Food Stamp of Approval

I’m experimenting with food stamps – well not really. I am using my own money to prove a point.

Allow me to explain. Lately there has been a lot of talk by what I label as the “limousine liberal” class that people on food stamps – now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP – are going hungry because they don’t have enough money to buy food or they live in “food deserts” where they have very few shopping options.

I called (you-know-what) on that and decided to do a little experiment on my own.

I decided to hit a local grocery store in Indianapolis and do some “shopping.” I used the Meijer store on west 38th Street near I-465. It is a major store and on a major bus line in Indy.

I was given grief for using my own car to get to the store instead of public transportation; however, not everyone who uses food stamps takes the bus. I was also given grief for not having children. Newsflash: Not everyone on food stamps has kids.

I decided to use $160 as monthly budget. I chose $160 because while the average person, as some have estimated may get $132 in benefits, a single person at the poverty level can get up to $200 a month. So my $160 split the difference.

To be honest, the $160 figure didn’t really matter because I never got that far because I know how to do two things: Shop and cook.

I managed to pick up, for me, the equivalent of at least three weeks worth of food for about $90.

How did I do it? Like this: For my meat I got four sirloin steaks (on sale) for $16 and 10 chicken breasts (on sale) for $12. That is 16 pieces of meat and chicken for $28. I don’t eat meat everyday so that was enough to get me through the month.

I also got lettuce, broccoli, celery, five pounds of potatoes, four ears of corn, and a pound of green beans for a total of $10.65. I got them all fresh – no frozen or canned foods. And for those of you who say it won’t keep, you will be amazed at what you can do when you clean your vegetables and put them in the freezer.

I also picked up some ground beef and tomato sauce, $6, which would get me a couple of meals. And I also bought spaghetti, farfalle (the bow-tie pasta) and penne pasta for $4.72; add the two jars of alfredo sauce which, I got two for $4, and parmesan cheese at $3.39.

Breakfast was easy: Two boxes of Frosted Mini-Wheats for $5 and two loaves of Brownberry bread for $6.

Lunch was a little more difficult. The turkey and roast beef for sandwiches, a half-pound each, ran me about $7 and two 2-liters of Diet Pepsi was $2. I also got popcorn (unpopped and the non-microwave kind) for $3.99. And I did buy five Lean Cuisine meals for $10.

My total food bill at that point was $90.75. Now because I had a Meijer’s coupon I got 5 percent off so it was actually closer to $86. That meant I still had $73 leftover and another week’s worth of food I could purchase.

And please note, I haven’t even broken out my coupons.

Unfortunately, my wife told me I was not allowed to bring any of this stuff back to the house because there was no room in the refrigerator for me to prove a point. But I did.

If you don’t know how to shop or cook and all you get are unhealthy processed foods, your food stamp budget won’t last long.

But if you are a responsible consumer and are willing to pick up a culinary skill or two, you will be amazed at how far those dollars can go. Maybe that is where we should focus our energy and attention – providing folks with more skills as opposed to more dollars on their food stamp cards.

I think society will be well served and those in need can be well fed.

Ballard Unveils Budget; Administration Says It Closes $55 Million Gap

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard will introduce a budget Monday night that closes the city’s $55 million shortfall without raising income taxes, but it does expand the city’s tax base while holding the line on spending and adding new police officers.

Due to the national economy and declining income tax revenues Indianapolis was facing a $55 million shortfall for the 2014 budget.  City officials say they managed to close that gap while keeping most city services unchanged, but they used virtually every financial tool in their kit to do it.

Flatlining Spending

  • Although the city budget is about $1 billion, in fact only about $592 million is used for the operations of city-county government, the rest are dedicated funds that can only be used for certain purposes, like roads and sewers.  While most city-county budgets will stay flat, the Marion County Sheriff’s budget is taking a $5.4 million hit.  Ballard administration officials say every other County office has stayed within its budget with the exception of the Sheriff.  There is an increase in the Clerk’s office to cover the costs of the 2014 Elections.  The parks budget stays the same and the city maintains crime prevention grant funding.   The budget does not dip into any TIF, Rebuild Indy or Fiscal Stability Funds to cover operating expenditures.  In addition there is no additional funding for raises, departments will have to use their existing budgets to cover those costs and health care costs remain flat; in the past they have increased five to seven percent annually.

