that some of the more stringent provisions were being deleted. Either way, passions will be on display.
  • Assignment of benefits was scheduled to reappear in the House. This controversial health care billing procedure would potentially raise costs for employers and employees.
  • An education double-header was on tap. Teacher quality was to be the focus of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee in the afternoon, following the House Education panel tackling reform initiatives in an early gathering in the House chambers.

All these issues may end up on committee agendas next Wednesday, or some special meetings may be arranged.

Some legislators were scattering for home on Tuesday after General Assembly activity was cancelled. Ice in Central Indiana and massive snow in the north did not make for a good combination. We would expect activity to resume today but some legislators, particularly from the north, may not be able to return if indeed they vacated earlier in the week.

Medicaid Still a Puzzler for State Governments

While health care reform and its unknown costs have been popular topics, states have also specifically focused on Medicaid. Texas is among several states that have at least explored dropping out of the federal program. The consequences would be severe and there is no good choice, experts say. Stateline reports:

Arizona has generated national attention in recent weeks for its decision to stop paying for life-saving organ transplants under the state’s Medicaid program. The decision — made in the face of a severe fiscal crisis — has been portrayed as one of the recession’s sharpest state budget cuts.

In Texas, however, some Republican lawmakers — and Governor Rick Perry — have talked not only about dropping certain procedures and benefits under Medicaid, but about dropping out of the program altogether. They say the state can no longer afford the 45-year-old, state-federal health insurance program for the poor.

On Friday (December 3), a long-awaited state study quantified what such a decision would mean for Texas.

The study, by the Texas Department of Insurance and the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, found that as many as 2.6 million residents would lose their health insurance if Medicaid were abandoned. Many of those losing coverage would be pregnant women and babies, as the Austin American-Statesman noted. Texas would also lose $15 billion a year in federal assistance, or about a tenth of the state’s entire health care sector.

Keeping Medicaid without reforming it, however, is also not a viable option, according to the study. Rigid federal rules and a dramatic expansion of the program under the new federal health care law leave it on an unsustainable path in Texas — a "no-win dilemma."

"We have to reform the program to save it," Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, told The Dallas Morning News, which noted that Nevada and Wyoming are among other states that have studied dropping out of Medicaid.

Looking for a Lottery Rebound

Personally, I have nothing against the lottery. In fact, I joined co-workers back in the 1990s in one of those infamous "everybody throw a few dollars in and we’ll all retire early when we hit it big" plans, only to never, ever get close in several years of playing. We really only earned enough once in a while to buy more tickets. But then I guess that’s why they call it a game of chance.

The number of lottery games have seemingly multiplied at a rapid pace since then. But with the Great Recession of the last few years, and certainly a few other factors, far fewer lottery players have been taking their chances.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lottery revenues declined in 25 states in fiscal year 2009. In addition, they were flat in 10 states and increased in only seven. Indiana had the dubious distinction of the biggest drop, with revenues going down 18.1%. Puerto Rico, Oregon and Arizona were the only others with double digit drops.

North Carolina, with a relatively new lottery, saw revenues increase 17.4%. Others on the positive side of the ledger: North Dakota, Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana and Minnesota.

Finally, the seven states that have not authorized lotteries: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

At one point, many in Indiana questioned whether the lottery was a good idea. That was before horse racing, riverboats, racinos and the like. The tax dollars generated by the gaming industry have become an essential part of the state budget. That’s the safest bet one can make.

The Family Guy

"Sir, I’ve served with family men; I knew family men; family men are friends of mine. Mr. Quayle, you are no family man." This might be Lloyd Bentsen’s response to a political mailer being sent by Dan Quayle’s son, Ben, in his quest to fill the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. John Shadegg in Arizona.

CQ Politics recently blogged about the mailer, which shows the candidate with two little girls, although he himself has no children (see the link to the full blog for a snapshot of the mailer):

Congressional candidate Ben Quayle, son of the former vice president, is raising some eyebrows with direct mail pieces that seem to invite readers to presume he and his wife have more than just themselves and a dog to take care of.