Finding New Revenues

  • The Ballard administration is not raising income taxes to balance the budget, but it is expanding the tax base, somewhat.   The city proposes to expand IMPD’s taxing district to the entire county, right now its taxing authority is limited to the old IPD district which is basically the old city limits..   By expanding the tax base officials say that will generate an additional $1.3 million for city coffers.  In addition, the Ballard administration is also shooting for another elimination of the local homestead tax credit which would generate about $11.5 million.  There is also a fuel surcharge on IMPD and IFD take home vehicles which would add $1.4 million to the city budget.  In addition, the administration also makes adjustments to agency budgets and makes some adjustments to its debt service.

Expand IMPD’s Tax Base

  • The most controversial portions of the administration’s budget plans are likely to be the expansion of IMPD’s taxing District and the elimination of the Homestead Exemption.   With regards to expanding IMPD’s taxing authority, officials say the original district was not expanded when the merger took place back in 2006.  That means if you are are homeowner inside the old city limits you are paying both property taxes for IMPD as well as County Option Income taxes.  If you live outside the old city limits, then you are just paying the COIT.  By expanding the tax base, city budget planners say more money can be collected for public safety, while lowering IMPD’s property tax rate by 70%.  Under the current system a $100,000 home in the old city limits pays $365 annually, under the new district that tax bill would be $114; Lawrence, Speedway Southport and Beech Grove would not be included.  Expanding the tax district would generate about $3 million for IMPD.

Homestead Credit Elimination

  • The Council failed to pass the original local homestead credit elimination, however the Ballard Administration is taking another bite at the apple.  Officials say it would generate $11.5 million for IMPD, it would not impact homes that are already at the one percent tax cap and have an average impact of less than $2 per month on a home not at the one percent cap.  It is also important to note that elimination of the local homestead has no impact on the standard $45,000 exemption which is provided by the state.

Administrative Challenges

  • Like all budgets, it’s part policy and part politics and balancing the various political interests at the City-County building will be just as tricky as balancing the city’s books.  There is of course the Democratic-controlled Council that does not want to give Ballard a victory, but at the same time has to show leadership in offering alternatives.  At the same time Republicans, although Mayoral allies, are wary of anything that even looks like a tax increase.  And that is what this will boil down to, is the elimination of the local homestead credit and expanding IMPD’s tax base a tax increase?  And if so, is it one the citizens of Marion County will swallow, even though by some estimates it only amounts to about $10-$13 a month for a home inside Marion County but outside of the city limits?  And if the Council says “no” to the revenue enhancements, then where does it go to find the other $13 million when the Mayor is adamant about not dipping into fund balances?   Those  will be the big questions and luckily we’ve got until October to get an answer.


What Did Glenda Ritz Know and When Did She Know It?

Monday’s announcement of a $14 million settlement between the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA), the National Education Association (NEA) and the Secretary of State’s Office is raising some questions that I think the current Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz, needs to answer and do it soon.

ISTA and the NEA were accused of engaging in a “Ponzi-like” scheme where they would sell health insurance plans to teachers and school districts and then use the proceeds to fund its disability program while misleading schools and educators about how much they had in their accounts.

Ritz served on the Board of ISTA during the time as well as being the head of the Washington Township Educators Union in Indianapolis.  In those capacities as a Board member and union head, Ritz would have had a fiduciary duty to look out for the best interests of her members.  Which in turns raises several questions…

  1. Did Ritz have any knowledge that ISTA and the NEA were engaging in what the Secretary of State’s office called a “Ponzi-like” scheme?
  2. If so, when did Ritz first become aware of the scheme and what was her reaction?
  3. Was she involved in any active or passing selling/promoting of the ISTA-NEA health insurance plan to her bargaining unit in Washington Township schools?
  4. Did Ritz herself purchase any of the health insurance plan that that was pushed by ISTA?
  5. Once the scheme was discovered, did she speak out against it, either as an ISTA Board member or Union President?
  6. Will Ritz demand that ISTA and the NEA fully refund all teachers and school districts for the original $28 million that was lost in the scheme, as opposed to the $14 million that both sides have initially agreed to settle?
  7. Are there any other ticking time bombs out there regarding ISTA that teachers, school districts and the taxpayers should know?
  8. Will Ritz make public any and all correspondence (memos, emails, etc), electronic and otherwise, regarding the ISTA-NEA alleged “Ponzi-scheme”?
  9. Does Ritz think teachers and the public can trust ISTA and the NEA?
  10. Will the answers to any of these questions ever see the light of day?

Of course critics will try to dismiss these questions as the rantings and sour grapes of a Tony Bennett supporter, but that does not change the fact that millions of dollars were funneled away from school districts and teachers and used in a scheme that at best was irresponsible and worst, securities fraud.

The current Superintendent of Public Instruction has a responsibility to disclose to the public and her fellow teachers what she knew and when she became aware of it.

It is the least she can do.  Hopefully, she will do it soon.


The Law of Unintended Consequences

While I have always believed our health care reform system was a mess and needed fixing, I was never convinced the Affordable Care Act was the best way to do it.  And a friendly exchange between me and IUPUI Professor Sheila Kennedy has reinforced that belief.

In a recent post on her blog, Kennedy laments that we romanticize about our nation’s “Norman Rockwell” roots, while employers make moves to deny their part-time employees access to health care coverage.

Under the ACA, an employer must provide health care coverage to any employee working more than 30 hours a week.  In the IU system where Kennedy teaches, graduate assistants’ hours are being kept at 29 hours a week.  IU is not alone.  There are a number of colleges and universities, and school districts, across the country that are limiting hours for part-time employees so they don’t cross the 30-hour mark.  At my part-time employer, Ivy Tech, adjunct faculty are being limited to no more than 9 hours per semester until the school can figure out how to compute hours and determine who reaches the 30-hour a week mark and who doesn’t.

Kennedy argues that by limiting the hours of  part-time employees, these employers aren’t living up to the “Rockwell” image we have of ourselves. I think what Kennedy fails to acknowledge, either by choice or by design, is that someone will have to pay for the health care costs, and she doesn’t say where the money will come from. Allow me to fill in that gap.  When an employer’s costs go up, they have three options: raise prices, cut staff or  take smaller profits.  And seeing how these are schools, colleges and universities, option number three is not an option at all.

So does Kennedy recommend colleges and universities raise tuition to cover these new costs?  Does she suggest some employees get fired so that others can have health care?  She does advocate, “cutting the bloated administrative structure” to help pay for health care.  I doubt you’ll get much savings from that.  Now to her credit, Kennedy said she would be willing to take a pay cut so that someone else could have health insurance.  Did you get that IUPUI?

The problem with Kennedy’s argument, as with most supporters of the ACA, is that it perpetuates the system where an individual gets his or her insurance from their job.  I have always maintained that health insurance should be treated the same way we treat car and life insurance.  You buy the policy and your employer stays out of it.  People become much better consumers of products when they are directly responsible for the costs and you will find prices tend to come down when the third party subsidy goes away.

There is some good in the ACA, particularly the provisions that deal with pre-existing conditions, however mandating employers provide health coverage to part-time employees is taking a bad idea and making it worse.  This is something Kennedy should ponder as she goes to her bosses and asks for that salary reduction so that someone else can have health care.



When Good Intentions Equal Bad Public Policy

I am sure somewhere deep down inside, my Democratic friends on the Indianapolis City-County Council have the same hopes for the city as I do, they want one that is safe, vibrant and has a high quality of life.  And we all realize those goals are complicated when money is tight.  However, one of the first rules of governing is to not make bad matters worse, and by passing an ordinance to take $6 million in Rebuild Indy funds to start a new police recruit class, the Council went down that road.

I recently explained in my weekly NUVO column why all this was a bad idea, so I won’t go into a whole lot of detail here.  However, at Monday night’s Council meeting Democrats made a new argument that is just as, or should I say, even more flawed than their original proposition.

They maintained that if the city began a new police recruit class, using Rebuild Indy dollars, the money to pay for continuing classes would be covered by the fact that you will have officers retiring and since they are more experienced officers, the city would be paying less over time, since the new officers won’t be paid as much.  They say the city could fill as many as 60 officers with the new class.

Here’s the problem with that logic, in a Twitter exchange at-large Councilor Zach Adamson told me IMPD loses 42 officers a year due to retirement and this would replace those officers.  He says the city could replace those 42 with 34 cops and the program is 100% sustainable.  But won’t that mean fewer cops on the street?  And haven’t Democrats been saying we need more police?  So doesn’t all this plan really do is put fewer police on the street and translate into less dollars for infrastructure?

Did I miss something?

There are number of ways we can put more cops on the street and fight crime without touching infrastructure funding.

Public Safety Director Troy Riggs’ is planning to realign IMPD and move up to 100 officers from behind the desk and put them back on the street.   And if that’s not enough, the Council could always take some of the millions the Sheriff has overspent in the last 2-3 years buying cars and increasing his staff and use those dollars to put police back on the street without having to touch road money.  They could also have certain Black members of the caucus stop fighting the expansion of educational opportunities for their constituents; since education is one of the best ways to fight crime.