The Arizona Capitol Times’ Bill Bertolino reports that the campaign uses shot above in two mailings. Part of the cutline reads, "Tiffany and I live in this district and we are going to raise our family here."

Writes Bertolino: "Is Quayle intentionally trying to leave voters with the impression that he’s a ‘family man’? It’s plausible.He’s been a frequent target of many of his nine opponents — all of whom are older than him and have children — for what they call his thin resume and lack of life experience."

When asked that question, Quayle’s campaign said the girls in the picture are relatives of a staff member who happened to be at a campaign event.

"I think you guys have got a lot of time on your hands," said spokesman Damon Moley. "They’re just terribly cute kids."

"We are presenting Ben as a pro-family candidate because he is a pro-family candidate," Moley said. "We are presenting him as a traditional-values candidate because he is a traditional values candidate."

So what do you think? Are the media and critics right to say the mailer is misleading, or is it just savvy politics on Quayle’s part and nothing more?

Blame the Constitution for Capping House Size

I admit it. I’ve never given much thought to the number of people serving in the House of Representatives. I have no idea why there are 435, but that’s the way it’s been for the last century since Congress capped the size following the 1910 census. It all goes back to the Constitution, which specifies a maximum – but no minimum – total count.

As you can imagine, that’s caused some controversy over the years. Check out some of the details from :

"The Constitution states that the number of representatives is one for every 30,000 people. How is it now limited to 435?" 

You’re right. The Constitution states that "the Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one representative."

With a current U.S. population of over 300 million, that would work out to about 10,000 representatives – not to mention the chiefs of staff, legislative analysts and spokesmen for each of them.

Until the 20th century, the size of the House increased after each census to reflect the growth in the country’s population. Over time, the growth in new states and the country’s population threatened to make the House too large to be a workable legislative body (insert your own joke here) in the views of many in D.C.

After the 1910 census, Congress fixed the size of the House at 435, where it remains today. Congress later made the cap official when it passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, which also established a procedure for automatically reapportioning seats after every census.

Under reapportionment, California’s delegation has grown from 11 members in the 1920s to 53 today. Florida, Texas and Arizona have also seen similar exponential jumps. Ohio, on the other hand, has gone from a high of 24 representatives to 18, while Pennsylvania has dropped from 36 to 19.

Arizona & Its Hotel Industry Working to Enhance PR

Upon the announcement of its new immigration law a couple of months ago, Arizona incurred a firestorm from opponents, media and protestors that burned hotter than … Arizona in July. But now, the Grand Canyon State is working to rework its image via a new PR campaign partially funded by a hotel trade association. USA Today writes:

Arizona plans to spend $250,000 on a public relations campaign to counter concerns about its controversial, new immigration law and promote itself as "a safe and welcoming destination." The state’s hotel trade group will add another $30,000 to the effort, according to the Associated Press.

The PR campaign is one of the recommendations presented publicly yesterday by a tourism task force appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer to address the state’s tourism industry, the AP reports. The findings came as the ACLU on Wednesday issued "travel alerts" to Arizona visitors in advance of the Fourth of July weekend to inform travelers of their rights if stopped by police.

The task force was charged with finding ways to aid Arizona’s tourism industry as it grapples with fallout from the law that Brewer signed in April, the article says. The law is set to take affect on July 29 barring any legal action. The law has sparked boycotts and outright travel bans from cities large and small, school districts and other municipal bodies at a time when travel is gradually starting to rebound from a two-year downturn.

The state should hire a PR firm "to help manage the existing dialogue and clarify the facts" regarding the immigration law, the AP article says. That effort could include getting into editorials into U.S. newspapers and conducting interviews in key visitor markets.

Brewer two weeks ago approved the recommendations, which paves the way for state agencies and the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association to carry them out, the story says. The story did not detail what role the Arizona hotel group will play besides making a financial donation.

The recommendations also direct Arizona to "change the tone of the dialogue to reflect the true implications and tangible effects that boycotts have on the lives and families on the most vulnerable tourism employees," the AP reports.

The law requires that police enforce another law to ask people about their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the people are in the USA illegally, the story says.