There are a number of things the Council can do without having to tap into one time funds to create long-term operating expenses.  This way their good intentions can have good results as opposed to more deficit spending and bad fiscal management.

Ballard’s Big Test

There’s is an old adage that past is prologue, that if you want to know what people are going to do in the future, you should look at what they have done in the past.  That same adage applies to the Ballard administration and the scandal involving the Land Bank which landed two city employees and three others on the receiving end of a federal indictment for wire fraud and bribery.

The case is pretty simple, the U.S. Attorney’s office filed charges against 29-year old Reggie Walton and 27-year old John Hawkins for a scheme where they are alleged to have arranged sales of abandoned properties to not-for-profit which in turn sold the properties to a for-profit group which in turn gave Walton and Hawkins a cut of the proceeds.  Even more disturbing is that Walton is accused of being a silent partner in a not-for-profit that was also allegedly involved in the scam.

The city has suspended Walton and Hawkins indefinitely without pay.  It is at this point where the administration’s critics are chomping at the bits for a Watergate/Benghazi type scandal.  The only way they will get their wish is if the administration gives it to them, which I doubt.  The city already took the first step in dismissing the two alleged wrongdoers.  In a statement released yesterday they thanked the U.S. Attorney for his work and reminded the media that they toughened the city’s ethics rules as well as whistle blower protections.

While statements are good, it will always be actions that ultimately matter.  One of the things I look at it how things were handled with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police department.  If you recall a few years ago, it seemed that every other day there was an officer somewhere behaving badly and his or her actions besmirched the good names of the officers who came to work and did their jobs and didn’t engage in activities like drunk driving or shaking down suspects.  The administration didn’t hide or cover up the bad apples, it went through the painful public process of cleaning up IMPD and it is a much better place now than it was before.

The same applies with current controversy involving the Land Bank.  If the administration is smart, it will launch a top down review of the entire operation and see where exactly the breakdown took place and how did Hawkins and Walton manage to allegedly engage in their activities without anyone internally finding out.  The U.S. Attorney did say they were notified via a whistle blower, but that person was not a city employee. One challenge will be convincing state lawmakers to change the current loophole in the law which allows not-for-profits to purchase abandoned homes and quickly sell them once they have been acquired. A bill was introduced in the legislature, but died.  So the city will have to examine what safeguards can be put in place once property is no longer under its control.

The City of Indianapolis is like any organization with thousands of people working for it.  It is unrealistic to not expect there to be a few bad apples in the bunch.  The challenge for leadership is how do they deal with the bad apples once they have been discovered and what policies do they put in place to prevent any other apples from going bad.  We will find out in the next day or so exactly how the Ballard administration plans to do that.  If past is prologue, it may not be a pretty process, but it will the city will be a better place for it being done.

Bowen Put Indiana on the Road to Property Tax Reform

As I sat down and did my research on the late Governor Otis “Doc” Bowen, two things really fascinated me about his time in public service.  One was his frankness about sex when he was the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the mid-1980s.  The other, which I would argue had just as much impact, if not more so in the Hoosier state, was putting Indiana on the road to property tax reform.

In fact, I would submit to you that had it not been for Bowen, Indiana would probably not have gone down a path which would eventually lead to providing hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers with property tax relief.

When Bowen became Governor in 1972, Hoosiers had experienced a doubling of their property taxes in the previous decade.  Bowen used a mix of policy and good old fashioned politics to provide Hoosiers with meaningful relief.  According to an article by Dagney Faulk in the Indiana Business Review, Orr’s plan did four things…

  1. Doubled the sales tax from 2 percent to 4 percent (exempting groceries)  and allocated the extra revenue to property tax reduction through the Property Tax Replacement Credit (PTRC);
  2. Permitted counties to levy local option income taxes (CAGIT) with most of the revenue used to reduce property taxes;
  3. Set limits on property tax rates and levies for counties adopting CAGIT;
  4. Established tax control boards.

Faulk also notes that school funding was treated separately and increased through a state school aid formula.

The measure was controversial, to say the least.  Bowen used every political trick in the book to get it passed and even then it came down to a tie in the State Senate and it was Lt. Governor Bob Orr who had to cast the tie breaking vote.   The end result, a 20 percent drop in Hoosiers property tax bills and a more equitable system of taxation.

Unfortunately, as Bowen noted in a 2008 editorial in the Indianapolis Star that by the time he left office in 1981, lawmakers had carved out 18 exceptions to the spending controls lawmakers had put in place.

The rest they say is history, in 1979 lawmakers limited tax levy growth to the same as the average growth in assessed value over the past three years.  In 1993, the famous Town of St. John v. State Board of Tax Commissioners case was filed and by the year 2000 the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled it was time for a new property tax system based on more on market value of property rather than the replacement costs of property.  In 2007 property finally began to be reassessed and the end result was a tax revolution that threw out an incumbent Mayor of the largest city in the state and scared lawmakers into passing property tax caps and giving Hoosiers permanent property tax relief that would be enshrined in the state Constitution.

It is unlikely much of this would have happened in the manner it did had it not been Otis “Doc” Bowen.  Or as I like to refer to him, the grandfather of property tax caps.

Little Loses Turn Into Big Wins at Statehouse

It is customary at the end of the legislative session to do a postmortem  and talk about how lawmakers did, or in some cases, didn’t do.  So as I join the list of political prognosticators, allow me to offer my opinion.  In this case, everyone won big, ironically by losing a little.  Let’s walk down the list…

Governor Mike Pence

  • Although he did not get his full 10% income tax cut that he asked for, he got half of it, 5%.  But even better for the Governor, he got a total  $1 billion tax cut.  In an era where states are either raising taxes or sinking under a backlog of debt and unpaid bills, Pence can claim a billion dollar tax cut, while at the same there is increased funding for roads and schools, workforce development, state debt is being paid off and Indiana is still keeping its surplus.

Statehouse Republicans

  • For the same reasons as Governor Mike Pence, by giving up a little on the income tax cut Statehouse Republicans can claim a major fiscal victory.   But I would argue the even bigger victory this session was the fact that while they could have literally ramrodded anything they wanted to, they did not.  And by showing some self-restraint they demonstrated to Hoosiers than they can govern with a super-majority without some of the political insanity that goes along with it.

Statehouse Democrats

  • Albeit, they are the party of the super-minority, Democrats can still claim a victory or two, while they lost the fight for their big issue, they can claim victory when it comes to the career and work councils.  Those are the panels that will look at help putting Hoosiers to work by closing the skills gap and getting people back to work.

Education Reform Advocates

  •  No, they didn’t get the expanded vouchers they wanted, but more was added to the pie and more children are eligible to take advantage of them.  The jury is still out though on the Common Core.  Although lawmakers voted to put its implementation on “pause” there is still a question about whether that applies to what has already been done or just on any future implementation.

Mass Transit Advocates

  •  They may have lost by not getting mass transit through the legislature, however they got it further this time than in any other in previous history.  Last time mass transit didn’t even make it out of committee.  This time it passed the House before being sent to study committee in the Senate.  However, there is plenty of time for it to make it on the referendum in 2014.  And who know, an even better plan may come out of committee this year.  And they didn’t lose any state funding this year.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard

  • The Mayor of the state’s largest city got a big win with SB 621 which reorganizes Marion County Government by reducing the size of the City-County Council and giving him more authority to deal with overspending in the budget.  The Mayor did not get as much authority as he asked for, but at least he can put the brakes on a vehicle that was running the city towards a fiscal cliff because certain county officials couldn’t keep their hands out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

Political Pundits

  • The only thing we lost was sleep.  But we won a lot of great issues and stories to write to about and pontificate.  Now we get to spend our summer following up on all these issues and writing about how they impact you.  And then comes the Fall where we start getting candidates who are announcing for 2014.  Joy!  Rapture!  Divinity!

Democrats Put Their Interests Over the Public’s

As someone who writes frequently about events over at the Indiana General Assembly, it is not uncommon to be in a situation where you have multiple events taking place at the same time and you are running back and forth between the two.  I found myself in that situation recently while trying to keep tabs on two pieces of legislation important to Indianapolis,  HB 1011, mass transit and SB 621, Marion County Government reform.  The Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee was hearing the mass transit bill, while the House Local Government and Regulatory Reform Committee was hearing the Marion County bill.

And just to keep everyone up to speed the mass transit bill would have called for a referendum on a tax increase to fund the expansion of bus and rail service in Marion and Hamilton counties and it would have given the remaining donut counties the ability to opt-in.   The Marion County bill would, among other things given the Mayor more control over the entire city-county budget, as well as his appointments, and prior to the language being changed at the hearing, it would have eliminated the at-larges.  The bill was amended so the at-larges will now stay.

What struck me as most interesting was not only were both rooms packed but exactly who was doing the packing.  In the Senate hearing there were representatives from the business community, local government, faith community, etc.  It was a widespread, cross section of individuals all supporting mass transit.  Meanwhile, at the House hearing, it was mostly individuals connected in one capacity or another to the Marion County Democratic Party.  Now before I get the usual e-mails complaining that I am leaving out certain facts, please note I said “mostly”.  Also testifying against the bill was Republican City-County Councilwoman Christine Scales as well as a couple of representatives from some neighborhood groups.  And also there might have been fewer people in the room than I counted because “Black Pope Wannabe” Stephen Clay was there and he took up a few seats.

I was not surprised to see the SB 621 hearing look like a Democratic slating convention.   Democrats also packed the room when the legislation was originally heard in the Senate.  What did shock me though as that when it came to the mass transit bill, the Democrats must have got off on another stop because they have pretty much been AWOL in that debate.  No, I take that back, State Senator Jean Breaux, who is living proof that competence is not a prerequisite for public office, threatened that Democrats would withhold support for mass transit if the Republicans went forward with SB 621.

Here is what was really going on.  Democrats have been more concerned about keeping four people employed (the at-larges) than employing the thousands of their constituents who would be helped by expanded bus service.  An informal count showed the number of elected Democratic officials who showed up to testify against SB 621, about a dozen or so.  The amount that showed up to testify on behalf of mass transit, zero.  Now, in all due fairness to the Marion County Prosecutor, Terry Curry did hold a news conference in support of mass transit, arguing that is a tool to help fight crime because it would help people get to work and become self-sufficient, but it would also get witnesses more access to the courts and criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, the rest of Curry’s party doesn’t seem to see things that way.  They have put self-interest ahead of the public’s interest.  I guess the good news for them is that the four at-larges got to keep their jobs.  Too bad their constituents won’t have mass transit so they can look for a job to keep.



Farms and the First Amendment

Whenever the government tries to do anything that looks like it might tread into First Amendment territory, I tend to get a little concerned.  As someone who talks and writes for a living, that whole free speech concept is pretty important to me.  So my eyebrows arched a little when I started turning my attention away from the budget and toward Senate Bill 373, which would make it a crime to take videos or photos on a business or farm without permission if your intent is to defame or to directly or indirectly harm the business relationship between an agricultural or industrial operation and its customers.

Supporters of the measure say it is necessary to stop individuals from defaming farms and businesses with misleading videos and photographs.   Under SB 373, a person who took a photo or video of the farm/industrial operation with the property owner’s written consent would be eligible for a Class A misdemeanor and get up to a year in jail and hit with a $5,000 fine.  The penalty can avoided if the footage is turned over to law enforcement or a regulatory agency with 48 hours.

The legislation also creates the new crime of employment application fraud.  It would be a Class A misdemeanor for lying on a job application, if your intent is to defame the employer or harm his or her business relationships.

This legislation has constitutional challenge written all over it.

As my friends at Cornell University will tell you, “The most basic component of freedom of expression is the right of freedom of speech. The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The Supreme Court requires the government to provide substantial justification for the interference with the right of free speech where it attempts to regulate the content of the speech.”

SB 373 is clearly content driven.   In addition, unlike other states that have criminal libel statutes in which the libel must have been proven, this legislation appears to go to the intent to commit libel or defamation.  To prove libel you have to show the information was not only false, but the defendant knew it was false and it was done with the intent to harm the plaintiff.   However, here is the catch: truth shall always be an adequate defense against libel and defamation.   In addition, there are what’s known as conditional privileges against libel such as statements made for the protection of the interests of a third person or statements made for the protection of common interest.

And if you didn’t think that wast complicated enough, here’s some more legal food for thought.  Some other defenses against libel and defamation include what’s called “substantial truth”.  Under that doctrine, not everything the defendant said must be true.  According to the digital media project, “minor factual inaccuracies will be ignored so long as the inaccuracies do not materially alter the substance or impact of what is being communicated. In other words, only the ‘gist’ or ‘sting’ of a statement must be correct.”    In other words, if I say farmer Dave beat his animals with a steel rod, but he actually used a wooden rod, I can beat (pardon the pun) the libel accusation.

This is just a real quick primer, libel and defamation themselves are pretty complicated, adding “attempted libel and defamation” is going to be a real big mess that will eventually end up in court and someone is going to end up with slop on their face,  and I am willing to bet the farm it won’t be the defendant.